The Beautiful Fight

This post is the third installment of Holliday’s story. Part I is called The Club and part II is called The Class.

* * *

Within the melancholy exists miraculous beauty.

Early one morning in 2002, my brother picked me up from the airport and drove me to see my dad in the hospital where he had been unresponsive since the afternoon before. It was his rapid turn for the worse which had prompted the phone calls urging me to catch a cross-country flight that very night if I ever wanted to see him alive again.

The second I walked into his room, I knew that though he was technically still with us, he was gone nonetheless. But I was wrong. He came back to us later that day.

“I died last night, Martha Lee,” he would tell my mom. She believed him.

And so did I.

In the days that followed, Dad made incredible progress, so much so that the doctors even contemplated his release, though it never came to pass. If it had, it would have only been so Dad could die in the ivy-covered stone house. With his stereo on. Listening to opera. Near his books. Near us. No beeps from machines. No lukewarm cafeteria meals served upon brown plastic trays. No nurses whose last names we’d never know.

Just us.

Dad gave everyone in our family quite a gift that last fortnight of his life. In light of how different we are, I’m certain we each had our own takeaway as to what that gift meant. Mine?

I learned that there’s much magic in the melancholy, much beauty in the struggle. Which is why you bravely fight on, no matter what. Not for you. But for everyone else. So they can see that beauty. Beauty which will live long after you’re dead and gone. Beauty that looks like hope. And determination. And dignity. And, most notably,

love.

It was that love I pondered as I stood outside Holliday’s ICU room and washed my trembling hands. I had a hard time tying a knot behind my back to secure the gown which I was required to wear, not to mention putting on those impossibly thin latex gloves which were also mandatory. I experienced an eerily similar routine nearly three years before, outside the doors of a different ICU, the neonatal ICU, each and every time I visited Kirby, the tiniest and last of our triplets to be born.

The circle of life? I wondered.

The calls had started the day before, on Saturday. My sister, Graham, had been in Houston since Wednesday with an important but simple objective — to help Holliday get through the second round of chemotherapy before transporting her back to the apartment she had rented where she would recuperate until the following round. The first one had been so difficult that Holliday remained in the hospital throughout. The same thing had held true this time, but she was doing okay. A bit loopy from the morphine (which was largely ineffectively in easing her pain), my sister still knew who she was, where she was, and what was going on–an improvement, believe it or not, from the first time.

On Friday I had spoken to Graham at length about the logistics moving forward. I was eager to clear some things off my plate such that I could fly to Houston and lend my assistance. But by late Saturday night, I realized that instead of leaving for MD Anderson in a few weeks to help Holliday live, I’d be leaving in a few hours just to reach her before she died.

The doctor was holding Graham’s hand when he had delivered the news. Our sister was simultaneously experiencing multiple life-threatening situations. In spite of the hellishly aggressive chemo, the tumors had actually grown. And they were bleeding which was particularly troublesome because her blood contained next-to-zero platelets. What’s more, Holliday’s white blood cell count was virtually non-existant which meant that even the smallest infection could cause her demise.

Graham suddenly had a new objective — to relay the grim report to the rest of us. The doctor warned her that Holliday’s husband, who had originally planned on driving over the following day, had better fly instead. That was all I needed to hear.

Holliday’s husband and daughter were already in the room visiting with Graham when Mom and I arrived. I wasn’t sure which was more surreal — the sight of my sister on what I assumed to be her literal deathbed, or the fact that idiomatic pleasantries are actually exchanged before such a backdrop. I walked to my sister’s bedside, unsure of what to say. So I said nothing, I think. Except maybe her name. But I’m not even sure I said that. All I really remember was hoping to have some time alone with her.

Which I did. For 45 minutes. Silent minutes at first. Until I decided to talk about our common past which had created such different people — though still ones who would, in many ways, forever be exactly the same. I told her that we still wanted her to fight, but only if she wanted to. I sensed that she did, though I also knew that a pitcher only holds so much water. At some point, if you continue to pour it out, there’s simply nothing left.

Not even a drop.

The cacophony of beeps and buzzes belonging to the medical machinery which surrounded us was distracting, especially when an alarm sounded for what felt like an entire minute. I allowed it to interrupt our one-sided conversation, as if whatever it had to announce took precedent over what I was saying, at which point I politely looked away, so as not to offend it, before gazing down at my phone to check email until it had finished. Once certain it was through, I scooted my chair right next to Holliday and continued again. Hesitant at first, I slowly reached my hand out to touch her arm. She had been twitching morbidly throughout the entire visit, yet the intensity of those motions picked up drastically the instant I made contact.

