I don't even know where to begin...
I am blessed with three amazing sisters who have graced our brood with three delightful brothers-in-law. Each of these men has brought their own colorful blade to our family pinwheel. They've all been in our clan for so long, I can barely remember a time when they weren't part of our lives.
It took my sister Toni three times to find a mate worthy of her joyful essence. Her first husband was a complete bastard. He dragged her to Alaska, knocked her around and held her at gunpoint. Through the kindness of coworkers as well as strangers, she was able to escape that mercifully brief nightmare.
Her second attempt at a lasting relationship wasn't physically abusive, but was neither nurturing nor loving. That nine-year run ended with one quick burst of violence, from which he fled, rarely to be heard from again. #2 wasn't a bad man, but we suspect he was mentally ill. Knowing my sister wouldn't tolerate abuse, we believe he hit her knowing she would immediately kick him out, thus freeing him from any responsibility. He had a lot of faults and frailties that he couldn't necessarily help, but without him we wouldn't have our nephew, Will. So there's that anyway.
Any other woman would have turned bitter and angry, but my amazing sister never closed her heart to love. She was a little tarnished, but she never lost hope.
Then Art walked into her life.
And she shined brightly once again.
Not to sound cliche, but Art has a somewhat checkered past. That's not to say he was in jail--not that I know of anyway, but he wasn't always the most upstanding citizen. However, that was his past life before their paths crossed.
Timing is everything in life. Had they met ten years earlier, they never would have dated let alone married. He was too out there, too scary, too unsavory for my sister. No, they needed the span of years for him to temper and for her to loosen her black-and-white moral compass.
In Art my sister, Toni finally found a partner who respected, treasured and loved her unconditionally with all his heart. In Toni he found his joy, his center, his true North.
I tell you all this because Art is dying. His heart is not pumping blood with enough force to deliver oxygen throughout his body, his lungs don't function well and he's diabetic. He's on a litany of meds, but the only long-term fix is a heart transplant for which he is ineligible. There is no official time line, but in my gut it doesn't feel far away.
We had Sunday dinner at Toni's so she could keep an eye on Art, who is generally too weak to leave his bedroom. He's not bedridden, but he can't make it down the stairs without getting utterly exhausted, so he stays upstairs.
I went up to say hi and we chit-chatted a bit about nothing in particular. Then it got quiet. When he turned a serious gaze in my direction and asked if we could talk, I knew he was going to make me cry.
Choking back tears, Art (a non-believer if ever there was one) told me my sister is his Angel sent from God to save him from himself. She is the light that was missing from his life. Her joyful essence is precious to him. She gave him back his smile. His voice cracking, he told me his only regret is he won't get to spend more time with her.
It was so fucking heartfelt, it crushed me.
And then he made me promise to not let her drown in her sorrow when he's gone. He locked his laser blue eyes on mine and told me she's too full of joy and love not to have love in her life again.
Art's always been the pragmatic one, never afraid to look at the cold, hard truth of a matter. Dealing with his own impending death is no different, but seeing him in tears being as honest as he's ever been with me, tore out my heart.
Composing myself as much as humanly possible, I took my turn at truth telling. This illness is a wretched bastard, but it afforded me the opportunity to finally thank him for gently caring of my sister who always wears her heart on her sleeve, for bringing color back into her life, for loving her the way she always deserved and for making her so very, very happy.
I came home, sat in Geo's lap and just held on, crying, not wanting to think about the day we won't be together.
I didn't tell my sister about our conversation and I won't. She's going to have enough to cry about over the next six months. She finally found her match, and now she's going to lose him far too soon. My heart breaks for her, but at least she has known what it's like to love unconditionally, to be cherished, to be happy.
And that's a rare gift.