Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may have noticed that my sister Marilyn died two weeks ago. We were never as close as some sisters are, given that she went away to college when I was nine years old, and we never lived in the same town after that. Besides, she had a clear career goal which she met: to be a pastor’s wife. Being a pastor was not an option for women in our era, so she picked the option she had. I never had that goal; I have always worn my faith more lightly than she did, and for 27 years I lost it altogether. After I regained it — no credit to me, all the credit goes to God — we became better friends.
Marilyn died in faith. Throughout her 3-1/2 years battling ovarian cancer, she admitted once that she was scared, to which I said she wouldn’t be human if she weren’t. She found a pastor who preached the plain gospel on Sundays, which reinforced her hope, and her husband was her chief caregiver. Unfailingly, steadfastly, always.
But the anger is all mine, because this didn’t need to have happened. True, ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect early, but her (cuss words deleted) doctor might have looked into it a bit when she went to him with her symptoms. Instead, he blew her off: “You’re getting old.” Because of the rules of the (cuss words deleted again) HMO, she couldn’t seek a second opinion until the SOB went on vacation three months later. The nurse practitioner who investigated then found the cancer.
She always said she didn’t want cancer to define her. It didn’t, but her courage and faith as it gained on her did define her. I had not realized what courage and faith she had, or how those qualities lighted her path into death.
Now I know. I know what a great person she was, and how trivialities can keep us from seeing the real person. When she was told in January this year that the doctors could do no more for her, and that she had perhaps six months, everything but the prospect of losing her became trivial. From that point on, we never spoke of anything but love and what shared memories we had. When we were alone, she talked frankly about dying.
I spent Easter with Marilyn, who would soon know the fulfillment of the Easter promise. Maybe someday I’ll be able to capture that in words. Not now. I still see her eyes when the pastor said, “Christ is risen” and we responded, “He is risen indeed.” I feel the strong grip of her fragile hand in mine.
I’ve gotten back to work on the fourth Vigilante book. She, who never read fiction until I published God’s Thunderbolt, became my biggest cheerleader, encourager, and advocate. She recognized it for the calling it is. She also became a critic, because she could never reconcile herself to the sex scenes. And she said so. Straight up.
Still unsure of the title, I know one thing, this one’s for Marilyn.