Skeptics won’t believe me and I’m sad for them. Because it’s true. And so’s this — Holliday knew I was there. If not her unconscious mind, then certainly her undying spirit.

That night, Graham, Mom and I ate dinner at a restaurant in the lobby of the Marriott. We spoke of our little club between bites, fondly reminisced between sips. Dad was alive, again, sitting right alongside of us, if only until we got our check. In fact, everyone was there, though you could only see the three of us.

That’s what people do, you know. They gather somewhere and remember. And sometimes say things with their eyes. Even if their lips don’t quite push the literal words out. Which is okay, because they don’t have to — their minds already know it. For those things are true.

They’re why they gathered in the first place.

Mom and I flew back the next morning, Monday, July 5th. Holliday’s husband and daughter would be staying with her until the next Saturday, which would give us time to figure out a game plan from that point forward. The terrifying turn of events had seemingly stabilized, but ultimately, Holliday was still caught between worlds. It’s our hope that she’ll find her way back to ours, if only to give us a similar gift to the one Dad gave us nearly eight years ago. Regardless, her fight has spanned decades and contains more beauty than she’ll ever know. Why didn’t I ever tell her that before?

Maybe I’ll have another chance, yet.

I dropped Mom off a little past five and headed home, staring blankly out my windshield, negotiating the final leg of an exhausting round-trip commute to the sound of sports radio. I received a call from my Lovie’s brother, so I turned down the volume to deliver the bleak update in peace and quiet. Our conversation ended as I pulled into my neighborhood.

For no reason, I turned the radio back up for the final quarter mile of my trip. The music I heard confused me until I finally realized that I was tuned in to a different frequency, one I must have accidentally landed on while adjusting the volume just minutes before. It was the intro to a song that I knew, yet couldn’t quite place, until the first two words of it told me it was Madonna.

Holiday. Celebrate.

I froze in disbelief, sitting quietly in my driveway, covered in goosebumps, as a lone tear meandered down my cheek before splashing onto the lap strap of my seatbelt. After a minute or two, I turned off the ignition and got out of the car, wiping my eyes as I made my way to the door, excited to see everyone. The triplets were all fired up. They knew that Daddy had been on an airplane.

They love airplanes.

To be continued.

Thanks so much to everyone who has commented, tweeted, facebooked, emailed, texted, or called me with kind words of support. I’m happy to say that Holliday is still with us, and ask that you continue to hold her close in both thought and prayer. I’ll post an update that will catch us up to the present by no later than Thursday. I hope and pray that it will contain some encouraging news.

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About john cave osborne

John Cave Osborne is a writer whose work has appeared on such sites as DisneyBaby, Babble, YahooShine, TLC and the Huffington Post. He was also referenced by Jezebel one time, but he’s pretty sure they were making fun of him. He and his wife, Caroline, live with their five children and spastic dog in Knoxville, TN. Nothing annoys him more than joke-heavy bios written in the third person, with the possible exception of Corey Feldman.

  • http://surprisedmom.blogspot.com SurprisedMom

    John, I am so moved by your three posts. This is so emotional and it has touched me deeply. I am praying for your whole family. I’m glad to know Holliday is still with you. I know what it’s like to lose a sister, and I am hoping your story ends differently than mine did. I can’t believe the incredible battle Holliday has waged her whole life. She is an inspiration. I’ll be reading Thursday and I am hoping for everyone it is encouraging news. This story and your writing has left me breathless.

  • http://surprisedmom.blogspot.com SurprisedMom

    John, I am so moved by your three posts. This is so emotional and it has touched me deeply. I am praying for your whole family. I’m glad to know Holliday is still with you. I know what it’s like to lose a sister, and I am hoping your story ends differently than mine did. I can’t believe the incredible battle Holliday has waged her whole life. She is an inspiration. I’ll be reading Thursday and I am hoping for everyone it is encouraging news. This story and your writing has left me breathless.

  • http://Www.tempestbeauty.com Mandy

    John, what i love about you most is the honesty of your words. The true feeling, the Thickness of it. I have read these posts over and over… I feel like I know your family, like I’m right there with you. I cry about your beautiful sister, and your father’s last days. I wish for comfort and consolation, and hope. You are so deeply in my thoughts and prayers. Your strength is astounding, inspiring. Sending all of our love. All of it.

