“Come here,” said my sister, suffering kidney failure, heart failure, and esophageal cancer. She was calling to Todd and me from the bedroom of her Fullerton (L.A.-area) condo, a bright and airy place, cheerful even in the worst of circumstances. “I want to tell you a story about this bracelet. What do you think of it?” Joy sat in an easy chair by her bed and held a jewelry box on her lap. She lifted a very weak arm–she would fade away in less than two months–so we could see a large charm bracelet on her wrist. Todd and I both said it was pretty.
“It isn’t something I’d ordinarily wear, but I think it’s attractive. Caroline gave it to me.” Caroline, her best friend in the condo building, had been found dead in her apartment, one floor below, six weeks earlier. “The story I want to tell you,” Joy said to us as she eyed the bracelet, “is that I wore this to a doctor’s appointment, and another woman in the waiting room looked at it and said, ‘That’s the ugliest bracelet I’ve even seen.’ Can you imagine saying such a thing to a stranger, to someone you hadn’t said another word to? In a doctor’s waiting room? What’s wrong with some people?”
Much closer to her death, Joy said to me, of the hospital staff and of her roommates’ visitors, “People ask me if I have children, and when I say no, they say, ‘What a shame.'” She stared at me, her eyes asking that same “what’s wrong with people” question. “What do you say in answer?” I asked, sharing her mild amazement. “What can I say? I don’t say anything,”
I will miss the continuation of a lifetime of intimate conversations, some small, some not so small.
IN LOVING MEMORY: JOY SHARON MCCANN HAMILTON, MY SISTER, 1944-2016.
(photo from the 1962 Helios yearbook of Sunny Hills High School)
It’s the questions that can’t be answered that rattle around in my brain forever. What’s the matter with people is the habit of speaking in the kind of cliches that end conversation instead of enriching it.
Attention all who visit the sick and dying. Ask: Who is the handsome man that visits you?
Well put, Sonia. I never thought of some comments enriching conversation, others ending it.
Sorry about your sister Gary. Much love to you.