I brought her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an iced tea. I set the plate on her lap, along with a napkin, and moved the table next to her so that she could reach the drink. She was in her bed. She had not been able to go up or down the stairs in over two months. She told me, "I'm a burden. I'm a burden on my husband, my kids, my family--everyone. I'm not saying this to be dramatic or depressing, it's just a fact that I've been thinking about lately."
I don't remember what I said in response. I know I tried to tell her she wasn't a burden at all, that it was my pleasure to help her any way I could. I know she argued back. I know it made me sad. I want to go back and have a re-do of that conversation. I want to tell her what I know now, with the perspective of time and much mulling over.
What I know now is this: there was a huge burden, but it wasn't her. The burden was her illness.
The burden was what she carried. And it was so heavy that we all worked as hard as we could to hold on to parts of it for her. The burden was the wicked illness that attacked her body, making her nauseous and unable to eat. The burden made her unable to stand and walk. It made her feel unbearable pain. It was enormous.
When she died, the burden broke up into pieces, and each of her loved ones now holds a chunk.
Depending on the day, my chunk of the burden feels either easy and light, or like I'm carrying a 500 pound boulder on my back.
No, sweet sister, you were never a burden. You held your burden as long as you could, to keep it from falling on the rest of us. Now it is broken into smaller, more manageable chunks, but they are sometimes still very hard to hold.
You were strong, you tried so hard for so long, now we can take over and you can rest.
I love you.