I have her shoes, the new white Skechers she’d packed carefully in her “wear home from the hospital” bag. There’s something not right about this.
We did not expect her death. We were ecstatic when we heard her surgery for cancer was successful. We were relieved when she transferred out of ICU, then greatly worried on her return. And we were shocked when she passed away 27 days after surgery…from complications.
She’d called me the Saturday after her Monday surgery. She knew I’d be home with the flu, and she cautioned me to take it easy and not get pneumonia. I told her, “I already have pneumonia.”
In her older-sister-by-five-year voice, she chided me. She knows I don’t always take the best care of myself, that I tend to overdo.
I’d not mailed her 80th birthday card yet, so when she got pneumonia, I sent the card and added that she’d gone a bit far in her empathy for me.
That’s the kind of relationship we had. Teasing, caring, loving.
The last few years we lived in Chicago, she came from Michigan to visit me for three days every summer. I’d take the 151 bus from Michigan and Washington by our condo to meet her at Union Station. She’d always introduce me to her Amtrak seatmate, a new friend. Each year, I planned our agenda from the time she arrived (out for breakfast first) until the afternoon on the third day when I escorted her back by bus to Union Station. Our final ritual that she insisted on was treating me for lunch at the Walnut Room in Macy’s on State: their famous chicken pot pie, followed by their yummy Frango Mint pie that we’d convince ourselves had no calories.
She didn’t want to know what I’d planned, just what clothes she needed to take along. She liked surprises. Every summer, I picked out breakfast restaurants that had become her favorites (Lou Mitchell’s, Toni’s, the Yolk, and Pittsfield), and included plays at the Goodman and Steppenwolf, concerts by the Grant Park Orchestra and Chicago Symphony, and lectures at the Art Institute.
And we walked, always logging in at least 10,000 steps on our pedometers. We started from our condo at Randolph and Michigan and walked south to the museums (1200 south), north to Water Tower Place (800 north) and east to Navy Pier (600 east). She wanted to see everything: she wanted to “walk” my life, and she had fun reporting back to her friends what her “crazy Chicago sister” had planned for her.
And she made it clear, for all this walking, that her feet liked her tennis shoes best. And that’s what is not right about this. I now have her new tennis shoes that I know she would have worn during her planned trip this summer to visit me in my new city of Sioux Falls. I’d already told her there’s not as much city walking here, but lots of nice nature trails, and that I’d started a list of things I wanted her to see. She thought she may be ready to come in June, but for sure by August.
Instead, we buried her ten days ago, on April 13.
They say you shouldn’t write about grief so soon, before processing it a bit. But I must. I’m back home, nearly 900 miles away, feeling this big void. I miss her on our daily emails. I’ll miss her spontaneous phone calls. I’ll miss her yearly visits. And I’ll miss the fun we had every two years going to the Calvin College Faith & Writing Festival in Michigan, splitting up the sessions we attended and filling each other in at night, over our drive-through Wendy’s salads, in our beds at a Comfort Inn.
I’ll even miss her big sister chiding.
I may do a memorial walk—go to the places on the list I’ve started—wearing her shoes. I will tell her how much I miss her. She will laugh and say, “For Pete’s sake, Lois. I lived to 80.”
That’s who she was. Positive. Pragmatic. Thankful for her life, her faith, her husband who died just a year ago, and her many blessings, especially her children and grandchildren.