Losing my sister, Sonja, was a devastating thing. Sonja was such a good person. She loved life, loved her family, loved her friends, loved her occupation of nursing, and she loved me. She truly showed me that love during my divorce. She was a huge part of my decision to leave the town where I had spent my married life. She took me into her home and provided some of the most precious time I have spent in my life. Hardly a day went by that Sonja did not tell me that I needed to confront Dad and tell him how I felt. She tried her best to get me to open up and was never successful. I think she would be proud of me now.
Upon moving to Milledgeville and beginning my work in the prison system of Georgia, I went back to school to add to my teaching certificate. One of the classes I was taking was a reading class. At the beginning of each class, we wrote in a journal — just some of our thoughts and what we had been doing. One day in class, I wrote the following about Sonja’s death. At the end of our writing session, the instructor said she thought we’d do something a bit different that day — we’d share. Now, keep in mind, I was a 40+ year old woman in a class full of undergraduates so I kind of stood out from the rest, not in a special way, but just that I was OLD compared to the rest of the students. When the instructor made her statement about sharing, I immediately began praying that she would NOT look in my direction. I knew that what I had written would be almost impossible to share with others. It was raw and full of emotion and much too personal. Well, for some reason, she turned directly to me and said, “Betty, how about you start us off with sharing your writing?” I am sure that if she had read my face, she would have immediately withdrawn that request because I was shooting daggers at her. But, she made her statement as she headed to the back of the room and merely, repeated, “Betty, you can start now.” I told her that I really didn’t think that anyone would want to hear what I had written and that I’d gladly let someone else read. “Oh, no, Betty,” she said, “we’d love to hear it.” After a couple of really deep breaths, I stood and began to read. My eyes immediately filled with tears and soon came the snot-snorting. I still don’t know how I got through reading the following, but I did. By the time I finished, it seemed as though everyone had joined in the snot-snorting and the room was silent when I finally sat down. At that point, the instructor did something she had never done before. She said, “Class Dismissed. I think we all need a break.” I made a beeline for the door and got away from there as quickly as I could. I don’t think that I could have spoken to anyone at that point. The next day in class, I had honestly thought I was back in middle school — I had several people walk over to my desk and slip me notes. Each of them thanked me for sharing about Sonja and told me how much they admired me for writing about her in such a way. Wow! I was floored. About a week later, I got a phone call from a lady at the local Hospice organization and was told that she had heard about my story of Sonja. Sonja had been instrumental in starting Milledgeville’s first Hospice and they wanted to share my writing in their next newsletter. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to share. While reading the following, please know that it is my heart speaking to you about my little sister.
Now, I Don’t See Her Anymore
The room is so still! Even though there are people all around, I cannot hear any noise. I only see people in a hazy light. I have my eyes locked on Sonja.
I can see her pink gown. I can see her beautiful red hair that has just begun to grow back. I can see her swollen body, lying there waiting. For what, I am not sure.
In my mind, I can see Sonja as a child – a skinny, ugly, red-headed child, chasing after me, calling my name. “Betty, wait for me. I want to go too!”
I can see her as she grows up, becoming an even bigger pain in the neck. I see her as a thirteen year old, sitting on the couch, waiting for me to bring her a drink, potato chips, a book, anything else, just to show that I have to do as she says. I can see and hear her now, “Betty, do you really want me to tell Daddy that you’re secretly married, or, do you want to make my bed and clean my room? The choice is yours after all.”
I can see her as she graduates from Georgia College and becomes a Registered Nurse. I can see her as she marries. I see her as she divorces and moves away to Colorado to “grow up”. I can see her when she comes back home, a different person, and one who I truly love.
I can see her when she marries Michael. Her face glows when she talks of marrying him, settling down, and having a family. I can see her as her first child is bon – a beautiful baby boy, Jonathan. I can see the look of pure love on her face. Now, I can see the joy as she brings home her sweet baby girl, Kalli. Her life is complete. Sonja has her family; she is happy.
I see her in her kitchen making pumpkin cookies with Jonathan and Kalli. I see her dressing them up for Halloween. I see her hiding eggs in the front yard for them. I see her reading to them at night. I see her at “Toys R Us”, fighting with the crowd to get the newest Ninja Turtles for Jonathan. I see her fussing with Michael over nit-picky little things. I see her planting flowers in her yard. I see her loving her children and her husband.
I see Sonja taking care of Daddy when he’s sick. I see her being the “Nurse of the family”, the strong one, the one who takes care of everyone. I see her enjoying life with her family and friends. I can see Sonja as she comforts me during my divorce. I hear her telling me that things will be OK. I hear her tell me to move to Milledgeville where people love me. I see her take my children in, helping them deal with their own losses.
I see Sonja at the hospital, running the GI Lab. I can see her concern for her patients. I see her hurt when they hurt. I see the essence of caring.
It’s getting darker now. I can see Sonja’s love and her concern as she takes care of our mother who is dying of cancer. Sonja’s little girl is only a month old. I see her holding her baby, quieting her son, crying into her handkerchief, holding her husband’s hand, consoling Daddy during Mama’s Memorial Service.
Now, I see Sonja’s face, ten months later. There are tears running down her cheeks as she tells me that she, too, has cancer. I can see her face, her fear, her anger, her suffering, and her love for her husband and children.
I see Sonja go through all her surgeries, struggling with her colostomy bag. I see her trying to hide her pain from Michael, from the children, and from us. She is not very successful. I see her struggling, trying to cope with her own illness.
I see Sonja continuing to help others whenever she can, taking others for chemotherapy treatments when she is so sick herself that she can barely go on. I see her on Channel 13 News, telling others about Hospice of Baldwin County, Inc., stressing that she does not want her husband, children, father, and sisters to be burdened by her illness. I see her belief that through Hospice the pain and suffering of losing a loved one can be eased. I see her continuously trying to make it easier for others.
I see Sonja as she asks me to help her with a vacation to Key West at the end of April, determined that she, her husband, and her children have one last vacation together. I see her struggling to walk through the Aquarium, not wanting her children to remember her in a wheel chair. I see her on the plane on the way home, drained of energy. I see her go to bed shortly after getting back to Milledgeville, never to get back up. I hear her tell us that she is not afraid of dying, only that her children will suffer. I hear her tell us that she loves us, that we must be strong.
The fight is almost over. It’s now May 9, 1994. It is exactly one month after Sonja’s 40th birthday. I see my ugly red-headed little sister dying, fighting for every breath. I see her last breath.
I have seen a brave woman, a loving sister, a devoted friend, the mother of two, and the loving wife of Michael. I have seen real love, real courage, and real strength. I have seen real suffering.
Now, I don’t see her anymore.
I love you, Sonja.
THOUGHTS ABOUT MY THOUGHTS: Oh, goodness. It always kills me to think of Sonja’s death. It was so unfair. She was such a good person. And she had so much to live for. I just don’t understand it.
TODAY’S FEELINGS BAROMETER: Lazy , dreary, gloomy day. I am getting nothing accomplished lately. I am having to fight through crappy feelings.