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When Glass Almost Mirrors Life

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Today, it's 3 weeks and one day since my sister Cheryl died from complications of cancer treatment. Twenty-two days. That's not very long, but I've somehow already reached the point where I can write about it. Somehow, I knew when I made her a bird bath, I would be doing this.

I haven't written a blog post in 4 months. Her treatments, which actually began in March 2020, are partly the reason, but her death on July 12 is the extenuating reason. My part in caring for her actually began last year, around October, when I started the mind-numbing task of trying to find her medical insurance to cover her treatment costs. That ordeal didn't end until February 2020. Once she was covered, I also began the process of managing appointments, calling doctors and nurses, insurance reporting, other tasks I can't remember now, and countless texts to her, family members, and friends. I also began working on the bird bath she had asked for back in the spring of 2019 after a visit to Colorado. (See, even family can't stop a certain amount of procrastination.)

Her request was simple enough: a large model, cobalt blue bowl with yellow. I assembled the pieces (shown here below), with yellow frit between the cobalt shards. (The yellow here is pale, but it's a "striker" color--one that matures to its target color upon firing--in this case, transparent marigold yellow.)

When I removed the bird bath "blank" (the fired, flat first step), to my distress, there was a huge bubble near the center. (For some strange reason now, I cannot locate the picture of that step of the process.) So I decided to carefully cut out just that circular area where the bubble was and inserted clear shards again for the base layer, three new shards of cobalt, which I bordered again with the yellow frit. I fired the bird bath again, and to my relief, the new blank turned out flat and almost as though there hadn't been a bubble.

I slumped the "healed" blank and sent the finished bird bath to her friend Barbara, and she gave it to Cheryl as a (very late) Christmas gift. Cheryl loved it and hung it in the large Burr Oak tree in the front yard of the family home (below, right). Birds came and visited it often, which, of course, pleased us both.

Cheryl's treatments began in early March 2020, first 8 weeks of radiation to kill the larynx cancer, along with 4 concurrent weeks of chemo. Near the middle of her radiation treatments, I flew to Houston during the last week of April through the first week of May. The staff let me in to her radiation treatment area briefly, and I can only say it seemed the stuff of science fiction. I saw how brave she really was.

With the gracious help of my friends Ross and Dawn, who let the two of us stay at their home for those 2 weeks, we were able to help her through part of those treatments, a trip to the emergency room, and a feeding tube surgery, which she needed by then because the radiation made her throat far too painful for swallowing. She would be on this setup (with a pump and feeding formula) for an indeterminate amount of time.

While I was in Houston, the Blue Angels passed directly over the parking lot where Cheryl was receiving her radiation treatments (below). The fly-over was intended to honor the sacrifices of medical staff as they labored under COVID-19, but I couldn't help but see it as an attempt to honor those suffering, too. Cheryl didn't get to see it, but it's a sight I'll never forget.

At some point, I realized how similar fixing the bird bath and Cheryl's treatments seemed: in both cases, a maligned part had to be removed and then healed by careful reconstruction and fire. Because of this, I had in my heart a renewed hope that her treatments were, in fact, going to work. I believed that she would be coming back to visit me in Colorado next summer, as she wanted so badly to do. Actually, she also wanted to visit in the winter, to sit in front of my big picture window at the dining room table and make wreaths, which she was very good at.

But even as her radiation treatments ended in June, her throat pain continued. Doctors assured her it was all part of the normal healing process. She didn't really complain, but I know the pain got to her. I know she also agonized over not being able to eat.

Then, the next stage of her treatment began--a lung lobe removal due to lung cancer. She went through the surgery fine. But unexpectedly, less than 2 weeks after that, she died suddenly. Her friend, Barbara, was at home with her but had stepped outside to do some chores. When she returned, she found Cheryl in deep medical trouble. Despite her friend's call to 9-1-1, Cheryl passed away very quickly. The shock is still with us all.

I believed that because she appeared to be responding to treatments and was feeling positive about things--and because I had been able to fix her bird bath and that it was holding water and doing what it was designed to do--that she would make it and get to do what she was here to do: to finish raising her grandson, Tyler, and make beautiful wreaths. But I was wrong.

Her friend, Barbara, has the bird bath now. I don't know as of this writing whether it is hanging in her yard, birds coming and going. But I know it will be.

I wish I'd gotten this bird bath done sooner so she could have enjoyed it longer. My procrastination haunts me. That part of this piece of glasswork mirrors life too much. Far too much.

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