April 20, 2024 by Molly Patrick

Sad feels inside

When my sister was in hospice, I had a conversation with my nephew’s son. I think he’s around 11, but I’m not great at keeping track of how old my family members are, so I’m probably wrong about that. It’s something Kirstie, my sister, was so good at. For over a decade, I gave her a day planner every Christmas. And every January 1st, she would cozy up on the couch with blankets, fuzzy socks, hot chocolate, smooth jazz playing in the background, and in brightly-colored pens, she would write the birthdays of everyone she knew in her shiny new planner.

She loved this ritual and looked forward to it every year. Sure enough, on each person’s birthday, she would not only call and sing an epic rendition of Happy Birthday, she would also send an actual birthday card with a heartfelt note that always arrived on time.

In the past 20 years, I’ve mailed exactly zero birthday cards. And you know what? I don’t feel guilty about it. But I do feel guilty for not feeling guilty.

Last year on my birthday, Kirstie was so sick, battling the end-stage of metastatic breast cancer. I was in Hawaii, and she was at her home in Idaho, trying to avoid going to the hospital for the umpteenth time that month. She wouldn’t go in unless she felt like it was literally life or death. I hadn’t heard from her all day, which was a first because she would always call the morning of my birthday, wanting to be the first to sing to me. I knew how exhausted and sick she was, so I went on about my day, not wanting to bother her with a phone call. That evening, as I was celebrating another year of being in my body on this planet, she called, and I didn’t hear my phone ring.

When my party was over, I saw I’d missed her call. I checked my messages and I felt my stomach drop as I listened to her birthday song. It was clear in her voice how much pain she was in as she struggled to get all the words out. Her voice was quiet and small, and it sounded like she was giving every fucking thing she had to sing that song to me. I sat on my couch and I broke down, knowing her end was near and this was the last birthday song I would ever hear her sing to me.

That night, she couldn’t take the pain anymore and she went to the hospital. My birthday was the last day she was home. After a week in the hospital, she was transferred to a hospice center, and she died two weeks later, three days before our dad’s birthday. I still have my last birthday song from her saved in my phone and I am very much not able to listen to it.

I’ve literally forgotten where I was going with this, but I’m flowing with it because apparently, surrender is my current word.

Right, okay—so I don’t know how old my nephew’s son is, but he’s probably 11. But he could be 13 and he might even be 9. I think it’s safe to say he’s between 5 and 15. I might be stating the obvious here, but I’m really not a good aunt, and I’m not making it a priority to be a better one currently. And for this, I do feel guilty.

So, back when Kirstie was in hospice, I was hanging out with my nephew's son. He was sad and I was sad. My sister / his grandma was a few days away from dying. He was super close with his grandma and so were his two little sisters. She lived just up the block from them and they saw each other all the time. I asked him how he was doing and he said he didn’t know. I have no idea how to talk to humans under the age of 35, especially sad ones, so I put the ball back in his court and asked him to tell me more about that. He stayed quiet for an impressive amount of time while he thought. I have a hard time letting there be silence, so I was studying him, trying to figure out how to get some of his superpowers.

A commendable four minutes later he looked at me with big tears in his blue eyes and said, “It’s just...It’s just this really bad thing is happening and it’s just going to keep happening because everyone dies.”

Arrow. To. The. Heart.

All I could do was give him a hug and share in his profound sadness. After a minute or two, he wiped his eyes, thanked me, and went to his room to play video games.

How I wish we could protect everyone we love from heartache, pain, disappointment, grief, setbacks, trouble, worry, fear, anxiety, sadness, uncertainty, and all the heaviness of this life. But damn it, we can’t because it’s a package deal.

Maybe the best we can do is listen and acknowledge how hard it is instead of trying to make it better.
Maybe, by trying to make it better, we take away a bit of truth, we deny others the full experience, we block the opportunities for growth that are bursting with ripeness during hard times.
Maybe our presence is enough.

Then again, I can’t tell the difference between a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old, so maybe don’t listen to me.

I gotta go—I have some phone dates to make with my nieces and nephews.

Have a weekend, my friend. It might be happy, it might be sad, it might be both. Just be present, knowing you are enough, and surrender to all of it.


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Written by ex-boozer and ex-smoker, Molly Patrick that will help you eat more plants while throwing perfection down the garbage disposal.


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