From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul


“Melody asked me to do this for her, and I said I would because I want her to be remembered well. But this is very difficult for me. There were thirteen months between us; she is in my memories as far back as they go, and I don’t know how to live in a world without Melody in it.” With these heartbroken words, and in a voice hoarse from weeping, I began my sister’s eulogy. For the next twenty minutes, shaking with tension and overwhelming grief, I tried to explain to those in attendance how wonderful, good and worthy of life my sister was, and give them a glimpse of the void her death caused.

By all understanding of the bond, we were good sisters. Until our marriages we slept together, sharing our secrets in whispers and giggles once the lights were out. We played often, fought sometimes and stuck together fiercely in school. We double-dated in high school, and she married first. We each had two sons and two daughters and poured ourselves into motherhood. Though our marriages forced us to live several states apart, we wrote often, and burned the phone lines between us with our calls because sometimes we just had to hear the other’s voice.

I thought we knew all there was about being good sisters. Then she was diagnosed with cancer. Eleven months before she died she called and told me the dreadful news. The doctors gave her five years. She was scared, and I said I was, too, and we cried. We were not yet forty: How could we face separation in just five years? I still feel angry and cheated that we didn’t get those other four years.

I determined to write her nearly every day and share every bit of the experience with her. I was with her often through the initial treatments, and there was a blissful three months in which no cancer could be found. Then suddenly the cancer returned with a vengeance, terrifying in its rapid growth. Her first reaction, when the doctor told her, was to run. She did flee—straight to me. We spent a week together—praying, talking, crying and laughing. With everything in my soul fighting against the reality of her prognosis, I decided to embrace this horror with her, feeling every emotion, encouraging her in every step. I held her when she cried, and we mourned for the dreams we would never fulfill, the places we would never see together, the weddings she would miss and the grandchildren she would never hold. I promised her everything she asked for. We planned her daughters’ weddings and talked of gifts she wanted her children to have. She listed all her personal belongings, and entrusted their distribution to me. She told me her deepest fears, confessed her shames and regrets, and shared her earnest longing for more time with her kids. During the day, I calmly listened to her, respecting her thoughts, completely awed by her strength and dignity and faith. At night I wept bitterly.

I went to her home for two weeks after her visit, to help prepare for the harsh chemical therapy plan about to be launched against her disease. When the day came for me to leave, my emotions were raw, the emotional intensity of our time together gripping me strongly. I was so afraid she would die during the treatments, and I wasn’t nearly ready for it.

Taking her now-thin face in my hands, I whispered, “I don’t know what to say.”

Quietly, gently, she whispered back, “There are no more words, Jenn. We’ve already said them all.”

I held her gently, as long as she could bear the pain of the embrace, trying to memorize for all time what she felt like. I cried the long drive home.

Weeks later the doctors reluctantly told us there was nothing more to be done. Other family members held back the report from Melody, fearful of causing her more pain by taking away all hope.

In simple words, for the morphine had ravaged her senses, I explained it to her. My eyes were shining with tears, my throat closing on the words. Inexplicably, she said, “No tears.” I choked them back, and we made plans for her to go home, where she most wanted to be. Plaintively, she told me she was afraid she would be alone at the final moment. I promised her I wouldn’t let that happen.

Very early the next morning, I returned to the hospital, so we could be alone. Sitting as close to her as I could, holding her fragile hand, I asked her to please let me cry.

“Why?” she whispered.

“Because I’m going to miss you so much. I don’t want you to die.”

Laying my head down on her bed, I wept hot, anguished tears, while she stroked my hair and comforted me in my sorrow. It was an agonizing moment. Later, I again found the strength to walk through it with her, but that morning for those minutes, I leaned on her, and she stood strong for me.

I had to go home. My family needed me, and the inevitable end had no definite date. Our mother stayed with Mel the last few weeks but called me on the last day and said to hurry, that the hospice nurse was sure it would be within hours.

I dropped everything and made the trip as fast as I safely could, praying desperately that she could hang on till I got there. Mom told her I was coming, though she was doubtful Melody understood. Walking in the door of her room, I was weak with relief that I had made it in time. For ninety-eight minutes I talked to my sister, prayed over her, kissed her, sang to her and read aloud all her favorite scriptures. She never spoke, but I know she heard me. The nurse was amazed she hung on for so many hours with a 107-degree fever, only four respirations a minute and almost no blood pressure.

I will always believe she waited for me.

This is the part of sisterhood I’m still learning: going on after a sister is no longer there. The pain and loss are worse than I imagined, and time without her stretches before me in aching loneliness.

I’m at peace in knowing she is with Christ, but as our older sister said bitterly to a well-meaning friend who tried to comfort her at the funeral, “Heaven would have been just as beautiful thirty years from now.”

My memories are indescribably precious. I have no regrets; we wasted no time, faced the dreadful future together, said all the right words, smiled and laughed and cried in complete unison, all the way up to the last moment possible. She was a perfect sister.

A few weeks ago her eighteen-year-old daughter, Melissa, called me, sobbing with grief. “Aunt Jenn, I’m afraid everyone is going to forget how wonderful Mama was.” Weeping with her, I promised that wouldn’t happen. I won’t let her be forgotten.

Jennifer Koscheski

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