I stepped away from blogging back in April. The reason can be summed up in three words: my sister Dixie.
Dixie passed away on June 6th of this year; less than two days after turning 62 years old. She had finally succumbed to a rare, dark and evil disease called Hashimoto’s Syndrome. From what I understand, it is connected to a chemical imbalance between the thyroid and the brain. What I witnessed was an insidious parasite that consumed an otherwise normal, adult female, who was feeling the effects of a 40 year career in nursing.
As kids; Dixie, Connie and I were inseparable.
Many early pictures showed us engaged in childhood activities. When we would go swimming, ice-skating or to the movies, Dixie, being the oldest, was “in charge”.
After Dixie got her nursing degree, we grew apart. When she moved to Florida, we completely lost touch; that is to say, no calls or letters and she would rarely attend family functions. Essentially, we became estranged.
About a year ago, my sister, Joyce drove to Florida and brought her back. Dixie’s illness was triggered by not eating, which caused her thyroid to shut down. To make matters worse, her years of heavy smoking clogged four of her arteries and she was in need of a quadruple by-pass.
The first time that I saw her after her return, she grabbed me and held on tightly. I knew then that something was wrong, because Dixie never displayed her feelings or emotions in this way. She could have been trembling from weakness, but I think that it was more out of fear of not knowing what was causing her mind and body to disintegrate. She had gone from strong willed to weak spirited; all in a matter of a few months.
“Why would she stop eating?” is a legitimate question to ask. Here is what she told me.
While in Florida, she was stopped in traffic. She was driving a little Pontiac Vibe at the time. A young female came up behind Dixie’s car and plowed into her. The rear-end collision destroyed Dixie’s car and her right shoulder. The shoulder injury required surgery, but after the surgery, she was told that she could never work in nursing again. Dixie told me that, as far as she was concerned, her life was over and so, she stopped eating; she stopped caring for herself; so much so that it caused her thyroid to shut down completely. This opened the door for Hashimoto’s to settle in.
While all of this was going on, she was staying in an apartment with my youngest sister, Denise, who is also a nurse. However; the hallucinations caused by the Hashimoto’s were becoming more frequent and more violent. Denise told me of one, recurring hallucination where Dixie saw maggots falling from the ceiling above her bed and falling onto her. The neighbors, not knowing what was going on, would call the police. Dixie had to be moved to an extended care facility.
I tried to stay above it all, in my selfish way, but it was taking its toll on the family and especially Dixie. We were being prepared for the inevitable end to Dixie’s life. Even then, I felt that I could keep some emotional distance between me and my estranged sister.
Two days before she died, I told her that when she got better, I would take her for a ride on my motorcycle. My motorcycle reminded her of one that my uncle and namesake rode in his early days.
Before Dixie died, she told Denise that she did not want an obituary published or a memorial led by clergy. She felt that her life had held no significance and also felt that God was punishing her for “bad decisions”; in essence, rejecting God.
Dixie donated her body to science. They would harvest vital organs for research and her remains would be cremated. I told Denise that I wanted to give Dixie that ride, so the night before we would gather, I spent almost six hours detailing my motorcycle. Every bug was gone and every piece of chrome polished. It had to be perfect for this occasion.
On Saturday, July 21st, we gathered at Wiley Park in Galva, Illinois. We spent many days of our youth at Wiley Park, so it was fitting that we would start the procession there.
I led the motorcade down by our childhood house and then down past the house where Grandma and Grandpa had lived. We proceeded to the cemetery, where Dixie was placed with Mom and Dad.
It has been tough for my sisters Denise and Joyce. Denise saw firsthand the wicked assault upon Dixie by Hashimoto’s. Joyce was with Dixie almost every day in the hospital, extended care and then hospice.
Though I didn’t share it with anyone, I was feeling great sadness and remorse for being so selfish during this difficult time, but also for not staying involved in my sisters’ lives. My large family was always in turmoil, hacking back and forth at each other for one reason or another; making amends and then violating a cease-fire once again.
I chose to neither mediate nor participate. Though I didn’t have to get involved in the melodramas, I could have been more vocal in my support for my sisters.
So; Dixie left this Earth and is now on her eternal journey, believing that her life held no meaning.
I wish that I would have told her how proud I was of her for dedicating her life to healthcare.
I should have been a better uncle to her two sons.
I should have been a better brother and friend to her.
I should have spent time towards the end of her life convincing her that she mattered.
We have to leave this life knowing that we cared for others and that others cared for us.
We have to take that sweet innocence of youth and carry it with us into our golden years.
And we should never take anything for granted.
I believe that Dixie has gone to Heaven, because she has already been through Hell.
I placed a Harley Davidson dog tag into her urn to let her know that a part of me is with her on her journey; a journey that I hope will end with her finding happiness and one that is free from pain and suffering.
I can’t get through a day without thinking about her. It’s hard to think about anything else.
Think about her and think about us.
Think about the people in your lives and then ask: “Is there more that I can do for them?”