By RENISSA MCLAUGHLIN
When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, we felt we had time. Time to…ensure our moments together were meaningful. It was a short six months.
My sister was a quiet person who trusted her health care provider. She never questioned or asked for a second opinion, even after she had communicated her conditions for over a year. When she was finally referred out, it was too late. The first scan showed a spot on her lungs. Later, an MRI would confirm her own research, the cancer had spread to her bones.
It was stage four. She said, “I’m going to die.”
I told her to remain positive. We would talk to the doctors. Sitting in the Oncologist’s office, the doctor confirmed her own diagnosis. While they could do some preventative measures to address weak bones, the word “terminal” did not escape me. We sat and waited to hear from the next doctor. She sat quietly and tears began to fall and she reminisced about her favorite part of Christmas and that she had just taken her lights down. Within a couple of weeks, I had put more lights up, hoping she would be able to see them at night.
February came, then March, and as the months quickly slipped by, she grew weaker. Cancer, bone cancer; one of the most painful. How was this fair? I asked this often. She was a quiet person, a Godly woman who read her Bible every day. Where was the justice? I would remind myself that I could not question God’s plan for her.
When she could speak, she told me about the people, family members long gone, who were coming to visit her.
“They’re standing around me and placing their hands on me”, she would say. “I think they are here to comfort me.”
She also described what she called a transition place. She thought it was the place in between the living and the afterlife. She described our cousin who had died earlier in the year of an overdose.
She said, “She’s a little girl with her hair in pigtails, she’s smiling and happy.”
I responded that may have been the last time she was happy. Like many of us, she had not had the best childhood. I was comforted that she had crossed over to a place where there was no sadness, no need to self-medicate any longer.
While my mother prayed for a miracle, I struggled with the right words. I selfishly did not want her to go. But, her pain was so great. So great, she asked the question, “What did I do to deserve to die this way?”
I had no answers. I was just angry. Angry that this woman, my sister, had to suffer when she was a decent and kind person.
As June approached and her body grew weaker, I knew. I didn’t want to say it out loud for then it would be true. I believe in those final moments, that her suffering was no more. We were there for her until her last breath.
What I hope to convey in this article is the importance for tribal members to be their own, strong, health care advocates. I truly believe had she been diagnosed sooner, not just completely trusting her provider, her life course would have been changed. She never questioned. She just complained about the pain for over a year, but it was too late when her provider finally listened. Too many of our tribal members, many who do not like to go to the doctor, just take whatever is prescribed whether it is medicine or treatment or lack thereof. In my sister’s case, she trusted and did not question.
I have often wondered why there is no word for goodbye in our language. The answer has been there, waiting for me to accept it or know it to be my truth. Cherokees have always believed in a higher power, the Creator “Unetlanvhi”. If you believe in his existence and walk the right path, there is a hereafter. My sister described this place and knew there were loved ones waiting for her. This is the second mission and most important message, Heaven is real. She saw this wonderful place and told us about it.
Perhaps this explains why there is no Cherokee word for goodbye. On bended knee by her bed, I prayed for her deliverance into heaven. She will suffer no more. She walks with the Lord and is surrounded by her loved ones.
I did not say goodbye.
“This is not the end for us dear sister”, I whispered, “Denadagohvyu – Until We Meet Again”.