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Sharon Randall: For sick sister, gift aims to remind of good times

By Sharon Randall

My sister will celebrate her birthday this week, but it won’t be much of a celebration. Never mind how old she is. I’d tell you, but if she found out, I might not live to see my next birthday.

Trust me, you don’t want to mess with my sister. I learned that lesson the hard way when we were growing up.

Bobbie is a force to be reckoned with. She was, as a little girl, standing her ground against boys who were older and bigger. And she still is even now, lying in a hospital bed, weak and frail and unable to walk.

After a long, scary spell of strokes, bad falls, ambulance rides and hospitalizations, Bobbie seems to be growing weary of fighting to stay alive.

I don’t blame her for that. Given the same battle, I doubt I could last half as long. But I don’t want her to give up.

That’s what I tell her when we connect on the phone. Not every day, but a few times a week. I call more often than that, but she doesn’t always answer.

Sometimes she’s sleeping or eating and doesn’t want to quit. Or she’s busy giving dirty looks to a nurse who wants to check her vitals, or a rehab specialist who dares to ask her — politely, I am sure — to flex her knee one more time, even if Bobbie says it hurts like you know what.

As a retired ICU nurse with a life of experience, my sister has little patience for anybody she thinks isn’t old enough or smart enough to tell her what to do.

I pray for those people. Bless their hearts. And I pray for Bobbie as I have since the day I learned how to bow my head.

She has always been my big sister, someone to laugh with, confide in and count on to have my back and set me straight.

When our parents divorced, she told me not to worry, we would be sisters forever.

When our brother Joe was born blind, she said it wouldn’t matter to anybody except to people who didn’t matter.

When I left for college, and she stayed home with three babies and a bad marriage, she told me to have fun and make her proud.

When my first husband died of cancer, she flew to California, put me to bed and let me sleep. Then she took me to Mexico and made me pose for a photo with her and a live chimpanzee.

I wrote a column once about how we’d argue over the “right way” to make iced tea. That column won a national award and Bobbie took full credit.

I could tell you so many stories about her. Instead, I’ll just say this: One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is simple. Sooner or later, if we live long enough, we’ll probably need to reverse roles with someone we love.

It happens with couples and parents and grown children and siblings. I’ve learned it firsthand. Maybe you have, too.

I never dreamed I’d need to reverse roles with my sister. I liked being the “little sister.” I didn’t want it to change.

Long ago, after our mother died, Bobbie stepped up to take Mama’s place for our brother. For years, they have visited often and phoned each other every day. Bobbie would call me, worrying about Joe. Now Joe calls me, worrying about her.

But lately, Bobbie has spent more time in hospitals than at home. And like countless other patients under COVID-19 restrictions, she hasn’t been allowed to have visitors.

Not even on her birthday.

She doesn’t want gifts. All she wants is to get well and go home. And I can’t give her that.

So I sent her a big box of chocolates. I hope it reminds her of “Forrest Gump” and how we laughed watching it together.

Meanwhile, I keep praying for my “big sister.” I don’t know what it does for her, but for me, it gives me hope. Maybe next year Bobbie and Joe and I and our whole family can celebrate her birthday together. And she can tell me, once again, the “right way” to make iced tea.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924, or www.sharonrandall.com.

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