I hope you never
November 8, 2016
Last week I got the call I have been expecting for months; yet somehow, was woefully unprepared for. "You need to get here soon," I could hear my dad's voice crack over the phone. "I don't know how much longer we have."
We've known the tumors in my sister's brain were aggressively growing for months. Every doctor's appointment has confirmed she's been living on borrowed time. But that didn't soften the punch to my gut when my dad choked on the words, "Pack something to wear to the funeral."
My phone rang about 3 p.m. last Tuesday. I was in my car an hour later. The earliest flight I could get would not have gotten me to Omaha until the following afternoon. In reality, I only arrived a few hours earlier than I would have had I flown. But in that moment, with the phone pressed to my ear hearing my dad's tears, I had to move. I had to close the distance between me and my family. The idea of sitting in my house until the following morning induced a panic in my soul. I needed to act. So I spent the next 13 hours driving east on I-80, praying with each mile I would make it in time.
There are simply no words for the heartache and the pain and the unjustness of it all. If there was a word for “one million times worse than horrible,” this would be it.
I arrived in time to watch my parents, contorted in hard plastic chairs, lay their heads on the railing of a hospital bed. I got there in time to watch the oncology nurses carefully navigate an obstacle course of suitcases, flowers, bodies and other evidence of a family camped out in a tight space. I got there in time to hear my family's pastor agree it wasn't fair and confirm it was OK to be mad at God. I got home in time to watch my brave, inspirational, ever optimistic sister accept she is going to die.
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As I type this, Heather is still alive. By the time it prints in Wednesday's paper, I don't know if that will still be true. Her doctors seem shocked she's still with us. The cancer in her brain should have killed her long ago. And by now, the tumors have spread so much, the doctors are baffled they haven't caused a massive stroke. Yet.
There are simply no words for the heartache and the pain and the unjustness of it all. If there was a word for "one million times worse than horrible," this would be it. I've spent nearly nine years hoping for a cure, hoping Heather would be a miracle, hoping she would beat it. Now, I just hope no one else ever has to endure something like this.
I hope you never have to hold your mom's hand as she picks out a casket for her child. I hope you never have to watch your father trace a purple "DNR" band placed on his daughter's wrist. I hope you never have to watch as your other sister, a single mom, frantically texts babysitters, hoping someone can stay overnight with her 2-year-old so she doesn't have to leave the hospital. I hope you never have to feed tiny spoonfuls of applesauce to someone you love and watch as they struggle to swallow.
I hope you never have to hear predictable condolences about thoughts and prayers and empty promises that it will be okay. I hope you never have to gaze out the window of a hospital room and feel an irrational resentment at the people below going about their lives. I hope you never have to watch someone you love nod their head, confirming who they want as their pallbearers because they are too weak to talk. I hope you never have to wonder when you will stop crying, or if you'll ever laugh again, or question if you really are strong enough to make it out the other side of your grief.
I know I am not the first person to have felt this way, and I know I won't be the last. And the people who have felt this way have assured me I won't always be this sad. But yes, it is going to get even worse before it gets better.
And somewhere inside I know, it will. Because if there is anything my sister has taught me, it is this: Hope is always stronger than despair.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.