Working on the Digging Deep Project has had deep, personal meaning for me, since I have a sister who was diagnosed with Juvenile (Type 1) Diabetes at age 12 and who struggled the rest of her life with complications and late effects of the disease.
I can’t help but wish that Beth had been able to use something like Digging Deep back when she was a pre-teen girl diagnosed with this mysterious illness—she was just the type of person who needed it. I was four years younger than she, but we were very close, and I rarely remember her talking about her diabetes. She was on the shy side and kept her feelings to herself about being sick. I have a hunch, that being the sixth of seven children, she didn’t want to upset the already rocky boat that was our family. She wouldn’t have wanted to worry my parents—in her mind they had enough troubles. She never dwelled on her problems; she didn’t want her illness to define her. Indeed, she had so much going for her (smart, incredibly cute, loyal to a fault, eager to help, quick to laugh and make fun of herself) that diabetes and cancer most certainly did not define my sister.
I don’t know if it’s age or just character, but Beth was not part of the “Me Generation.” She carried on as if nothing was about her, that her problems were minute compared to the other terrible stuff happening in the world. She had the grit of a WWII soldier in heavy combat, and used to tell me as an adult that “pain is relative.” She didn’t think her pain and suffering were worth any more than the next guy’s. This, from a girl who went into insulin shock (diabetic coma) so many times we lost count, who brushed with death at age 14 after a motor scooter accident sent her insulin levels out of whack. This, from someone who had kidney failure and two years of dialysis before a kidney and pancreas transplant, then pancreas failure and near death again, then a shocking diagnosis of advanced inflammatory breast cancer. She joked that she was a textbook case of all that could go wrong with one’s health, and was amazed that she didn’t catch bird flu, too, when that was a public scare many years ago. Looking back, I’m sure her own comic relief is what helped her plow through the difficult times. Or it’s what helped the rest of the family avoid the reality of how sick she was, perhaps.
My sister’s cancer metastasized and she passed away eight years ago, leaving a huge hole in my heart, as it has for all who were close to her. Her warmth, kindness and sense of humor were absolutely infectious and I’ve never found anything or anyone that can replace all that. Beth’s apparent good attitude and sense of humor, and focus on others instead of herself, despite all those years she struggled with her health, are what kept some normalcy in all our day-to-day lives for many years. But they are also what made her death at age 48 such a devastating loss to us. How could my best friend, this gorgeous force of nature, and the glue that held my family together, be gone? I still feel that way. She died on a full moon, and I still go outside every full moon to talk to her. You may call it weird that I just had my 97th chat with my sister’s spirit under the full moon last night—I call it coping.
I wish Beth had had Digging Deep during her youth for four reasons. First, so she could have gotten her true and honest feelings out about how unfair it was that she was so sick when we six other kids were healthy. I never heard her say “Why me?” and she never attended a support group or saw a therapist as a kid to get these feelings out in the open. Second, so Beth could have told her whole story without having to act like she was so strong all the time, without pretending that everything was fine. She tried to make light of it all, as a survival mechanism, but maybe that wasn’t the best thing for her. Third, I wish she had written in a journal because I would give anything to have a whole book full of her words of wisdom—a sort of testimony of her life. All these years later, I still miss talking to her every day—she always knew the right thing to say. Wouldn’t it be great if some of that were recorded in a book?
But fourth, and most importantly, I wish my sister had been able to journal because I truly believe that releasing her feelings that way would have been good for her health. I know it’s dangerous to think “what if” too much after losing someone, but really, if there’s a chance that communicating her feelings could have helped her heal emotionally and physically, I sure wish she had had more opportunities to do so.
Digging Deep is here to give kids that chance to communicate and tell their own authentic story, to feel a needed sense of relief, and to gain resilience in the face of their illness. So I dedicate the work I’m doing for Resonance House and Digging Deep to my sister Beth, who just adored kids. She would want all sick children and teens to have every possible chance to get better—fast!