To you, this isn’t ordinary, but it’s my whole life to me- or at least it was. Jennifer, my sister, was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy due to an accident my mother had involving a drunk driver, resulting in a brain damage to baby Jennifer. As her life progressed, she became restricted in what she could do in terms of walking, talking, eating, and eventually breathing on her own. She was sheltered in another light, and wasn’t always appreciated as much as she deserved to be.
I could tell you many different memories from playing with her stuffed animals, trying to entertain her by “creating a scene”, to learning how to feed her, or change her diapers, to pushing her wheelchair around on family vacations, to feeding her birthday cake so she could enjoy the taste, to when she graduated school. Sixteen years worth of memories with my older sister, I’d say, has had a big impact on me, now that I can see what I had now that it’s gone.
Jennifer never spent most of her days doing much, as she got older, it became impossible for her to move at all. Her muscles and bones became stiff, which slowly became crunched and couldn’t move them anymore. She had just turned 30 in July, and it’s the start of another year consisting of laying flat on the bed, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She had no choice, but to constantly wait for something to happen. The most she could do was stare up or look around her room. If anyone came into the room to communicate with her, it’d be the nurses, for its their job; they get paid to feed her, clean her, change her diaper, suction her trach, entertain her, talk to her, give her medicine, and take care of her. The idea was to use the nurses for when the family wanted to go out, and not have to worry about her. If anyone from the family came to see her willingly, it’d be my mom. It got to the point where we were 100% dependant on the nurses when they were at the house. When they left for the night, my mom would take on the responsibility until bedtime.
My mother was the only one who took care of her on an emotional level. Every night, she’d pray with her, and carefully shut off the lights to avoid giving her a seizure. My older sister Jennelle grew up with her, and was her best friend. Jennifer was her biggest inspiration, and the light of her life. Every day after school, Jennelle would yell, “I gotta help sissy get off the bus!” and run to push her inside. There was a time when Jennifer was 12 and was expected not to make it due to an illness. Jennelle wrote a special poem in dedication to her expected passing; the poem wasn’t touched for the following 18 years. Jennelle had raised awareness for Cerebral Palsy to her friends, and received a lot of support and inspiration through her sissy. Her and my mother were the ones who never gave up on Jennifer throughout thick and thin.
As far as my little sister Haillie and I, we did the bare minimum of care for her. We didn’t sit and talk to her as much as we did when we were kids. I’d say it’s because we were used to her just being present in the family. We didn’t have the mindset locked in our minds, “She could be gone tomorrow.” I’d walk in the room, looking for a pair of socks, glance over at her, then walk away. Despite her being unable to walk or communicate as much as rest of us, we thought of it as nothing as time passed. Whenever her machine went off, Haillie and I ignored it, as an awful habit we had; always expecting my mother to eventually take care of it. My father never expressed much emotion toward her, only suctioning her trach when the machine went off, and being an emotional rock for my mom, since Jennifer was always her world, and he being her husband after all. Haillie was the same way, not expressing how she felt, in my opinion. Out of us three, I’d say I cared the most, but I’m probably the only one thinking that.
School was beginning to start on Tuesday, and it’s Sunday night. Labor Day, I had plans to drive down to Mishawaka, Indiana, to visit my boyfriend Adam, for we don’t get to see each other very often. It might’ve been around 11pm when I was showering, and making myself “look clean and pretty” as any other girl would. During that entire process in a span of maybe 2 hours, her alarm was going off, I could hear it in the baby monitor right next to the bathroom, on the counter; being my stubborn self, I ignored it thinking, “Oh, my mom will get it.” I heard the alarms going off, I even recognized her machine no longer being attached to her trach and still managed to tell myself, “It’ll be fine.” It wasn’t fine; after I had already went to sleep around 1am, my father stumbles down the stairs roughly two hours later, to wake me up and tell me to drive to Jennelle’s house.
I was extremely fuzzy for I had just woken up; I repeated, “What?” several times before it hit me. He said to go to Jennelle’s house pick her up, because the paramedics were performing CPR on Jennifer, and it was known that she wasn’t going to make it. Next thing I knew, the very last memory of her being alive was the first memory of her not; she was gone, and the only thing I could think was that it was all my fault.
