The ambulance and the paramedics came at 5:30. They didn’t have their lights on or their sirens wailing, but their mission was no less important, if not as urgent. They had a precious cargo – my Sister, Janis – to transport from the hospital to the hospice where she would undertake her last journey. I wasn’t there for this gut-wrenching moment, but I can imagine it…
…caring hands, stifled sniffles, low voices, “Are you comfortable?” “Don’t forget your Joe Hill book – do you like it?” The clatter of the gurney. The sobbing of my Mom and Janis’ husband, Ron, as the finality sinks into the flood of their tears. The paperwork is signed; the doors click shut, and the ambulance swings slowly into traffic. My brothers and my Dad hugging as I open the text from Stan that tells me that there is nothing more to do. No more tests to take. Janis is going home, but not to the house she made a home with Ron. She’s going to a home with angels.
At the hospice she’ll be cared for by angels. Angels whose sole purpose is to guide her along her last journey with comfort and love. Angels who know that the travelers they care for are in pain and afraid, and will only be staying a short while as they make their journey to their final home – one with brighter and even more loving angels.
I was with Janis and Ron a couple days ago, hugging her as if I could transfer my strength to her frail body (that traitorous shell that gave up on her beautiful mind and loving heart); hugging Ron as if I could somehow make it better for him – though I knew I couldn’t, I had to try. I held her hand and brought her ice and asked her if she was comfy and sat with her in the early morning hours when the pain meds finally let her sleep. We talked some of better times. But we didn’t talk about THIS time; about why I was there with my wife and my two daughters and my grandson Ethan – the one with diabetes. We didn’t talk about the times to come.
I told her I loved her and to be strong, but I didn’t tell her much else and I’m terrified I failed her in that regard. I should have told her to be brave. I should have told her how she has blessed so many lives with her kindness and love. I should have told her that the angels are waiting for her because she deserves to live with them. I should have and I could have. But I didn’t. Maybe I can do it here where my voice doesn’t crack and betray me like her body has betrayed her.
The multiverse has a twisted sense of humor – cutting her down with cancer of the pancreas when she has done so much to help others with malfunctioning pancreases. Every year, Janis raised money for the Juvenile Diabetes Relief Fund. Every year, we donated to her account and cheered her on as her goals were reached and then blown away. Then, we joined her fight in earnest in 2009 when Ethan was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She raised thousands and thousands of dollars before that, though, for the benefit of kids she didn’t even know. That was how she loved others; that was how she earned her wings.
We were close as kids. Janis is two years younger than I in a family of 5 kids. She used to call me Nonald-dee-dee-&-Nonald-dee-dah. An excruciatingly silly name that typifies our family’s silly sense of humor. I put napkin rings on my face and said “par le vouz” in a Peewee Herman voice that would send her into gales of laughter. “Say par le vouz,” she’d squeal along with our sister Lisa, “say par le vouz.” Over and over and over, and I would oblige because I loved to hear her shriek with laughter. She cuddled up to me on the couch as we watched TV or listened to Beethoven’s 5th. She put curlers in my hair that was Beatle-cut in those days.
We’ve always been close, though we grew apart a bit in our teens as our separate misdeeds and escapades got us both expelled from Campion Academy. We finished up our high-school education in separate states and started lives of our own. I dropped out of school; she went to nursing school because she loved to care for others.
Janis also loved pigs; she had a room full of them – stuffed pigs, flying pigs, pig-urines, pictures of pigs, books of pigs. It seemed like we gave her a pig-something for every birthday and every Christmas for years. Yet, somehow my daughters grew up calling her Buggy. Today, I can’t seem to remember how that term of endearment got started, but it’s stuck. A few years back, we started giving her Lady Bug paraphernalia and stopped gifting pig-aphernalia. Chelsa and Bryn loved their Aunt Buggy.
She married Ron Foote and moved to Des Moines. They were the perfect couple – Ron was old school and liked to be taken care of; Janis loved to take care of people. They both liked fast cars and NPR. They’re touch-y and feel-y and you could always sense the love when Janis and Ron were around – big smiles and tender caresses with never a harsh word between them.
It was sometimes confusing to talk to Janis when her husband and I were both Rons. She started calling me Bro-Ron and him My-Ron (which of course got morphed – jokingly – into Mo-Ron.) I stayed with her and her-Ron when my business took me to Iowa. The perfect hostess, Janis always had the pig-room perfectly made up with a basket of towels and toiletries for my stay placed on the pig duvet. It was a quiet, homey house with always a cat, but never a kid.
But Janis would have made a terrific mom, just like our real Mom, if she could have. But, since she couldn’t, Janis mothered us other kids. Always the peacemaker. Never the instigator. Always ready with a hug and kind word. Never a negative thought about someone else. Always thinking of others first. She mothered her-Ron, too. He loved it, and she lived for him, but he was not her only friend.
Janis has a world-wide network of girlfriends, fellow book-a-philes who share her love for Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. She turned me on to SKs world of wonder and horror. I turned her on to TP’s zany alternate multi-verse. Her many “Sisters” are praying for her now and hoping her journey takes her to her own special place; takes her to a world of magic and angels. She’ll fit right in.
As I wrote this homage this morning, my Mom & Dad and my brothers, Stan & Roger, called on the speaker phone to say that her journey was over. Janis, our angel, died this morning in the arms of her loving husband and soul-mate, Ron. I hate it that she’s left us, but I am so glad that she is no longer hurting. It will take a long time before her Rons, and the rest of her friends and family, stop hurting like we are now.
I’ll be back in Iowa next weekend to see you, Janis, one final time. Our journeys have now taken us on separate paths. On your journey through life, I know that your path was good. You were kind and generous and loving and special. Though this last journey was not so kind to you, or to us that remain, it did take you mercifully away from your pain and to your final destination, and we are thankful for that.
Good-bye dear sister. You earned your wings. I’m sure they will fit you well. We love you very much!