My Timehop app and Facebook memories are sparse on Day 13, but the images and emotions of that day are forever burned into my mind. Out of all the days we were on the road, this one felt the longest. I awoke to a text from Mom asking me to call her as soon as possible. Since we were in Phoenix, I was two hours behind her. Barely awake at 7:00 a.m., I called her back and was met with news that Jess’ heavily sedated state was actually a drug-induced coma to attempt to let her body rest. The doctor’s assessment was that she would not wake up again.
I hung up the phone and went into shock. I stumbled to the bedroom next door where Anna was sleeping and knocked, hoping she was awake. She was; I opened the door and fumbled to get the words out of my mouth. She sat up, drew me to sit beside her and the tears started rushing down my face.
My absolute worst nightmare was suddenly staring me square in the face. My whole body was shaking, couldn’t stop crying, and just repeated “this cannot be happening” over and over as Anna hugged me tightly. I texted Mom and told her tell Jess a few things for me.
Anna was scheduled to meet Naomi E., one of her former teachers, for lunch about an hour north that day. There was no way I could go with her, but she felt terrible leaving me in such a state. She offered to cancel and stay, but I told her to go. There was nothing she could do and I didn’t want her to miss her lunch.
I had a decision to make that morning: get on a flight out of Phoenix or stay until I something changed. Anna was ready to put me on a plane, but I was thinking about what Jess would tell me to do. She’d already given me her blessing to go on the book tour when I’d gone home in February. We’d chatted one afternoon, and I expressed my misgivings about going, about being even further away from her that summer. She told me to go, and I did. And Mom had told me that morning that she was okay if I didn’t come home immediately.
Even with my world crashing around me, I knew Captain Jessifica would kick my a** if I abandoned this trip. We’d dreamed on a cross-country road trip one day, and in the deepest parts of my heart, I knew she would want me to see it through. She wouldn’t want me sitting at her bedside, wishing I could change things. She wouldn’t want me crying over her when I couldn’t do anything to change the outcome. She wasn’t that sentimental. In fact, she often made fun of me for being all touchy-feely. I also knew I didn’t want the image of her tube-laden, emaciated body to be lodged in my mind forevermore. I wanted to remember my strong, determined, feisty sister the way she deserved to be remembered. Healthy, free-spirited, with a thirst for adventure and a mischievous gleam in her eye. I wanted to remember the sister who dragged me into kooky photo shoots with palm fronds outside the walls of an abandoned seaside fortress. I didn’t want the image of the sister who had been my best friend for thirty years to be tarnished in my mind’s eye by the cruelty of cancer for the rest of my living days. Even today, I’m grateful that I see my sister when I close my eyes and not the shadow of herself that disease brought upon her.
We were scheduled to visit the Grand Canyon the next day, and all I could think was, “go for Jess. Go see what she can’t. Be her eyes.” My heart was shattering into a million pieces, but I had enough peace to decide to stay put for the time being.
Anna brought me coffee and ibuprofen before she left, placed a box of tissues by the bed, and told me her brother would get me to the airport if I changed my mind while she was gone.
I curled up in a ball in bed and stared at the wall between brief naps off and on all day. By the time Anna was headed back that afternoon, I had a massive headache and a definite craving for comfort food. Luckily, there was a Chick-Fil-A nearby.
That night, in an attempt to distract me, Anna’s brother’s family invited me to play cards with them. At first, I said no. Then they wore me down and I agreed to sit at the table and watch. Eventually, they convinced me to join them. We had loads of fun!
I must give a shout out to the LeBaron siblings, here. I’ve never met such a persistent, warm-hearted bunch of people as those LeBaron’s. And because they are all well-acquainted with loss and heartache, they all extended such grace and gentleness toward me on the book tour. Every single one of them who I met along the way made space for me and my bleeding, raw heart. I’m forever grateful to them.