VIOLA - When the phone rings this morning, I just knowit isn’t going to be good. It’s my niece, calling to tell me that my sister, Jill, is nearing the end of her life. Her pulse is low, skin blue, and she can no longer swallow. Hospice is administering morphine.
But as I start to make my plans to get to Milwaukee, I don’t imagine my sister lying in a bed dying. Instead, I hear her slamming the bedroom door when she’s angry. I see her pulling her well-loved ‘blankie’ out of the lettuce crisper before going to bed at night because she likes it cold.
And now, as I’m preparing to head to out to be with her, I keep hearing the song ‘Surfer Girl,’ by the Beach Boys. I google it and hit play:
Little surfer, little one,
made my heart come all undone.
Do you love me, do you, surfer girl?
Jill’s nickname in high school was Surfer Mouse and that was her song. We shared a bedroom and the song circled my brain then as it does now—only now I don’t want to turn it off.
In our bedroom, Jill kept a small sculpture of a surfboard with a stylish bikini-clad mouse riding on top of it. When Jill wasn’t there, I’d hold it. It was one of her prized possessions. The link between this treasure of hers and the song seems important to me now. I wonder who gave it to her.
Mostly what I’m picturing now is Jill with our brother, Jack. They were nine months apart and they were inseparable. They fit together as their names implied: Jack and Jill.
As Jill and Jack got older, their love for the Packers, and for sports in general, meant watching games together on TV or getting tickets and going to the stadium. They talked the sports talk that I didn’t care a lick about, but I envied the special bond they enjoyed.
Images stream by of her with her nieces and nephews, who all call her ‘Auntie.’ She is laughing and giving them candy, although it’s frowned upon by the parents but not by Auntie.
When my daughter, Jessica, was young, Jill would often babysit for me. Jill showed her love for Jessica in her own particular way: with gifts of odd clothing with dog prints, squishy farting pig toys, and lots of candy and chips.
When I get to Jill’s bedside I’ll stroke her hair. I can still see how Jill was before Alzheimer’s took over. Her blond hair was thick and wavy, her eyes pool-water blue, her cheeks full and round, and her teeth small and even. Jill had light skin and sunburned easily. She wasn’t able to soak herself in baby oil and lie out in the sun, but she did spray masses of Sun In on her hair.
When our dad died unexpectedly in 1980, Jill was crushed. She and her gang of friends had loved my dad and called him ‘Stamp.’ I never asked why. Even though I was too young to remember it all, I still see Stamp driving my sister and her friends to downtown Milwaukee, against my mother’s wishes, to attend their first concert: James Brown. Our box-shaped record player nearly wore out over Jill’s obsession with the song ‘I Don’t Care’
I don’t care about your past,
I just want our love to last.
I picture Jill’s family: her daughter, Samantha, and Samantha’s husband, David, and their children, Claire and Wesley. I can’t think of my sister without seeing them. Everyone who knew Jill knew Sam and the kids. They were Jill's favorite topic of conversation, her pride, her joy and her one true love. Oh, how they will miss her.It’s time to go see her now. I’d like to be with Jill when she leaves this world. I want to think about Jill’s only and best-ever dog, Duke, a giant gentle black lab, waiting patiently to greet Jill when she joins him. She’ll love that.