Friday, December 28, 2007

Sister Oui

My sister Ouida died at Christmastime. She was 73. She had been in an Atlanta area hospital for weeks, and a surgical procedure failed to rid her body of pain and poison.

The funeral home asked me, “Was she married?”

“Several times,” I told them.


“Several times.”

The first time Ouida married, she was 16 and ran away from home. She quit high school. It is a great advantage in life to have a big sister who can show you things not to do. Ouida was always a grown person to me. In my earliest memories, she is already a teenager. I did not know sister from shinola; she was one of my mommies. She was born Ouida Faye, a beautiful Southern double-name. My Daddy was the only one who called her Ouida Faye all his days; he did not abandon Southernisms lightly. “Ouida” is pronounced like the French “oui.” All of her little nieces and nephews, as they came along, called her “Aunt We.” Ouida had two beloved daughters, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Ouida was among those of us who smoked more than one pack of cigarettes a day for many too many years. She became a lung-cancer survivor. During her recent hospitalization, I talked to her about how I had been prepared in my mind several years ago for her death. But she was a tough old bird. I said to her, “At this point, I believe you may live to be 90, like Mother.”

Ouida said, “I’m sure as hell gonna try.”

For a while, it looked like Ouida would once again be discharged from the hospital and sent home. I observed one of her physical therapy sessions, a not very successful effort to stand her up from her hospital bed. “She’s lazy,” the doctor declared to me. Ouida died less than two weeks later. Madame Physician, first, do no harm. Bitch.

Ouida and I talked about plans for her to move to Florida to be near her daughters. She liked to talk about the future. She liked for me to hold her hand and rub her arm. I read her the blog I wrote about our eccentric mother. Ouida laughed till the tears rolled down her face. In her final few days, we communicated less well, between my deafness and her struggle to say anything at all. The last thing she said to me, and not for the first time, was, “I love you.” Not, “I’m in pain.” Not, “my life is over.” Not, “It’s time for me to lay this burden down.” But, “I love you.” The sweet taste of those words on her tongue and that thought in her mind and that feeling in her heart.

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

Losing a sibling is like losing a part of oneself. My sister died in 1996 and I still miss her every day..especially when something goofy happens & I want to pick up the phone and call her and tell her about it.

Oreo said...

Though my sister is currently living in Portland, OR, we can still pick up the phone and carry on a conversation like we never stopped. When we talk to each other, our thoughts skip around so much anyone from the outside would wonder how the topics relate, but somehow we both make the connection without having to ask.

I'm sorry for your loss. I know the words are small and insignificant, but they are written with the full meaning behind them.


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