STORYTIME: A Letter From The Dead
In early 2013, my sister was going about her normal day until she fainted. Of course this was not normal, so she was rushed to the hospital. After days of testing, she was diagnosed with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, otherwise known as HLH, a severe systemic inflammatory syndrome that had a 50% survival rate.
Our family was devastated. We spent as much time as we could visiting her at the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids. I would go to my college classes at Grand Valley State University in the day then visit her at night, when I didn't have to work. It never seemed like there was enough time to spend with my sister. If I knew the ending to this story, I would have quit school and spent every second that I could with her.
Victoria (Tori) was treated with chemotherapy and other drugs but often times needed life support to temporarily stabilize her body. Even when she was on life support, there was never a thought in my mind that she wouldn't make it through. I may have been naïve but my sister was a warrior. As a child, she had been in a severe car crash that put her in the hospital for months. She smiled through the entire process. As a big brother, I would slug her in the arm when she purposefully annoyed me and it never stopped her from continuing to do it. She was even abused throughout her life but again her smile never wavered. In my mind, she was indestructible.
As time went on, Tori's body began to wither away in her hospital bed. Her skin changed colors, her weight decreased and she could no longer hold up her body without assistance. The time came when we had to say goodbye. She laid in her bed, gasping for air and whispered "I love you" in my ear. I said it back. Seconds later she was gone.
The funeral for my sister was a haze. My anger and sadness didn't let me take part in anything going on. No one or thing could help me in that moment and it was the beginning of a depression strong enough to take over my life. The depression led to addiction and isolation. For months, I lived in that state of emptiness until my sister spoke to me from her grave.
There was a handful of my Tori's belongings that were given to me. The pain of going through it was too hard to bear, so initially I left it in the box. Finally, one night, I started rifling through the box and found a folded up piece of paper. As I opened it, I noticed that it read "My role model" at the top. It was a one paragraph essay that my sister wrote while she was in middle school. The essay was about me. She had stated that the reason that I was her role model was because I knew what I wanted in life. She also stated that "we have had a hard life, but we made it through all the bad times". I couldn't help but burst into tears and set the box aside again.
It would be untrue to say that the depression, addiction and anger had instantly disappeared. It lingered around for a while but this became the beginning of recovery. My sisters words became the fuel to change and overcome what I was going through. She reminded me who I was and what I wanted in life.
This also led to the growth of the relationship between my brother and I. We went from being siblings to best friends, where we still stand today. My sisters essay is now my most prized possession and has helped me not only change my life but others around me. Each person that I positively influence is a testament to what my sister knew I was meant to do. She saved my life and will forever be my angel. Thank you, sis!
R.I.P. - Victoria Jessica-Elizabeth Smolka (12.04.92 - 09.16.13)
Greg is a Grand Rapids, Michigan native with a passion for personal growth.