When I was twenty seven, the only cousin I’d ever been close to (and one of the best friends I’d ever had) died suddenly. I still clearly remember hearing she was in the hospital.
It was a Saturday night, and I had just gotten home from a friend’s bachelorette party. I was tipsy, and giggly, and tired. The next day was my mom’s birthday, and I regretted that I wasn’t going to be able to visit.
I was trying to be quiet while I got ready for bed, but my husband woke up. He had gotten a call from my mom, Christa was in the hospital and unconscious. I needed to call.
I called right then, but Mom didn’t know any more than Hubby had told me. I’m sure I spoke to Dad at some point the next day, but I don’t remember. I waited to hear what was going on. Was she going to be alright? What had happened? She was in the hospital for a routine surgery, so how did she end up in a coma?
Sunday passed, and nothing changed. Looking back, I don’t remember Sunday really.
Monday was one of the most difficult work days of my life. I got to work, spoke to my manager about leaving early, and called my mom to pick me up. While I waited for her to arrive, I desperately tried to get in contact with anyone who would know what was going on.
It was mid morning when Mom arrived. Not knowing whether it was okay to visit, or anything new even, I decided not to rush. We stopped for coffee, tried to call again, and then made our way to University Hospital.
It was when we arrived that I finally got through to someone at my aunt and uncle’s house. One of Christa’s brothers answered the phone (Isaac I think). He didn’t have any news for me, and said I should go into the hospital to see the family. He was in a hurry to get off of the phone.
Mom finished her cigarette, and we made our way into the hospital. The hospital staff asked who I was visiting, and directed me to the waiting area near Christa’s room. Mom and I ran into Aunt Mary on the elevator. I don’t remember what Aunt Mary said, but I’m sure she was the one who told me that Christa had passed.
The rest is a fog. I remember Jolene being incredibly happy to see me. Fourteen, having just lost her sister, and still smiling and laughing. I will always admire the strength she had that day. Uncle Aaron and Aunt Robin as well. Each sitting and talking with the many friends and family who had gathered. Aunt Mary offered to take me to see Christa. To say good bye.
I wasn’t prepared.
I’d been to more than my share of funerals. In four years , we’d lost five on that side of my family (two uncles, an aunt, and both grandparents). We joked (in very poor taste) that the family only got together for funerals. It was at the last of those funerals that Christa and I worked out our differences and began to repair our friendship.
When I walked into her room, she was still on life support. Christa was an organ donor. Aunt Mary had tried to warn me. Seeing Christa so soon after death, with the machines breathing for her… I wanted to believe that it was all a mistake. That she was still alive. I expected her to sit up at any moment and shout “BOO”. I begged her to.
I silently wished she would wake up and tell me it was all a bad joke.
Aunt Mary said that they didn’t know what had happened. One moment she was fine, talking to the lady in the bed next to her, and the next she was quiet. Her neighbor assumed she’d drifted to sleep. But the next morning she didn’t wake up.
As Mom and I were leaving, Jolene stopped us. She had been going through Christa’s day planner, and found several pictures that she wanted us to have. Pictures of my sister and I, and several of my niece.
A short time later Mom and I sat outside the hospital under the trees by Portage Bay. I picked at a chocolate chip cookie while I tried to convince myself of the terrible truth. Christa was dead.
I used to blame myself. To think that if I hadn’t waited until Monday to visit, or if we hadn’t stopped for coffee, I might have gotten to the hospital in time. I might have been able to talk to her and wake her up.
For weeks I couldn’t get through a day at work without needing to step outside of the office while I fought back tears. I was afraid to hurt in the same way again, so I pushed everyone away. My friends. My sister. Even my husband. For months there was nothing but my pain and everything that I did to try to bury it.
Christa wasn’t even thirty. She hadn’t found the love of her life yet. She would never become a mother. We would never go camping together again. Never go dancing together. Never have another pizza and movie night. Never again watch the Princess Bride and sing along during the end credits.
And then I realized what I’d done. Christa would have wanted me to be a big sister to Jolene, and to move on. Slowly I’ve repaired the damage, one step at a time, but I have never been able to work up the courage to reach out to Jolene. It is probably way too late now to be a big sister sort of figure.
Last week marks the seventh anniversary of her passing, and the first where the day passed without my realizing. I miss the friendship that I had with Christa as much as ever. But I can now smile and remember the great times we had together when we were teenagers and how grateful I am that we were able to move past our differences as adults.
I really have no idea how I got on this train of thought tonight. Regret can be super powerful. There are so many things that I wish Christa had been able to experience, and so many things that I regret not saying. But more than anything else, I regret how much I allowed the loss to affect me.