Tag Archives: family

Remembering Ellen, Three Years Later

 

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I’m now older by a year than my older sister will ever be.

It’s a reality I’d never considered much. “I’m fourth of eight, two older brothers, one older sister, three younger brothers, and one younger sister—all in twelve years.” That was always my standard refrain when asked about my siblings. I’d oftentimes add in a p.s., which invariably elicited a laugh. “I’m the quintessential bitter middle child.”

Here we are, three years to the day when Ellen Marguerite O’Hara took her last breath—and yet, it oftentimes still does not seem real.

I was chatting with my daughter the other day, and the subject of Ellen came up. Gabriella and Ellen had a close bond; Gabriella really trusted and respected her—and the plan for the future was most definitely not this one.

The plan was growing older—all of us—together. Attending future weddings of our many 20-something nieces and nephews. Meeting their future progeny. Making plans to reconnect with all the “West Coast O’Haras.”

Oh, and of course, spending precious time with the Washington state branch of the O’Hara family tree—the Montano men, we three sisters & the two other cousins, Gabriella and Lillie (who now goes by “Levi”).

In time, when the cousins were older, all of us drinking red, red wine in Ellen’s candlelit living room on Spokane’s South Hill on a relaxing Saturday night, savoring whatever was on the menu for the evening. Soup made from a beef stock that had simmered all afternoon, or spaghetti in a sauce that made your senses sing. Whatever Ellen made, it was always sensational. “I just followed the recipe,” she’d invariably say.

One of her last texts to me, before things went from bad to worse and kept on going, was on Valentine’s Day 2014. “Wicked is coming here in May. We should all go.”

It wasn’t meant to be. A different kind of wicked had taken hold; the cancer would soon take its toll.

Three years ago today, she died. Later this evening, Gabriella and I will raise our respective glasses of red wine and send a toast out into the universe in honor of Ellen Marguerite O’Hara. (Will you join us?)

red wine pouring

breeandlilwater

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“Don’t shake your head. Nod.”

 

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It’s only been a week and a half since the sudden death of my sister, Ellen. 

Exactly two weeks ago, I was standing by her hospital bed. I had arrived the prior evening, racing across the I-90 from Seattle to Spokane after hearing the awful news. Acute renal failure. Stage 3 uterine cancer. Metastacized.

She’d been scheduled for a hysterectomy. She’d stayed home that prior week, private, proud, independent and always so strong, awaiting the arrival of our younger sister, Regan on Sunday, March 9. She was in terrible pain that continued to intensify as the week progressed, but apparently thought it was to be expected.

I’d texted her midway through the trip. “I will be arriving in a few hours. Can I visit?” No word until I neared the exit for downtown Spokane. My phone pinged. “Not tonight.”

The next morning, my younger sister and I headed to Sacred Heart Hospital. Ellen’s room was empty. We found her next-door, in the dialysis room.

I slowly approached her bed, unaware that I shaking my head at the sight of her. IV drips of various medications were circulating through her veins. She breathed through the mask of her CPAP machine.Her right hand was tightly clutching the device that administered potent pain meds on demand, every 20 minutes. . 

Her eyes revealed the unimaginble agony she’d endured. I think that was what I was shaking my head at most as I approached her. She stared intently at me, my always-in-control, take-charge sister. She was reading my face, the way she’d always done for the past 54 years. After a few moments, she spoke, softly: “Don’t shake your head. Nod.” It was quintessential Ellen humor. I obeyed her directive, per usual.

Regan then handed her the will. Ellen had asked her to bring it with us to the hospital. She held it up closely to her face and began scanning it carefully. I watched, silently.

Regan left to get an update from the doctors and nurses. Ellen stopped reading, and looked over at me anxiously. “Do you think ReRe can handle this?” (Ellen had chosen Regan way back in 2007 as the guardian for her teenaged daughter.) “Should I switch it to you?”

I assured her that she’d made the right choice; that our little sister was stronger than we knew. She had her amazing husband, and me—and our big family.

It was now her turn to nod. She returned her gaze to the will in her hands, and continued reading.

 

 

 

 

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