There is a certain knack that the Irish have for an openness of manner. They can tell a story like no other. I thought this as I watched Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral on television yesterday.
Ted’s sons had the best stories they could offer of their father. What would I say at my father’s funeral? We are now into our 6th year of acquaintance. Would his death be as traumatizing as that of my mother?
Obama came to the podium to deliver Ted’s eulogy. There was no emotion there that I could see.
The camera panned to Sen. John McCain. No one mentioned that yesterday was McCain’s 73rd birthday and there he was sitting at Ted Kennedy’s funeral. That says something about the man and the relationship.
Any relationship of great magnitude requires lots of time, patience and love especially when the relationship is one of complexity, DNA and 35 years of abandonment. My father’s family is not simple, that includes myself and my two half sisters.
You may recall my half sister “Kim”. I introduced you to her in a Sunday Soliloquy post entitled : Stirring a cup of DNA and Sympathy from June 14th. Kim was diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier this year. She has been on welfare for as long as she can remember. Government health care programs paid for her delivery into this world as well as her sic children. and government health care will pay for her cancer treatments 43 years later.
In my last writing about Kim, I explained that while we are half sisters, I have never met her in person. I have spoken to her several times by phone. The stories Kim told me about her relationship with government health care were quite disturbing at the time. It is even more so now.
I was told that Kim has had abnormal pap smear exam results for the last 12 years before she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Kim was also not alerted to her treatment options. During our June conversation, I referred Kim to my own gynecologist offering to pay anything that welfare could not. While my gynecologist did contact Kim, she explained that she could not treat Kim when she was so late into her diagnosis. Again Kim bounced from welfare doctor to welfare doctor while her tumor grew in centimeters.
Once she finally found a doctor, he informed her that her condition was serious enough that a hysterectomy was not the way to proceed. She would need chemotherapy because the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes. Her new doctor wanted to know why Kim had over a decade of abnormal pap smears and nothing was done.
“It just doesn’t go away” said Kim’s doctor.
Intervals of silence marked our conversation. The helper in me wanted to scold her for not taking her health into her own hands but my well worn need to care for someone had waned. A sister is someone you’ve shared a bed with,fought over who gets to dress the baby doll. You tell a sister stories of your first love, you share the same family. Kim was a stranger to me and my heart did not know where to station itself. I had been a shy petitioner for my father’s acceptance, now was I expected to give my all for someone I hardly knew?
A lull in the conversation prompted me to ask Kim if she wanted to meet in person, again. Unlike the times when I asked before, Kim did not enthusiastically answer “yes”. Within her voice, I could hear hesitation. Next came my offer to make a home cooked meal.
“Do your chemo treatments impact your diet much? ” I asked.
“No not really,” she replied. “I just want to eat boiled stuff like potatoes.”
“Do you eat meat?”
“Yes, it is like I am not on chemo at all. People look at me and cannot believe that I have cancer. I make everyone at the hospital laugh. I wish they would tell me everything, the story changes every time.”
The conversation went back to her treatment again, so presumably I felt that she needed someone to talk about it with. I drew a long breath, I felt I was not the right person. Kim had never seen my face. “Doesn’t it seem to you that dad should speak to you more about this?” I asked. “He tells me that our grandmother died from esophageal cancer…No one in my mother’s family has ever had cancer, they are the only people I know.
We were now cut off by her call waiting. She had a customer to drive someplace. Kim moonlighted on welfare as a livery cab driver. When she came back she said, “I am so tired”
“You should rest more.” I stressed. ” Chemotherapy is not an easy thing to endure.”
Kim seemed to agree by humming. “Did I tell you I do not look like I have cancer and all of the nurses and patients at the hospital love me?”
“Yes, you did,” I replied. “You are very brave and it is nice that you are an inspiration to so many who are stricken as you are.”
Kim seemed to have hinted at something which led me to believe that she wanted me to come to treatment with her.
“People like you know how to talk to the doctors?”
“No, not really. I just ask lots of questions and do research on my own. You are the best doctor you could ever have.
“A woman at the hospital asked me a lot of questions about my welfare medical coverage and gave me $25. She asked me if I thought the government would not tell me that I was sick on purpose and I said ‘Yeah’.”
I am afraid Kim lost me here. Was she telling me that there was a person on the hospital premises conducting a random focus group on health care reform? “Kim, what else did she ask you?”
“She didn’t believe me about the government. My doctors did not tell me anything about the cancer. They lied to me so I told her yes the government would let me die. I don’t trust them.”
It seems Kim did not put up any fences with the surveyor. “It is bad they could have helped me didn’t.”
To those familiar with life as a welfare recipient, Kim’s story is not uncommon and neither is her anger. In both fathers the biological one being he whose roaming nature kept him away from us and our surrogate father, the U.S. government, we shared an undeniable commonality.
In contrast, everything else was dramatically different.
I had left behind the life she was currently living.
How could two sisters have chosen separate paths after being on the same road during out formative years? Having to good wisdom to see that welfare was equivalent to the government running my life, I said “no”. Kim however, was still stuck and there was nothing I could do about it.
It took only 30 seconds for me to offer to make dinner for her again. What else could I give her? I could not cure her. I could not spontaneously have a few droplets of water added to me and become the sister she never had. The only promise lied in my readiness to play hostess and build a relationship from there. I imagined what the dinner would be like. Would it be awkward? Would my shoulder to cry upon be just as pathetic as it was now? Kim told me she has cancer and the government is letting her die and the only sympathy I could muster translated into an offer to sear her a salmon fillet and fix rosemary potatoes.
“Look,” Kim said. Her voice was sad and resigned.”I will call you to let you know if I can come for dinner.”
“Okay,” I answered. “I pray for you everyday.” I was telling the truth. Sure maybe I was an unintelligent stranger but I was telling the truth. Nothing was more unlike Afrocity, than the way I was behaving on the phone. I was powerless and Kim knew it. I know because today is Sunday and she never called me for that dinner.
Autographed Letter Signed,