The stories I hear about death are often filled with images of grey hair and hospice and bottles of pills. The story that I carry with me is filled with images of a grinning girl of 25, long brown hair and long walks with an energetic Rottweiler. A few days of her complaining of a splitting headache is all the time I had to wonder if her brain surgery 7 years earlier had, really, not gone as well as we’d thought.
My sister was my constant reminder to not take myself so seriously, to sit in the sun for a while and enjoy life. I thank her for that all the time. Still. But even when she rocked our world with the discovery that her sudden-onset seizures were caused by deformed blood vessels in her brain, requiring immediate surgery at age 18, we didn’t think about end of life discussions.
When she recovered and went about her college-bound life, we didn’t think about relapses especially given her not-too-healthy lifestyle. Yes, my parents and other siblings (and I) breathed easier when she moved in with me. But no one had time to say good bye or even know what she was thinking in the hours or minutes that she took to die in our living room in the days following that headache. I was not home. She was 6 hours gone when I walked in and found my beautiful sister.
So to me, death has become unattached to age, or even health. I don’t know what I could have done different to be there for my sister at her death, but I would have liked to be able to bury her or honor her in special ways exactly according to her wishes.