I Promised My Sister I Would Write About How She Chose to Die

On the day before my sister Julie died, I lay down on her bed and held her gingerly in my arms, afraid that any pressure would hurt her. She had lost so much weight that she looked like a stick figure I might have drawn when we were kids. As her body had wasted, her tumors had grown — now several of them bigger than baseballs. Her abdomen looked like the lunar landscape, with protrusions everywhere, the sources of her pain plainly visible.

Two and a half months earlier, her oncologist explained that these tumors might soon block the liver’s ability to drain properly, resulting in liver failure, usually a fast and painless death. “It will be as though you’re going to sleep,” I remember him telling us on a Zoom call.

That had not happened. Those tumors continued to grow. No matter the doses of fentanyl and morphine, Julie cried out in pain, the only time during her long illness that she suffered like that.

On the bed, Julie and I said little as I smelled her hair, rubbed her back and told her how much I’d miss her. Born five years apart (I am the elder), we were a pair of matching bookends — from our teenage years, when we’d go to our respective queer bars, to later in life, when each of us faced a cancer diagnosis. I asked if we had anything unresolved between us, as my therapist had suggested. “Nope,” my sister replied. “I don’t want to leave you all, but it’s time.”

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