Anne Will Know Peace

by NotDownOrOut

Peggy has no expiration date. Anne will know peace at the end of her days. Arlene will live a long life. Joyce is 100% cancer free, her lymph nodes are fine and she has no lymphedema. My family and friends are my “secret” power. Prayer is the best medicine. Cheryl is winning her war against cancer. All of us find strength in knowledge and faith.

A few weeks ago I started reciting daily affirmations. Joyce, the woman I met at my last CAT scan, started me on this path with her lesson in the power of positive thinking. One of my affirmations was that Anne will know peace at the end of her days. Anne died this week of untreated breast cancer. Anne was in her nineties. She was diagnosed very late in life and decided not to treat her cancer because she already was confined to her home and lacked the strength to undergo treatment even if it was advisable. She lived in a home that she once shared with two of her beloved sisters. Anne, Marie, and Rosalie decided to live together after Anne and Marie lost their husbands. Rosalie never married. She was a “career girl.” She sold ladies’ fashions at J.C. Penney until she retired. Thereafter, Rosalie has taken care of the other two sisters until their deaths. None of the sisters had living children to care for them.

The sisters were proud of their Polish heritage. They were born and raised in a time when girls were raised to keep house. They kept house. When I was a girl, my mom used to tell us how the sisters cleaned their house from top to bottom–inside and out. I know all about inside cleaning. When I wanted to go to D.C. for a summer of college classes as a junior in high school, my parents agreed to pay for it if I washed all the walls in our house, dusted every book on the shelves, and washed every floor. It was a painful price to be paid and I paid it–sort of. I recall washing the walls in the den and kitchen, but I’m vague on the details of cleaning bedrooms and bathrooms. I am fairly certain my brother Danny did not allow me into the inner sanctum that was his room. We were eight years apart and arch enemies in those days.

Over at the sisters’ home, they scrubbed the outside of the house, too. They had buckets of soapy water and climbed ladders to scrub the home’s gutters and siding with giant sponges and they were older than I am now and thought nothing of it. I have a robot device that dusts beneath my bed and mops my hallway and kitchen floors. I have two air cleaners that suck dust from the air so that I can rinse the dust off every couple of weeks. This leaves me lots of time for doing the many things I now think are more important than house cleaning.

In 1994, my mom and I were invited to dinner at the sisters’ home. Rosalie and my mom were excited that one of their retired J.C. Penney coworkers and that woman’s husband had come to town for a short visit. The sisters spent two days cooking dinner for seven people. There were bowls and platters of food all over the dining room table. Everything was homemade and smelled delicious. Even their dog had a feast. Marie had baked a chicken in butter for their dog and Rosalie had bought a pound of Fannie May fudge because the dog ate the finest chocolate. I recall my own shock at the news that the dog would be eating chocolate. It is a known toxin and no amount of it is considered safe for dogs. The sisters scoffed at the news and gave the dog a piece of the confection while we ate our dessert. He lived to a ripe old age.

When he did die, he was sleeping on the edge of Rosalie’s bed. He had grown so old that she had to carry him outdoors to “do his business.” She still baked him chicken in butter. He still ate a piece of Fannie May fudge now and then as a special treat. She refused to move him from the bed in case he might still be alive and in need of his rest. The vet agreed to make a house call. He placed a mirror in front of the dog’s nose so Rosalie could see that there was no sign of moist respiration. He listened with a stethoscope and found no faint beating of the heart. Rosalie at last agreed that the dog could be buried in the backyard, beneath a favored tree.

My mom let me know that Rosalie was unable to sleep after her dog died. She feared he might still have been alive when her nephew laid him down in the backyard. Her fears woke her all of the time. She told my mom that the dog had never grown stiff after the vet’s visit. I explained that rigor mortis is a temporary condition. Its onset can be affected by numerous factors. Its disappearance can be as well. This proved to be a tremendous relief for Rosalie. Still, she hated to think that she might have let her dog down at the end. She confessed to my mom that she continued to worry that she should have let the dog go on sleeping awhile longer before letting him go.

