Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mary Steffens

When I was a little girl, my most important job was to take care of my little sister Mary. I did as good a job as a big sister could, but there wasn't anything I could do when she got Stage 2 breast cancer 13 years ago. And when it recurred 8 years ago, and metastasized to her lungs and bones and, finally, her brain, I was helpless. We talked on the phone at least once a week during the past year and a half, and every single day for the past several months. I'm very much at peace with our relationship--even when we were busy with children and other activities, we always made time for each other, and were never closer than during the past few years. But now there's a hole in my life, and in my heart, that can ever be filled. I spent this past week in Chicago--when I headed down there Saturday, I was pretty sure I'd be seeing her for the last time, but expected to be able to spend a week or two with her. But my nieces called me when I was just reaching the expressway and told me to hurry, and she slipped into a coma just a few hours after I arrived. She knew I was there--she squeezed my hand--but that was her last conscious act that I know of, and she died Monday afternoon. Several minutes after she died, her face relaxed into a smile. A genuine smile. After all her body had been through, she was at peace at last.

The nearest we could tell, there were about a thousand people at her wake, the church was very full at her funeral Friday, and all the stories I heard about her were amazing testimonials to a brave and loving woman who loved and whose love was returned by a great many people.