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In the days following Christmas in 2000, I traveled from Montana to California to visit my older sister, who was dying from cancer.
Carol was no longer eating solid food; she had a bag that fed mocha-colored goo into her stomach. Oh, every once in awhile her longing to taste something would overcome her, and she’d eat something, all the while knowing that the consequences would be unpleasant. But her life was circumscribed to a recliner; her life closed in; her passing, imminent. Yet she was still her cheerful, almost ebullient self. We ran through some chitchat, catching up on our families and their activities. That took about an hour.
In the discomfort of a subsequent silence, we hit upon the idea of reviewing our times together. We spent the next few days sharing our shared lives.
What fun! Up from the depths came 4-H meetings, county fairs, and carding sheep; afternoons of lopping the heads off chickens and leading sheep from the neighbor’s alfalfa field back to their pen (and repairing the breach in the fence); friends from elementary school and their fates; foggy night Advent services and Christmas Eves. Joy from the long-ago lives that now seem so free (though we were our parents’ slaves then!), so open, so filled with potential!
And then there were the odd discordant notes that nevertheless fit in with the whole symphony. We remembered our parents and their roles differently. She knew them in their younger, smoking days, the days of their challenges and triumphs. I recalled them as a stable, unified source of security and authority. She remembered her elementary school, with its external fire escape that she would not — would not — descend; I only recalled it when she talked about it. She remembered our grandparents’ house — its canned goods, washer/ringer machine, and narrow staircase. I remembered the water pump in the back year, and a dead baby bat we found one humid evening.
On we went, through shared schools, shared vacations, shared life, and remembering and misremembering and enjoying every moment. It seems now to be the best gift we could have given each other. We parted in peace and resumed our journeys — mine to Montana, hers to the real Last Best Place.