This One’s For You, Tam
When I started planning this journey of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (okay, the Appalachian Trail first, but now the Pacific Crest Trail), I was hiking it to honor the memory of my sister, Johnnie Mae, and my mother, Marie. I never, ever, in a million years thought that I would be adding a name to that list, but sadly, today I am doing just that.
Two weeks ago, I got a call from my dad letting me know that my sister, Tammy, was in the hospital with pneumonia, blood clots in her legs, congestive heart failure, and a heart murmur. He said, with his voice breaking, “She’s just so weak…” I told him I would be home the next day.
Home is Longview, Texas, all the way on the east side of Texas, about an hour west of Shreveport, LA. I flew into Shreveport and my other sister, Terry, and her husband, Wayne, picked me up from the airport and very kindly loaned me their truck to use while I was there (thank you, Terry & Wayne!). I arrived fairly late and went to the hospital the next day to see Tammy. I had been told that she had been alert and awake over the last few days and had been holding conversations with the family. This left me very hopeful.
That hope faded when I walked into her hospital room the next day. Tammy lay pale and thin under her hospital blanket, appearing to be asleep, and I watched her chest rise and fall with each labored breath. I hugged my niece, Mandy, Tammy’s daughter, and then sat with Tammy, feeling a multitude of emotions that I tried to keep under control as I was trying very hard to be strong.
She never regained full consciousness, but she did have some moments of awareness. I stood next to her, stroking her head and I said, “Tammy, your sister Sonya is here. I love you.” Without opening her eyes, she grabbed my hand and said, “Love you.” This moment will remain precious in my heart.
I watched Mandy sit next to her mother, whispering comforting words and stroking her head, hand, patting her gently, and looking at her with such tenderness that it broke my heart. Such love is a treasure to behold and I would leave her room periodically give her privacy with her mother. Our dad was in and out to sit with her, but had the difficult task of making the “arrangements” as we knew that Tammy was going home, but not with us this time.
I cannot imagine how difficult it was for him to watch his daughter and Mandy to watch her mother going through this, but they both showed an astounding amount of courage and strength. In truth, it was difficult for all of us that were there – Mandy’s husband Lee and their two children (Tammy’s grandsons), Caleb and Coby, my brother Herb and his wife, Melanie, and their daughter Anna, my sister Terry and her husband, Wayne, my Aunt Gail, and the numerous friends, all of us with the same thing in common – our love for Tammy. Thank goodness for them and all of our other wonderful relatives who came afterward – I love them all and am truly blessed to have them in my life.
Against all odds, she did make it to the next day and by early evening, with her loving family all around her, we said goodbye to Tammy for the last time. She was only a few days shy of her 50th birthday.
Tammy was my stepsister, but I will tell you that she was my sister in every sense of the word and the “step” part never mattered. Her mother passed away when she a young teen and her father married my mother. She was an only child who suddenly had two brothers and five sisters. I know for a fact this was not easy for her.
With her long, blonde hair and large, bright blue eyes, I was always in awe of her – she was just so cool and grown up to me, even though we were only 3 years apart. She was a magnet to the boys and was popular in school – I loved hearing her stories when she shared them. She loved music and I cannot listen to the song, Life’s Been Good to Me by Joe Walsh without thinking about her. I am grateful for so many memories – walking to 7-11 on hot days for slurpees, giving each other perms and new hair colors (not me – never brave enough to dye hair until much older!), shopping for new clothes at the local thrift store (yep, I still do that), all the late nights we stayed up giggling, drinking strawberry daiquiris, the many Thanksgiving, Christmas, and holiday meals we shared, and so many more wonderful memories.
Tammy married young and had a beautiful daughter, Mandy, whom I absolutely adored. Strawberry blonde curls with a sweet, dimpled smile – I volunteered to babysit her every chance I got.
As adults, I saw her when I would bring my kids home for Christmas, reunions, or summer vacations. We were both busy, but always had time to hang out, have some drinks, and catch up.
Last June, after the family reunion, I went to visit Tammy for several days as she had had another surgery, but was hopeful that she was getting better and she definitely looked better than the previous time I had seen her. We spent a lot of time talking and sharing about the choices and paths we had taken in our lives. I gave her a special bracelet that I had made just for her and even got her doing some Hatha Yoga. By the time I left, I felt more deeply connected to her than I ever had and I will always cherish the time we spent together.
So, my heart is broken, but my spirit is not and I am more determined than ever to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Tammy, my mother, and my sister – no longer on this earth, but always in my heart. I will be carrying a small memento from each of them on my hike of the PCT. My memories of them will give me the strength and courage to hike this long trail. Tammy, you will be dearly missed, but some day, we will all be together again.
Vaya con dios.
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