My mom had woken up to the sound of her alarms, and the first thing she did was to call Erica, one of Jennifer’s nurses. She immediately came over, just after the police were called. My parents, and my grandma woke up to the sight of her being unable to breathe, and I can bet with everything I have that it was one of the worst things they’ve experienced. My dog Charlie was barking more than he normally would, and it was obvious that even he knew, there was something very wrong. As soon as it hits me, I’m in tears.
The drive to Jennelle’s house, in my opinion, was very dramatic; as soon as I arrive, I’m pounding on the door, and Erica went to knock on her bedroom window. KC, her fiance, opens the door, and Jennelle shortly comes out, followed by her collapsing to her knees, bawling. The drive to the house, Jennelle and I we’re crying, KC supporting Jennelle, and Erica was driving and remaining silent. We get to the house, and before even stepping foot inside, Jennelle’s dad- Mike- steps out, crying, and we knew.
I felt like I had a different set of emotions than everyone else. I lost my sister and it was my fault. If I had only check up on her, she would’ve been fine, and none of this would be happening. Instead, I had to be selfish, and only think about myself, in result of her life ending. I was searching for an alternative, an outlet, or a lesson within the experience. I tried to figure out what the entire purpose of the event was for me. Am I too selfish of a person? Do I take things, or other people, for granted too easily? Is this a punishment for not repenting enough for my sins? What is it? What did I do so bad for me to lose my sister?
As far as the plans I had with Adam, I (obviously) couldn’t leave. I’ve probably called him at least 2-3 times at 4am that morning, bawling, hoping he would wake up. Although, he did sleep through the call, so I left him some texts regarding the situation and how I was feeling. I give Deborah a text too, asking her if she could come over as soon as she gets up. Adam woke up around 8, and I hadn’t gone to sleep, but my body was lying on the couch, feeling lifeless. My eyes were dried, red, puffy. Tired, but fully awake. Alive, but dead. He texts me, doing everything in his power to convince me that everything’s going to be okay. He tells me that he’ll be driving to my house instead, but I couldn’t interpret it; I was too exhausted.
I fall asleep, and I wake up to the sight of Deborah texting on her phone. She looks at me, then at my mom who apparently was hovering over my face.
“You have company.” My mom says, walking away. Confused, I stumble upstairs wearing what appeared to be dirty sweats I found on the floor. I open the door, and Adam was well dressed, holding flowers, a card for my parents, and a box of skittles. I wanted to cry again, and to cry different tears; the comfort I received, was really, really nice. Knowing I have the capability to receive such support from family and friends was phenomenal.
I spend the rest of my day, smiling; Distracted. I didn’t want to think about the sadness, I did everything in my power to block out the emotions I felt earlier that morning. I was sitting next to my best friend, and my boyfriend. It was something I managed to make myself thankful for. I found the ability to take care of the time I had with them, to cherish it. With them, and everyone I still have in my life.
I was, and am, very lucky to have Adam and Deborah in my life. Without them, I might’ve made a mistake I couldn’t live to regret, or I wouldn’t have the amount of satisfaction I have now. To this day, I still struggle to grieve. I still manage to block out every emotion that tried to sneak in; I refuse to listen to “Praying” By Kesha, because that song came on the radio as I was driving to Jennelle’s house. I refused to spend extra time at Jennifer’s casket at the funeral, because I didn’t want to cry, or feel sad. I don’t like it when my mom stands at her bed, or at her grave because it makes me sad. Although it’s her way of grieving and saying goodbye, it still hits me. I believe it’s because it reminds me of the terrible, selfish person I’ve become. It reminds me that I wasn’t good enough to my sister, when she deserved everything good in the world.
Even though I block out the emotions, I’m still learning. I don’t think I could ever not think it’s my fault, but I can ease the pain by thinking about positive things, such as my family, and Adam, and Deborah. One thing my sister had taught me, is to never take advantage of those you love, never take them for granted. Appreciate every moment you have with them, because once they’re gone, you can’t get them back. You never know what you have until it’s gone. Jennifer was pure, and beautiful. A special place in heaven was saved for her, because she had no ability to sin. In a way, her temple was her protection, while at the same time, it was her hell. Her disability protected her from the evil in the world, however she was living in it. I wish I had gotten to spend more time with her, because I miss her, and I regret not valuing her enough.