I received my only pairs of legwarmers, one pink and one purple, from my sister Pam. She had been so excited to give them to me; she couldn’t wait until Christmas. Routinely, before we fell asleep in her bed, we would eat candy bars, Butterfingers and Skors. I was the first to know her baby was on his way. I didn’t believe her, but she persistently insisted I go wake Mom. My sister already had her mom voice. She threw me into the deep end of a motel pool before I had learned to swim. Thankfully, she allowed me to put on my floaties first. She was the one to call with the news Whitney Houston died. Five months later, my sister passed away from pancreatic cancer.
words + photograph JULIE JOHNSON
The morning of her death, three miracles occurred. I didn’t notice them at first. They were quiet. Background players, really. The Lord, though, intentionally set them into motion, gifting them to my family, caring for those mourning.
Loving my sister the most.
The Lord interfered and caused every stoplight between our house and the hospital to turn red as I approached. The morning my sister died, we had been waiting for hospice to call. The hospice worker making rounds was supposed to meet with us afterward with an update on my sister’s condition. A few days earlier, we had been told her kidneys were shutting down, and if they didn’t begin working soon and fast, she would only have a few days to live. Brave Reader, even when you know what a diagnosis of Stage IV pancreatic cancer means, you are not prepared. My sister, though, battled. She agreed to the treatments, to the room-temperature water and chicken broth. Chemotherapy side effects caused anything cold to be super cold, so instead of chewing on ice, she sipped on blah.
When hospice didn’t call, my mom became anxious, trying to finish morning chores so she wouldn’t miss any news at the hospital. I told her I would lag behind, if she and my dad and nephew wanted to go ahead. Begrudgingly, my mom agreed to leave me at home as long as I hurried very fast, very quickly and wouldn’t doddle. We all needed to be there. Hurried, I did. I was out the door and on the road. Traffic wasn’t terrible, but I had to stop and wait at every. single. stoplight on the way to the hospital, except the last one. I checked my phone as I was parking. Missed call. I redialed to hear my mom ask, “Where are you?” “In the parking lot. On my way up.” “Hurry,” my mom said. “Something is wrong.”
The Lord interfered and allowed my family to be with Pam as her heart stopped beating. Though bad decisions came and went, the Lord protected her over and over and over again, each time bringing my sister back home.
I arrived in the hospital room and found the only light shining was coming from the window. My mom held one hand; my nephew the other. My dad was beside her bed, standing by my mom. “Is she breathing?” my mom asked. My dad and nephew were checking what they could. When the nurses moved my sister to the end-of-life room, they neglected to hook up any beep-beep-beep machines: no heart rate monitor, no oxygen monitor. I took her hand and felt for a pulse. Nothing. I turned around and sought help.
I had noticed the stoplights in real time. I believe the Lord nudged my heart when the final stoplight turned green, allowing me to keep going. Though I counted three miracles that morning, my count may be off. The Lord has protected me from Satan’s lies as the enemy has recapped the reasons why I should feel guilty for not being at my sister’s side when she died. From the get-go, I have known the reason I wasn’t there wasn’t because of anything I did or did not do. I believe the Lord timed each stop, each pause, each lingering so I wouldn’t be there. For, if I had, I would have been the one holding my sister’s hand, not my nephew. God gave my sister and her son that moment.
The Lord interfered and welcomed my sister with Love as she left us and went to Him. Her diagnosis came on April Fool’s Day 2012. “I need to know you’re right with God,” is what I said to her. Sadness had already moved through my body. Panic was also there. It took time before I could speak. When words came, I guess my heart sensed the urgency. She nodded, but I didn’t trust she understood. Over the next few weeks, I would talk with her about God when I felt it was OK to do so. “You can talk to Him about anything, you know?” I said to her on the phone. “I have been,” she said. “You know me and our brother were saved when we were younger?” Yet, my humanness was stubborn. My heart, my insides were scared. I was scared. My parents asked their Bible study teachers to talk with her. “I wish I had met them earlier,” my sister said, surprising all of us. She had been visited by another couple who sang to her. It maybe wasn’t the right time for a concert. Not only did my sister battle physically with cancer, she continued to spout off funnies we still talk about 10 years later.
My parents’ Bible study teachers went to the hospital a couple of times to see Pam. Two days before she died, one day before losing her ability to talk, they spoke with her about Salvation and how Jesus saves us. Mrs. A later told my mom, “She said she didn’t believe God still wanted her.”
Three months after hearing about a “mass” and “cancer” and maybe “pancreatic” come from the mouth of a doctor, my sister passed away. As much as I pushed and tried to no-no-no the hurt and outcome away, the Lord tended to each of us. His interference allowed my sister to be loved on and safe. His interference allowed my sister to love in return. Driving her home from a chemotherapy treatment, she told me to stop at a gas station. She just had to buy me an ICEE, my favorite.
The Lord was not obligated by me to love like He did. Yet by His showing up, by allowing His miracles, He took a dark, horrible time and brought good from it. Merry Christmas, Reader. If you do not know Jesus, may today be the day for a miracle in your life.
Julie Johnson is editor in chief of Homegrown Journal and writer, editor and designer at Jumajo Writing Company, LLC. Read more from her here.
COVER My sister Pam and I horsing around.
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