My brother and I brought my sister’s ashes back to Minnesota. With them came her death certificate. I have never really read one before. It surprised me how much information is told about a person in a single sheet of paper.
It tells her whole name, date of birth and date of death. These are all things I would expect. But it also tells our deceased parents names and informs the reader that she was never in the armed forces and was never married. Her death certificate tells us the highest level of education she had and that she was in the art industry, additionally her profession was listed as artist. There are various other boxes filled in.
Of course we were interested to see exactly what the cause of death was:
Hyperkelemia 2/2 ARF
But there must be about ten or eleven things listed as contributing factors – all the way back to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. So basically it has her medical history right there.
While this is a ton of information about Lee, it’s not really anywhere near the whole story.
It seems odd being at my sister’s place and thinking that she is really gone. I was just here in February and she was over in a hospital in Seattle. I spent a night at her house and then drove her car over there. Isn’t she still there? I wonder if it will even dawn on me before I leave that I will never make another memory with my sister.
That hits me first when some close dies. I feel anger over never being able to remember anymore good times we have together. The couple of years I spent at college in Seattle gave me the opportunity to visit her very often. We would go all over, on car trips up to Hurricane Ridge or Lake Crescent. She dragged me to her support groups and even though it was a serious part of her life and I respected that we still would laugh afterwards about the whole scenario. “Were we just in a scene from a sitcom?” I know her groups helped her learn about herself but I think she appreciated a lighter perspective on it too sometimes because she realized that she was so serious most of the time.
At meals we would sit and tell stories from our very different childhoods. Her memories were so different than mine because of our 11-year age difference. But somehow we could relate well realizing our parents were the same over the years. We would laugh and laugh until Lee would say, “Don’t choke! I’m afraid you’ll choke and then what can I do?” Then we would start laughing all over again.
Maybe I was just her levity dose. In those days she didn’t watch television. I remember her begging me to come visit her when I was returning from overseas saying, “You can ease into American culture here, I don’t have a TV.” I tried to get out every year or two to visit, but that waned over the years.
I came out about a year after Mom died. I wanted to help her choose a car in 2006 when she got her inheritance from Mom’s estate. That was fun too – test driving cars and trying to give her tips on how to deal with car salesmen. I was out again in January of 2008 since I was headed overseas again. I wish she were here to visit with.
Eventually it will sink in. I will realize she is gone. But right now it just feels like she’s over in the hospital.
From before I was born Lee had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Eleven years older than me, she was happy to read to me or teach me the things she knew about. She couldn’t get down on the floor and play, but she could tell me stories. I remember Lee trying to teach me French when I was very young. I’m sure it was a frustration but she kept at it.
When she was in high school Lee became confined to a wheel chair. She had several surgeries by the time she went off to college. But she was determined not to let her disabilities slow her down. By the time she finished a BA in fine arts with a minor in art history, five years later, she was also up and walking again.
Lee had spent most of her childhood so limited that she was determined to be all on her own from the time she finished college. It was the mid 70’s, she decided to go traveling with a friend in an old Cadillac with the backseat removed and fitted with a double bed mattress. She spent months in the south western United States before settling in the Pacific Northwest.
She worked for some time as the artist in residence at the Olympic Community College in Port Angeles, Washington, making huge hand-built pottery. She later switched to paper arts because it was easier on her joints. Later when I attended Bible college in Seattle area I visited her quite often and we spent many happy hours laughing about our odd family and how we survived.
She had very different values from me, but of all my siblings I felt I really knew her best, especially since I spent more adult time with her than my other siblings and vice versa. We often enjoyed doing art projects together when I visited her. And we talked about the things on our hearts. And once in a while I would talk her into a drive around the beautiful Olympic Peninsula.
Lee passed away on May 4 just after midnight. She had several complications to her many health issues following a series of small strokes in mid April. I loved my sister. She will be missed.
This photo was taken last Thanksgiving, the last time the five of us were together. Lee is on the lower left.
This weekend I did something I really don't enjoy anymore. I got my picture taken. Thankfully, a friend did it and she's fabulous! Soon everyone on my mailing list will get a nice new prayer card of Jan.
An evangelical, believing Christian who cares deeply about God's children, therefore is working to help equip the future generations of Kenyans to address their own issues in a holistic way. By serving at a major Kenyan university I will be able to promote the kind of community development that makes sense in the changing climate of East Africa. I will to promote leadership that will make a very real difference as servant leaders and Bible believing Christians in a world that seems often to be struggling for survival in these hard global economic times and the wave of African corruption. This is strategic for reaching out to so many Kenyans in so many ways. This blog is about that life.