Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheese Grits

I've been trying to figure out a way to explain my sister, Kathy, to you.  Words like "effervescent," "hilarious," and "wise" seem to be eclipsed by my technicolor memories of her.  She dances through my mind from time to time sprinkling happy memories over my heart.

She passed away on January 19, 1998, at the age of 38.  Diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia, her days were numbered from the start - 18 months of days to be exact.  She underwent several rounds of chemo and radiation.  In August 1997, she had a bone marrow transplant from a non-familial donor.  As summer turned to fall, she slowly began to regain her strength.  We declared victory over AML. 

It snowed in West Texas that Christmas Eve.  Kathy was determined to make the trip from Allen, TX to Lubbock on Christmas Day to be with my family.  She ended up flying home a day or so early with my mom by her side because she wasn't feeling well.  Lee loaded up their car with Christmas gifts and 3 year old Kelly to slowly make the drive back to Allen on slick and slushy Texas highways.  It was Sunday, December 28th.

On Monday, Kathy was checked back into Baylor Medical Center's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.  The angry cancer had come back with a vengeance.  Its cells were doubling, tripling, and quadrupling.  Generally considered a "childhood cancer," AML is a very aggressive and deadly cancer for adults.  The doctors at Baylor Hospital fought hard until the very end.  They began another round of chemo on her already fragile body.  There was talk of getting stem cells from her original marrow donor.  Those talks became whispers as the cancer cells marched in growing ranks throughout her body.

The new year dawned as  Kathy began to slowly wither away.  Then came the ventilator.  Then came the morning of January 19th.  Then silence followed by the commotion that surrounds interment.  Then even deeper, deafening silence.

Just two weeks earlier, Kathy looked up at me from her hospital bed and softly said, "Let's play a little game."  Knowing that her condition was very, very serious, she managed to find humor in the varied reactions of her numerous visitors.  "I can tell who thinks I'm about to kick the bucket and who is certain that God is going to  spontaneously heal me.  Watch 'em when they come through the door."  There were the "Exuberants" who entered smiling and happy.  There were the "Sympathetics" who came in with their heads tilted and eyebrows raised with sympathetic smiles painted on their faces.  Kathy and I exchanged discreet, knowing glances as the parade of people passed in and out of her room.  She had a gift for finding the funny in the saddest of situations.

With taste buds bereft of their senses, Kathy's diet was narrowed down to a few favorite comfort foods.  Cheese grits became her mainstay.  She and I had been raised on cheese grits and gravy and fried everything.  Slowly guiding a tiny bite of cheese grits to her mouth one morning, she met my gaze and with a tiny voice said, "Wouldn't it be weird if they found out that cheese grits cause cancer?"  We both laughed half-heartedly.  There was no known cause for AML.  A lifetime of consuming buttery, cheesy grits seemed to be a viable option. 

Kathy filled a room with humorous banter and generous laughter.  She was one of the funniest people I've ever known.  The two of us at the Thanksgiving table created a comedic force of nature.  We performed in perfect synchronization as we dealt out funny family memories and imitations of good-natured mother.  Careful not to spew turkey and dressing from our mouths, we laughed until we cried.  We were each other's best audience.

I will tell you more about my sister as time goes by.  I greatly enjoy my memories of her.  Cheese grits never fail to put a smile on my face.



janbroome said...

Carolyn, my Georgia grandsons (3 and 5 yr. old)love grits, especially cheese grits. (They are moving to Brady, Texas this Friday, but will still be Georgia born). The 3 yr. old Kemp, wants grated cheese on top of his grits, and don't you DARE mix it up. Keats (age 5) likes his mixed up. Now I will fondly think of Kathy when I fix cheese grits for them. I didn't know Kathy, but did become a bone marrow donor in her honor, so it it so nice to get to know her through your writings.

Carolyn Lackey said...

Tell Kemp that I'm with him! I want the top of my grits to be orange! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Carolyn Lackey said...

Jan, I almost forgot...thanks for registering to be a bone marrow donor in Kathy's honor. That means so much to me!!!

Shanna said...

Happy tears! I absolutely LOVE cheese grits. Love you, friend!

Carolyn Lackey said...

Shanna, I think I get to feast on grits with lowfat cheese on the 3rd "level" of the 17 Day Diet. The problem is, each level takes 17 days. Soon and very soon...


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