I got the call from my sister, Jean, early Friday afternoon, January 28, asking if I might want to leave for Indiana later in the evening rather than wait until 4:00 am Like we had originally planned. She’d received an email from Doug, Sue’s younger son and our nephew, saying she was failing, her health had taken a turn down. We ended up leaving at 8:00 pm and driving straight through, arriving in Jeffersonville, Indiana at 4:30 am. Getting a room, after a bit of trouble, we slept until 8:30, ran downstairs for the continental breakfast, returned to get cleaned up, then drove over to Sue’s apartment.
We were understandably worried about how we would be received. We were family, but had never met any of them. We’d maintained a relationship with Sue after we learned of each other’s existence(she was the child of our father’s first marriage), Jean and her exchanging letters until Sue’s strokes made emailing easier. We’d all spoke on the phone now and again as well. So we’d wondered how the rest of the family would receive us. Our concerns were without merit however, the family was wonderful, talking to us as if we were regular visitors. Sue’s mother, Merle, was a really sweet woman. Doug was nice. And Beth, the daughter of the other brother, Luke, a trained nurse who’d been looking after her mother, was good with us as well.
Sue was a frail looking figure lying in the bed. She’d been diagnosed with throat cancer in the late nineties, about the same time we found each other, and had two strokes since then. Because of the throat cancer she was unable to eat food, taking nourishment through a feeding tube. It caused her robust self to gradually waste away it seemed to me. Looking at early pictures, she was a healthy woman, full of life(her mamma bear look in the photo with her son, Doug, in his high school football uniform was telling).
Sue lying in bed was a shock. Jean talked softly to her, the family telling us, though in and out, responded to voices, calling out her own name. Which caused Sue’s eyes to pop open. She knew we were coming and one likes to think she knew we were there. Jean held her hand, receiving squeezes now and again as she talked. I sat on the other side of the bed and for a few hours, we were there.
Then we left to get some lunch and returned to our room to rest a bit before we returned to the apartment, only to get a call from Doug saying Sue had passed at 4:48 pm. We hurried over then and stayed with the family for a few hours.
Funeral arrangements are different in Indiana from what we have down here. The family viewing was 1:00 pm on Tuesday, then 2:00 to 6:00 pm for the public. A large room with the coffin on one side, a TV with a DVD of snapshots of Sue’s life on the other, numerous couches and chairs scattered throughout between. People came and visited and that’s where we learned just how awesome a woman Sue was. One lady detailed the incredible meals she would prepare for family and friends, all the while knowing she couldn’t eat any of it because of the feeding tube, deriving pleasure from watching people enjoying her preparations. A number of such stories.
We met the cousin that got us together when a letter Jean sent inquiring of the family’s medical history for our sister’s sake in her battle with breast cancer fell into her hands.
We’d always planned to meet someday and now we were all starting to fall apart from ailments, and one sister already gone from the breast cancer. I just wish we HAD gotten up there years earlier when we could all do things together to further cement the relationship. It was really strange for me to meet family members at our ages, ones we should have known years earlier. They were all so much nicer than I could have imagined.
Sue will be missed. The brief time we were with her and her family made us wish for more. Will it happen? Who knows.