Emily closed the book she had been reading to her sister Stacy. She squeezed it tightly for a forever moment before letting it go. It reassured her to think that the pages with no space between them all reinforced each other. She knew that supporting Stacy meant letting go. Each in her own way relied on courage from the other. But Emily, with the book in front of her, needed a little more time.
Before that Emily sat next to her sister’s bed remembering how Stacy used to read to her at night years ago when they should have been sleeping. Now she was reading to the part of Stacy she still understood and loved which now lived inside a body without speech that had taken on strange angles and dystonic movements following the stroke she had suffered six weeks ago.
Before that Emily watched Stacy’s face relax as she found just the right muscle in her back to massage. If she pressed just a little harder, maybe she could defeat a morsel of the demon inside her sister.
Before that Emily clasped Stacy’s fifty-four-year-old hand in both of her own as she pushed down the screams that wanted to surface. She talked of the cats, the garden, and the visitors who would be coming later. She could feel Stacy’s heart slowing, calming. And yes, the grasp was returned a thousand-fold. Blessedly, she could feel that too.
Before that Emily changed Stacy, fluffed her pillow, gently brushed her hair, and applied lotion to her face, hearing murmurs of contentment. Then, with the help of hospice, she gave the appropriate comfort medication through the feeding tube no longer used for nutrition. Stacy herself had chosen no more feeding. But Emily, who gave most of the meds, still thought of the drugs as food.
Two days before that Stacy answered with only her thumb to questions from three different family members. To each she lowered her thumb to indicate, no, she did not want to live trapped inside a body she could not control. But Emily who would read to her as often as she could, would not yet comprehend.
Before that Emily put her face near Stacy’s and said “Touch my chin”. Stacy did. Then “Touch my head”. Stacy did. Then “Touch my nose”. But Stacy grabbed her nose instead. Emily gave her the sisterly stink eye and stuck her tongue out. Then they both laughed.
The day before that Emily had rented a handicap van to hold her sister’s neuro wheelchair. At Stacy’s rehab facility where Emily spent most nights so she could wrap her arms around Stacy if she started moaning, Emily carefully maneuvered Stacy over the uneven surface of the parking lot where roots stubbornly pushed up through the pavement. Once at the edge of a continent overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Emily ran with the chair up to the cliff’s very edge shouting “You’re Thelma and I’m Louise!” Emily, who wanted only to keep Stacy out in the open air as long as possible and protect her from pain and confinement, threw her arms around Stacy as the wind tangled their hair together and laughter gave way to tears and tears to laughter again.
Three days before that the doctors were clear with the whole family that recovery was not progressing. The Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy, commonly known as a feeding tube, could keep her alive for years, but three lobes of her brain were affected and any improvement would only be slight. But Emily, who would take over much of the caregiving, would not yet hear.
For weeks before that there had been physical therapy, occupational therapy, and respiratory therapy for hours each day. And there was Emily’s attempt at dental therapy. Stacy wouldn’t open her mouth just like when they were kids. Then suddenly she yawned and Emily stuck the sponge lollypop in. Stacy clamped down hard and all the water from the sponge squirted everywhere making her gag. A nurse intervened, but all three of them ended up laughing about this dopey, ridiculous, possibly life threatening event that terrified them all.
Some impossible time before that, Emily and Stacy, who hadn’t seen each other for months, were just sitting down for coffee in an ordinary café on an ordinary suburban street on an ordinary Tuesday. Twelve minutes later a breathless Emily presented Stacy at the emergency room.
Marianne Brems has an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is a long time writer of nonfiction and her publications include textbooks in her teaching area of English as a Second Language and several trade books. In addition, she has always had a passion for writing short fiction and poetry. She lives in Northern California.