That Day They Called to Tell Me

Debbie and her Momma

Debbie and her Momma

One year ago today, my sister died.
She was a “special needs” child.  But politically correct titles cannot capture the angel she was.

She was born in 1949.  On the first day of October.  Her birthday was always the most important day in the calendar — outranking Christmas even, and as a family we began to fret in August over what we would get her for her birthday.

She was born with hydrocephalus.  Google that condition now and the first hit that comes up offers “minimally invasive procedures” for treatment.  In 1954, when my sister was diagnosed, there were no “minimally invasive procedures” available to treat hydrocephalus.  In fact, there were few treatments available at all.  Doctors told my 25 year old mother (who also had a 10 year old) that her child would be blind by the age of ten and dead by the age of twelve.  Not long after that, her marriage to the father of both children ended.

When my father met my mother, they were both 30 years old.  My mother had fought everything and everyone that had condemned her child to death and, on a waitress’ salary, was rearing her two children alone.  My father was a single man who suddenly inherited a very “challenged” family.  Together, they added me and my younger sister to this family.  I was a teenager before I fully realized and understood that my two older sisters were “half-sisters” — there was nothing “half” about any of us — together or as individuals — due in great part to the wounded angel with whom we were blessed.

My sister taught me so many things.  She taught me how to read and how to write.  By the age of four, I could do both as well as children twice my age.  Most importantly, my sister taught me patience, humilty, humour, tolerance, grace, perseverence, kindness, generosity, compassion and love .  As she was dying, I lay my head on the pillow beside hers and whispered, “Anything good I am is because of you.”

This is more true than I can express.

In the end, after multiple, painful, dangerous surgeries and countless battles, my sister lived until 2 weeks before her 58th birthday, baffling the medical community and laughing about it all the way.

My sister, Deborah Fuller Rogers, died at 2:45 a.m. on 16 September 2007, with my mother cradling her and all of her family and many friends, crowded around her bedside.

The following poem is not written about that day.  Nor is it reflective of her amazing life and indomitable spirit.  It is only a day — one day — but, it was, perhaps, the day when I knew she was, actually, leaving us.

It is also the first poem I had written in over ten years. 

At the end of her life, my sister had yet another gift for me —  she gave me back my voice.  And every day I see her smile and feel her fold her wings around me.


That day they called to tell me
you were crying
you were afraid

You who never cries
You who are so fearless

That day they called to tell me
you were crying
you were afraid


It was hot
Texas August hot
I had patients
many patients

The number came up on my phone
I stared
as always
Steeling myself
for death

The number came up on my phone
rising from the asphalt mirage of a Chinese restaurant parking lot
where I sat
in the heat
overdue work
across the seat


Breath holding

Something is wrong with Debbie
She is crying
She is afraid
She is asking for you
Over and over

Asking for you


Worse than death

The click of the closing phone
The left side of my brain doing what it does
Forty-five miles to her
No gas
Three patients

Left side clicking away

Its right side twin doing only what it could

She is crying
She is afraid
She is asking for you
Over and over

Asking for you

The black banquet table of Texas road
wincing into the blue-white afternoon
Hearing a voice
Yes, please, if we could re-schedule… Yes, tomorrow, say for 6:00?  Brilliant. Thank you.
The voice of the left

The right still screaming

She is crying
She is afraid

Standing frozen in the heat outside the doors
Beyond them
lay a place I could not go
a place from which I could not turn

Pushing past the re-conditioned air
down the coolness of the hall
the wedges of my shoes
squeezing soft puffs of
in their wake

And there you were


Caregivers huddled
around your bed

Also crying
Also afraid

They parted like a warm wave
so that you could see me

Not crying
Not afraid

Oh, please
Let you see me
Not crying
Not afraid

Then came the smile
Your smile

My god, that smile

Overwhelming the fear
that pooled
in the deep brown vastness
of your

Arms up
Arms out

Falling into them
scooping you to me
Wings closing

Around me

©S.Rogers March 2008

14 thoughts on “That Day They Called to Tell Me

  1. Jeffrey says:

    My Dear Friend,

    Words right now are not enough to describe how I felt after reading this very touching and heartfelt story about your sister and the equally touching poem that only someone with your love and sensitivity could write. From what you wrote here your sister was truly an amazing woman. Your mother is also a truly amazing woman for having to endure many hardships at an early age and for raising her daughters on her own.

    Beautiful, touching, heartfelt — these are just some of the words that could describe this tribute to your sister.

    I am so honored that you are one of my best friends and that you have touched my life with your writing and have made me appreciate much more about life by what you write.

    God Bless you Stephanie and watch over you, your mom and your sister who is looking down on you today and smiling and watching over her wonderful and loving baby sister.

  2. catgem says:

    thank you so much, my dear jeffrey — but i am the lucky one — not only to have been Debbie’s baby sister, but to now have you as such a good good friend

    god has indeed blessed me — and i pray always the same for your and your beautiful family

  3. darcey says:

    Stephanie- What a beautiful read and tribute to your sister. Sometimes people in our lives can be such a gift, a gift of love and wisdom. You were doubly blessed with your Mom and sister. The man who came into your Mom’s life too.
    Thank you for sharing this with me. No doubt they are angles looking in on you often. darcey

    • catgem says:

      Darcey, I’m lucky to still have my mother — i live with and care for her — and yes, my father and my sister are our angels watching over us — thank you for sharing them all with me 🙂

  4. […] My older sister, Debbie, died in 2007. Debbie was a special needs child. Although she lived long past doctors’ […]

  5. DeNise Koetting says:

    Steph — that is beautiful!

  6. chastâ says:

    I think that this will shine so bright it already has seemed to reach people through all sorts of barriers! Love acceptance, brotherhood, kindness, compassion, these are all the things that will move us forward. Stephanie- your person was Debbie- in a way I kinda think you’re mine you are such a wonderful person & have taught me a lot through being a bystander. The fact that you started this with the thought of helping sky, providing for it nurturing it loving it and passing it along. Thanks for being proof you can go through some serious SHIT & come out still willing to share the smiles 😉

  7. catgem says:

    precious Chasta — i read this three times and still have no words fit to reply

    so i’ll just say Thank you… thank you for being a light-bearer…. thank you for being in my life

  8. Meagan Eid says:

    I was blessed to be in the room when God called one of his most precious angels to heaven. I have never forgotten that day and the love shared by all in that room. Debbie helped make me the nurse I am today!

  9. telenna says:

    Very moving. I do not have the words to express everything I feel at this moment.

    Not sure why, probably because it has been years since I have read his poem, but something about the poem made think of Whitman’s, “Out of the Cradle…..” You are truly a gifted poet – glad you have your voice back.

    We are very fortunate to have sisters and it sound like yours was extra special.

    • CatGem says:

      Telenna,thank you so much for this. Yes, sisters are very special. And sometimes they have nothing to do with sharing blood. Am so glad to have you back in my life. Much love.

  10. […] first I have experienced since I became a “death professional” in 2004.  Most notably my precious sister, Debbie, died in 2007, and she has been followed by other family members and friends.  But there is […]

  11. […] some of you know, my sister, Debbie, collected pennies.  This is a penny covered in something that has embedded it into the parking […]

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