From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Lessons from My Angel

You don’t get to choose how you are going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you are going to live. Now.

Joan Baez

The drive to the hospital is long, too long. I am bringing my twenty-seven-year-old sister home. My sister—blue eyes, blonde hair and a smile that lights up a room. We found out five months ago that she has a brain tumor. She got better, then got worse. Now they tell us that she will not make it, that the most they can hope for is to shrink the tumor as small as possible in order to buy her a little more time. I walk into the hospital and find her in the physical therapy room. Angel’s right side is paralyzed from the tumor, so they are helping her try to strengthen that side. So far she can lift her right arm up a couple of inches. Sweat is streaming down her face at the effort. “C’mon arm!” she grimaces at the strain. This is as close to a complaint as I have ever heard from her.

I sit back and watch her. I find myself doing this a lot these days. Trying to capture and freeze moments to file away and save for “later.” She simply amazes me. In her shoes, I would be doing a lot of crying, serious complaining and endless whining. Not her. I have never heard her, not even once, ask “Why me?”

At home, she loves the room I have fixed up for her. We tape the countless cards to the wall where she can see them. She smiles at them. It comforts her knowing many people care. Nighttime is finally here, and I am exhausted. It has been a long day of lifting and constantly helping her. But I feel good. I am taking care of my sister, and I am honored to do it. It’s getting late, and I get my kids to bed and help her dress and get into bed.

Helping her into the bed breaks my heart. She trembles from head to toe. Her right arm dangles—dead and useless— and is bruised from shoulder to fingertips from constantly hitting things she can’t feel with it. I swing her legs onto the bed and we smile into each other’s same-color blue eyes. I hold back the tears until I get upstairs.

My husband is asleep, and I am finally alone, so I let the waves of pain wash over me. Seeing her so helpless and weak and suffering is like a shard of glass in my soul. I can’t take it anymore.

Sobbing, I begin to pray. I am no longer asking God, I am now yelling at him, begging, pleading angrily to not let her be like this. I run out of words and just say Please, no, over and over, crying until I am sick. Worn out, I head downstairs, knowing I need to sleep so I can have the strength to get through another day like today.

I pause outside her room and peek in to make sure she’s okay. She is awake and sees me. “You okay?” I ask for the six-hundredth time today. “I’m fine, I just can’t sleep.” She tells me the steroids that reduce the swelling in her brain keep her awake. I plop down in the rocking chair next to her bed and put my feet up, scrunching them under her pillow. I settle in, and we begin to talk. She shocks me with what she says next.

“I know you’re worried about me. I don’t want you to worry. I’m really okay.” She goes on to tell me how the worst is behind her, that things are getting better. She says she will get well. I look at her skeptically and wonder if the tumor has made her dense. She ignores my disbelief and continues in her efforts to comfort me. She tells me that she knows why she is sick, and that it’s necessary to bring our family closer together. She doesn’t mind and feels it a privilege to endure something that will effect changes in others. She tells me of the many, many blessings that have already come about because of her cancer. So many people—strangers—praying. Her faith has grown in leaps and bounds. Her life has been touched by so many people she calls her angels.

What she doesn’t realize is how many people have been impacted by her. When she was in the hospital, she would have Mom buy dozens of roses and bring them to her. She would then take the bouquets apart and one by one take them to every single patient on her floor. She would also give them to the kind, wonderful nurses who took care of her. She spreads light wherever she goes. It’s an awesome sight.

We talk all night, deep into the morning. Finally, as the gray turns to pinks and brilliant oranges shimmering through her window, she is tired enough to sleep. I leave her room and climb into my own bed for a couple of hours of rest. I feel lighter and more peaceful than I have in a long time. I smile and know God arranged our long talk.

The days go by, and we get into the routine of things. Daily radiation and physical therapy. Countless medications. Hair falling out and the subsequent buying of hats. Cutting up her food, putting the toothpaste on her toothbrush. Even my tiny son, Noah, at two years old, helps her to get across the room by pushing on her bottom. Everyone helps, and my husband is amazing. He lifts her gently out of the van and picks her up when she falls and I don’t have the strength. My sister is right; this has brought out the best in everyone.

Sometimes I lose the peaceful feeling I got when we talked. Sometimes I feel numb; other times I can’t stand the pain of seeing her suffer, of seeing her one good hand tremble with the stress of bringing a bite of cereal to her mouth, shaking till the cereal falls off the spoon. It still breaks my heart. Last night was one of those times.

I had started her shower and left the door open a crack so I could hear the water shut off—my signal to help her out and get her dressed. In the kitchen, I heard a giant SPLOOSH, then a thud and a crash.

Heart pounding, I rushed into the bathroom to find her lying on her back in the tub, shower curtain on the floor and water everywhere.

“Are you okay?” I shrieked yet again. She muttered that she was fine and apologized for the mess. It was then that I cracked, looking at my young, vibrant sister, lying like a stuck turtle on its back, her body a rainbow of hundreds of bruises, her head shiny and bald, thin strings of the remnants of her hair clinging wetly to her face. I helped her up and didn’t let her see my tears and my body shaking with uncontrollable sobs. I would give anything, anything at all to wave a magic wand and make her strong and well again.

I got her ready, and she was fine. Falling happens quite a bit. We’ll get her a shower chair. She keeps saying she’s fine.

A little later, we are sitting on the couch. My husband is down in his office, working, the kids are in bed and Angel and I are sitting on the couch, just vegging in front of the TV. She looks at me very intensely and suddenly says, “Stop worrying about me.”

I turn to look at her and realize I’m not hiding my feelings very well. She begins to cry and says, “I am so blessed. I have been so well taken care of. Everything I need, I have. I WILL get well, so stop worrying so much. Get on with your life and start LIVING again!”

I let a few tears escape and feel the knot in my stomach ease a bit. Her faith and her indomitable spirit are an inspiration. I decide right then and there that for her, I will do it. I will, of course, still worry and feel pain at her suffering, but I will also try harder to equal her faith. I will laugh more and live more. I smile, and my face feels weird. I realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve smiled. I do it again, and she laughs. We both laugh together, and I say a silent prayer of thanks for this gift that is my sister. My Angel.

Susan Farr Fahncke

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners