That Day They Called to Tell Me

The following was originally written/posted in 2008

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.

Debbie and her Momma, Betty Jo

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