It happened 9 days ago on a Sunday night when I wasn’t there. The only thing my mind could grasp as my mom told me over the phone was that Jessie still needed to get a pedicure.
The prior Thursday I left work early for a meeting with a consultant on the hemp oil. A woman arrived at the front door of the enormous Palisades home with a small dog in her arms. I was full of hope and energy as she told us about her 20-year history administering and using the oil. She claimed to be cancer-free, which is not a term the cancer community uses when someone is in remission. Some doctors will call a patient cured of cancer if she is in remission for 5 years or more, despite cancer cells still present in the body. Most of us have cancer calls in our bodies that are not activated. Despite all this, The Oil Lady claimed she was cancer-free; she was brought back from the grips of Stage 4 all thanks to hemp oil. I don’t really understand the science (1) but it has something to do with the cannabinoids in the human system being the same as in hemp and so on. I’ll share my future findings but, for now, all I can say is that much of what surrounds the oil is still illegal (or so I’ve been told). All I know for sure is that the oil can work. That Thursday was the last time I had hope. On Sunday she died.
Wednesday’s cloudless sky hung low above the Earth as the Sun shifted toward autumn. The last time I stood on the grass at Hillside Memorial was when Jessica buried her 3-month-old son, Bennett. I felt true loss for the first time there when I saw his tiny coffin and I wept for my sister because her pain was unfathomable. We did not know then that cancer was with her as she grieved. This time around, the coffin was not tiny.
The ripple effects of our loss are far-reaching and surreal. From what I can tell, the surrealism truly began after The Hemp Oil Lady left my sister’s home. Reality seized optimism with every logical question David posed about this snake-oil deal and it finally set in that Jessica’s liver was too weak for our hail-Mary play. I was eight all over again and coming to grips with the concept that God does not exist. I was hiding from reality when Sunday took my sister.
The mortuary provided overflow for the burdened, overfilled chapel. The crowd gathered out front in the hot morning sun while I secretly admired how sweetly they arranged her unmanicured hands atop her engagement party dress. Jessica Mitford’s The Embalming of Mr. Jones came to me and I was disappointed at how Jessie reposed. If they knew her then they would have not given her such a subtle smile. Three touching speeches later, I was free of regret for not being able to stand in front of 300. If our places were reversed, she could’ve eulogized me. But she was always stronger than I am.
Only the family was there for the burial. I felt for David when they handed him a biodegradable box with a bow on top. It was Bennett, exhumed so he could lay to rest with his mother. His box was placed atop his mother’s coffin and they both disappeared into the Earth and it reached out to accept them. I was wearing her heels and they sunk into the ground.
Jessica was my sister, my best friend, my role model, and my biggest fan. I was her maid of honor at her wedding and her pallbearer at her funeral. With almost decade of life experience between us, she was my counselor and trusted adviser. Because she was not automatically impressed with anything I did the way a mother would be, all of my hard work was for her. The extent of my love for my sister can only be matched by the extent of my grief for having lost her.
Thank you to everyone who came to the service and supported either my sister or her family. The most any of us can hope for is to be so remembered when our time comes.
(1) This link will summarize the linked study above, if you’re interested