I would have expected these plucky sisters to live on forever, but there came a time when nieces and nephews (children of the sisters’ two brothers) had to come over to help keep the household going. Nevertheless, the sisters kept going a long time. When we switched from analog to digital TV my mom called me and informed me that we were needed to visit the sisters in their home and convert their TVs. There were only two sisters in 2009. Anne sat in a big recliner with an oxygen tube in her nose. She was all dressed up in what my grandma would have called a house dress. Her hair was combed. She was attended by Rosalie, who could no longer drive and had recently broken her hip and needed a walker to get around the house.

Someone had explained to the sisters that they could get cable TV in their home, which would provide the necessary adaptation for them to receive local TV in their home after the conversion to digital TV, but the sisters were shocked that anyone would pay for TV. Rosalie could allow for the fact that some might pay to see the Wheel of Fortune spin, but Anne, who claimed she “liked TV as much as the next person” drew the line at paying for TV when it was already so filled with commercials. I knew the sisters would never pay for a converter box. I had bought two at Radio Shack and tossed a couple of sets of “bunny ears”-style antennae in my car for good measure. I took everything out of the boxes before we went inside because the sisters would insist on paying me if they knew I spent money, even if they would not have thought the matter worth the expense.

The two TVs in the home were decades old. Neither one had a connection for cable. I had anticipated this and had the right Y-adapters and some cable to make the necessary connections. Both sisters watched me carefully while I added new “contraptions” to their TVs. Even with the new antennae, reception was a bit “dodgy.” Rosalie explained to me that it was more important for the den TV to get a good picture of channel 7 (WLS) because Anne really did look forward to her Wheel of Fortune, and she rarely got up from the recliner once Rosalie got her settled there for the day. Rosalie whispered that she needed channel 9 (WGN) in the kitchen because she liked to watch the Cubs play baseball in the summer and there were times when the sisters did not agree on what to watch.

I expected to find dust piling up behind those TVs. Neither one of those women was steady on her feet. Anne was already frail in health, although built for surviving a long haul. Rosalie was complaining of blueness in her hands and feet, a condition that would grow worse and never be addressed because she always took care of the others and rarely acknowledged needing help for herself.

There was no dust to be found. When the women could no longer do these tasks for themselves, then others stepped in. Like me, they probably brought tools and tried to ease the sisters’ way into more modern times, but no one ever insisted that they could be more easily cared for in a retirement home. No one ever insisted that they pay for TV so they could pay for the pleasure of having 200 stations “with not a darn thing worth watching” except for Wheel of Fortune and the Cubs’ games in the summer, which were free, doncha know.

Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after that. She declined treatment. Her life had become even more focused upon her chair in front of the TV by then. Rosalie never fully recovered from her fractured hip and has lost most feeling in her hands and feet. She cannot drive her car any longer. But she is spry of mind and still watching free TV.

I was not able to attend the wake or funeral, but my mom was there. She expected it to be a quiet event. Anne was in her nineties. Her husband Logan was long ago deceased. Her brother John was gone, as was Marie. Only Rosalie and a brother named Albert were alive. But the place was packed with nieces and nephews and their children and some of their children. My mom did not ask anyone, even her friend Rosalie, how Anne died. She has attended too many funerals of family and friends to put anyone else through the burden of explaining over and over how it happened. But she reported to me that Anne’s breast had turned black and dimpled where the cancer was visible. Anne had tripped and fallen recently. Her relatives thought the fall “woke” the cancer and it took her swiftly.

The family asked that people not send flowers. Make instead a contribution to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the obituary said. Anne never fought cancer for herself, but she wanted to fight it for others.

As I drove out to visit my mom yesterday I thought about what it would be like to be one of those sisters. They let sleeping dogs lie. While some of us fight for life, they fought for life as they knew it.

I am not so very different from Rosalie and her sisters. I don’t wash my walls and it’s important for me to get out of the house and be with people; but I still watch local TV and refuse to pay for cable. I am happy that Anne got what she wanted. But, if cancer returns to my life, I intend to fight it, like my Aunt Arlene does. And, instead of letting others fight for others, when I can, I am going to help others fight, too. Because, if I do that, then I, too, will know peace at the end of my days.

Peggy has no expiration date. Anne will know peace at the end of her days. Arlene will live a long life. Joyce is 100% cancer free, her lymph nodes are fine and she has no lymphedema. My family and friends are my “secret” power. Prayer is the best medicine. Cheryl is winning her war against cancer. All of us find strength in knowledge and faith.