My sister-in-law lost her younger sister about two weeks ago. We’re going to her funeral in Essex today.
As a toddler, Donna had been a victim of medical malpractice that led to traumatic brain damage. Her family received a huge compensation package from the National Health Service (NHS). The money was set aside to make sure she was properly looked after for the rest of her life.
And every pound and pence would be needed. It was projected she would not live to 21. But she far outlived medical estimates.
Donna never grew “old.” But, for over 35 years, she had been unable to do almost anything for herself. Her parents and family – her mother especially – mostly looked after her.
She never developed mentally much beyond about age 3. She could not walk. She could not really feed herself. To communicate she grunted, indicated with her head, pointed and gestured, could say what sounded like “yes” and “no” and a few other individual words; but never could really speak. She could not dress herself. She spent her life in wheelchair or in a modified bed. She required a specially designed bathroom.
I’d seen her over the years during get-togethers at my sister-in-law’s, or her mother’s, homes. When you reached down and greeted her with a hug and a smile and said, “Hello, Donna,” depending on her mood sometimes she’d offer a slurred, “Hello” and might smile in response. She recognized you. You could see it in her eyes and reactions.
Younger family members fussed over her. From childhood, they learned how to care for someone who needed help in every routine way. It was remarkable watching my niece and nephews looking out for, and helping care for, their aunt.
She would yell and laugh *loudly*; you knew when she was happy. (And you certainly also knew when she wasn’t happy.) She loved animals, so her mother always had dogs. In the run up to Christmas every year, with all its color, music, food and (perhaps best of all) receiving presents, she would sometimes become so excited her mother feared she would agitate herself into needing the hospital.
Her father died about 10 years ago. Her mother also had developed breast cancer a few years ago, leading to concerns about what would happen if Donna managed to outlive her. That, now, of course, is no longer a worry.
She is survived by her mother (whose cancer was treated and – knock wood – has not recurred), my sister-in-law (and family), and two brothers and their families. She was a joy to her mother and her family. May she rest in peace.
I thought I’d put up a photo I snapped the other day in Bradford-on-Avon. I posted it for no reason other than I like that spot, just along the River Avon. When it’s quiet (as it was then), it’s lovely.
Kam is in my thoughts a lot: I miss her. (On my writing desk, I keep a photo that includes her.) Nothing, and no one else, ever replaces someone we have lost. Every person is unique. We who survive have no choice but to go on to the new. It is as old as time.
We may think we have troubles, and undoubtedly we do face daily challenges. But we should always remember that if we are fortunate enough to have decent health, we are doing at least that well. Have a good day, wherever you are in the world.