Midge, My Sister Loretta Jean Schooler-Hillmon

September, 1995

 The spectacle of foaming white waves crashing into the jagged rocks that line this particular aspect of the Pacific Coast is especially comforting as, once again having released a loved one through the doors of eternity, we seek solace where sea meets sand.

     We have come to this place along the beautiful 17 Mile Drive near Carmel to push back the gnawing pain born from the loss of our baby sister,  Loretta, the one Grandma called "Fancy Pants." Perhaps through pondering this stretch of dynamic earth, we can find answers to those questions of time, life and eternity that have puzzled all of humankind from the beginning.  The sea--with its ebb and flow--calms and soothes us.

     The toll we pay on entering the Pacific Grove gate reminds me of others: bridges, conveyances, tuition--endless tolls that buoy us ever forward through this journey, this life.

     The park policeman, a dead-ringer for "Today Show" weatherman, Al Roker, cheerfully provides us with shiny brochures outlining famous coastal vista points.

     We continue and spot a thin man riding a bike along the left side of the road,

     "Is that Clint Eastwood?"

     "Nah, too thin."

     We must create laughter to dim fresh memories of the stark reality of death.  To do less would disappoint one who lived life as fully as did Loretta.

     The memories form pictures that dance across my mind's horizon.

     "Midge" (another nickname for Loretta as diminutive child) was our princess--and my real live doll.  Momma made me, the oldest girl (and fully two years Loretta's senior) her caretaker.  She became my shadow.

We talked of these things as she lay dying.  Our childhood, lost loves, rivalries, family stuff.  All trivialized by the impending journey to come.

     "I'm going on a trip and I don't need no suitcase."

     Wispy clouds drift overhead against a brilliantly blue sky and I wonder if she is there.  My mood is broken by discordant sounds from homely sea otters perched along the rocks staring back at excited tourists who photograph them and each other and jockey for loftier vantage points.

     The Lone Cypress is still there, dressed in widows reeds, it seems, awaiting her sea captain--who, unknown to her, languishes in his ship at the bottom of the sea.

     Cancer is an unforgiving disease, merciless and relentless in its quest to destroy.  And even while we have made great strides in the diagnosis of this plague, the treatment promulgated by our best medical minds has not reduced its mortality rates. In fact, cancer will soon take the No. 1 spot as the cause of death in these United States.

     I am reminded of the nursery rhyme from Mother Goose when I think of these past few months of watching helplessly as my sister's condition deteriorated.  It's about "Old King Cole," except in this case: All the poison (chemotherapy), the burning (radiation), the cutting (surgical excision) failed to put my sister back together again.  And, in the end, we learned that it was overkill and the failure of her autoimmune system to rally to the cause of homeostasis that was the real killer.

"I want to go home."

     In the end, Loretta chooses to leave rather than endure another moment of agony.  We watch as she journeys homeward in ever-increasing intervals.  Her gaze is fixed beyond our world and she likes what she sees.  Her eyes reflect the wonder of the beauty.  She smiles.  The pain is but a memory.

     A seagull swoops down onto the blanket of a picnicking couple. Startled, the woman shields her face and then looks quizzically at the bird, fascinated by its sudden boldness.  For a moment, the two size each other up.  And then the bird flies away, skimming the ocean's sparkling surface before soaring upward toward the heavens.