Death and taxes. Whoever said that two things in life are certain simplified the time line between birth and death.
My sister, Mary, recently died (July 13, 2015). Thinking backwards through time, I recall two previous occasions when Mary could have easily died but didn’t.
Mary was attending college, circa 1970 – 74. It may have been her second year at the university; but it could have easily been her first. I don’t remember. It was pre-cell phone era for certain.
Mary had a rash. She thought it was probably the measles, although all of us had them as kids. Fortunately, her roommate (a self-proclaimed hypochondriac) encouraged Mary to go to the student health center. She went. It was shortly after her arrival that Mary lost consciousness. Turns out it was not the measles. It was meningitis.
Mary had not had enough time to provide her contact information. Mom had remarried so any attempt to locate her using Mary’s surname would have been futile. Luckily, one of Mary’s friends recalled the last name of our grandparents and started calling all of the Benoit listings in our home town. Their first names both began with “E.” Calls were kept to a minimum. When they reached the correct family member’s phone number, it had been placed “on vacation” and forwarded to one of my aunts, Mom’s sister. Again, my memory is not clear on which one.
As luck would have it, Mom was on the road to Disney World with another of my sisters, her husband and two boys as well as our youngest sister (a change of life surprise for Mom). Remember there were no cell phones yet.
The family phone tree went into full swing. By the time my call came through it was night fall. Some how it was decided that Aunts Midge, Donola and I would drive four or more hours down the interstate to be with Mary. Armed with the information that Mary was in a coma and was being treated with IV antibiotics. Statistical info suggested that survival rate of meningitis cases was around 50%.
Any conversation during the car ride escapes me. I remember praying that Mary would survive at least until we arrived. The thought of her not having family with her was devastating. Upon our arrival we were allowed short one at a time visits with Mary, who was in intensive care. I talked to her and stroked her hair. One of the nurses told us that she would be able to hear us even while comatose.
Somehow through a series of telephone calls, Mom and the road trippers were located by the State Police in Georgia. The car and license plate were located in a motel parking lot. Mom was advised of Mary’s condition. I don’t know all of the details in her journey, but Mom was flown by helicopter to the nearest air port and arrived at Mary’s bedside.
Mary pulled out of the coma without any evidence of residual damage. She finished college, graduated and life went on.
A few years ago, Mary was riding in the passenger’s seat while another sister drove. I was in the back. We were on the way to yet another sister’s home in a tiny town at the edge of corn field after corn field. We were conversing when suddenly the crush of Mary’s water bottle was all that could be heard. Cindy glanced over at Mary and started calling her name, then my name. I looked and could see we had a situation. Cindy pulled over just past the road where the car with other family members that we were following had turned.
In my panic, I was unable to complete a cell phone call to anyone in the other car, or call for emergency assistance. Cindy started blowing the horn, I jumped out of the back seat; opened the passenger side door to assess Mary’s condition. Clearly, we panicked. Uncertain if Mary had experience a cardiac or brain event, I got behind her and from the back seat just tried to keep her head upright in hopes of keeping her airway open. I thought that Mary may have already been dead.
Then, angels descended. Strangers stopped on the cross road and asked if we needed help. It may have been one of them who got a rescue call through. A girl – definitely an angel – appeared. She was a nurse or paramedic, I don’t recall. Seconds later a rescue unit arrived. From no where. Mary was not conscious and had lost her bodily fluids.
Then family members, among them a paramedic and a critical care nurse, arrived. I buried my face in Ruth’s (another sister) embrace and bawled hysterically. Mary was unbuckled from the car and lifted onto a gurney. I rode with her (in the front) to the emergency room by then I had no tears left and the initial panic had turned into calm. In the back of the rescue unit, she was briefly aroused.
July 4th, 2015 Mary was again hospitalized in the same college town where she survived meningitis so many years before. Four of Mary’s sisters and a male companion of one drove that same route down the interstate to be at Mary’s bedside. As ill as Mary was, she was actually alert and more aware than when I stroked her hair and spoke to her through the comatose state. I stroked her hair again and spoke to her. This time, instead of encouraging her to recover, I explained to her that she was bound for the after life.
Mary wanted us to go to her house to take mementos. Among framed pieces that I took is Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
http://mwkworks.com/desiderata.html. It is a favorite of mine. I have read it to hospice patients and shared/introduced it to many other individuals over the years.
When things are not going well in my life, I read the words as if for the first time. Different phrases ring true at different times. But no matter what, I like to remind myself that: “You are a child of the universe… And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”