It was a secret that she shared with no one. A diagnosis that was grim and resolute.
But my sister, being strong-willed and eternally tenacious, thought she could beat it. So she spared us the worry. And ultimately, she spared herself from a constant flow of questions and suggestions and attention from the family that would have suffocated her.
When my brother-in-law spoke to Ann's doctor about 3 weeks ago, he learned that she hadn't been in to see him since April. We were shocked and angry, but we didn't say anything because we didn't want her to get upset and stop seeing that doctor. What we didn't know at the time, however, is that Ann had been seeing a different doctor on a regular basis...a cardiologist.
Just over a year ago, Ann was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
I spoke to my sister on the day she passed away. She talked about her fatigue and how difficult it was to have enough energy to get through the day. In the last six months, Ann survived two abdominal surgeries for uterine cancer and one surgery to place a steel rod in her femur, which she accidentally broke. She'd recently been in a minor car accident and had suffered consistent episodes of going into a diabetic coma.
Just one week before Christmas, she'd been hopsitalized for four days and it hurts to admit that we're not sure what was wrong. Ann didn't tell us the truth, and she never mentioned the CHF. Not to the family, not to her best friends...not even in the emergency room staff when she was admitted to the hospital for the umpteenth time.
2004 was a terrible year for my sister. Incident after incident kept knocking her down, and she just got right back up and kept going with a smile on her face. She wouldn't let anything beat her down. Not the diabetes. Not the blindness. Not the lingering effects from the toxic shock. Not the deaths of two boyfriends and two cats last year. Not the cancer surgeries and not the broken leg. She stayed positive and kind and generous and fearless.
On Sunday, January 9th, Ann went to bed at about 10:30pm. Sometime around 11:00pm, my sister passed away in her sleep. Unknowing, unafraid, unaware.
Life, which had been so harsh and so relentless with her....finally gave her a break.
It's a terrible thing to lose a sister. Especially one like Ann. She was tough, strong, vulnerable, willful, generous, eager, kind, bright...and loving.
Now, with the doctor legally free to tell us everything about her health, we also realize even more about Ann. She was secretive. Selfless. And Noble in her efforts to spare us from being worried sick all of the time.