  • http://Www.tempestbeauty.com Mandy

    John, what i love about you most is the honesty of your words. The true feeling, the Thickness of it. I have read these posts over and over… I feel like I know your family, like I’m right there with you. I cry about your beautiful sister, and your father’s last days. I wish for comfort and consolation, and hope. You are so deeply in my thoughts and prayers. Your strength is astounding, inspiring. Sending all of our love. All of it.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    Hang in there John- don’t know what else to say. You have written beautifully about your family. My wish is the best for you and yours and the opportunity to write about happy things sooner than later.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    Hang in there John- don’t know what else to say. You have written beautifully about your family. My wish is the best for you and yours and the opportunity to write about happy things sooner than later.

  • Elizabeth Bradley

    John–sending love your way…

  • Elizabeth Bradley

    John–sending love your way…

  • http://thesuburbanscrawl.blogspot.com melisa with one S

    Keeping Holliday in my thoughts!!! xo

  • http://thesuburbanscrawl.blogspot.com melisa with one S

    Keeping Holliday in my thoughts!!! xo

  • http://www.nickisnook.net Nicki

    John – keeping all of you in my prayers always.

  • http://www.nickisnook.net Nicki

    John – keeping all of you in my prayers always.

  • Lynjoy Baack

    sometimes I am in my own little world..I knew Holliday had been sick again but had no idea that her battle was so intense. I am so proud that she continues to fight so bravely. I do believe that she is strengthened by your presence and absolutely knows you are there. I will be praying for her and you all.

  • Lynjoy Baack

    sometimes I am in my own little world..I knew Holliday had been sick again but had no idea that her battle was so intense. I am so proud that she continues to fight so bravely. I do believe that she is strengthened by your presence and absolutely knows you are there. I will be praying for her and you all.

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    What an emotional thing to put into writing. I guess there really isn’t much to say here, other than keep writing and expressing these things because we become better people for having absorbed it. I know it’s a selfish perspective, but that’s what writing is, right? People read for enrichment, and as much as it hurts you to write, it’s good for the people reading.

  • http://www.almightydad.com Keith Wilcox

    What an emotional thing to put into writing. I guess there really isn’t much to say here, other than keep writing and expressing these things because we become better people for having absorbed it. I know it’s a selfish perspective, but that’s what writing is, right? People read for enrichment, and as much as it hurts you to write, it’s good for the people reading.

  • Meg

    Our prayers and thoughts are with you ALL!

  • Meg

    Our prayers and thoughts are with you ALL!

  • http://www.holymolytoledos.blogspot.com susy

    I’m happy to hear that Holliday is still with your family. When you wrote Madonna, I got goosebumps before you even wrote the first two words of the song. Continued healing positive thoughts / vibes and prayers for Holliday, her hubby, child, you and your family. You’re writing is beautiful and sweet. All your love for Holliday and your ‘club’ is clearly there and felt. Hugs, my buddy!

  • http://www.holymolytoledos.blogspot.com susy

    I’m happy to hear that Holliday is still with your family. When you wrote Madonna, I got goosebumps before you even wrote the first two words of the song. Continued healing positive thoughts / vibes and prayers for Holliday, her hubby, child, you and your family. You’re writing is beautiful and sweet. All your love for Holliday and your ‘club’ is clearly there and felt. Hugs, my buddy!

  • http://www.mytwinsforlife.blogspot.com Life is Like a Box of Chocolat

    I hoped to be higher up the comment totem pole, but alas. (Sigh)

    I wanted to let you know how wonderful your writing is, so please find a Circle of Friends Award at :

    http://mytwinsforlife.blogspot.com/2010/07/circle-of-friends-award.html

  • http://www.mytwinsforlife.blogspot.com Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

    I hoped to be higher up the comment totem pole, but alas. (Sigh)

    I wanted to let you know how wonderful your writing is, so please find a Circle of Friends Award at :

    http://mytwinsforlife.blogspot.com/2010/07/circle-of-friends-award.html

  • stacie

    Your writing gives me chills…prayers for Holliday and your family!

  • stacie

    Your writing gives me chills…prayers for Holliday and your family!

  • http://liayf.blogspot.com Seattledad

    Stunningly conveyed John. Again, my thoughts are with your entire family as you all deal with this.

  • http://liayf.blogspot.com Seattledad

    Stunningly conveyed John. Again, my thoughts are with your entire family as you all deal with this.

  • Patrick (yeah, that one)

    Seriously. I can’t add anything new to what the people before me have posted, and simply saying “ditto” seems so school age. You’re brilliant, and you’re real, with every word you pour onto the page, and it is touching and beautiful even through the pain, worry, and fear that underlies the situation. Thanks for that window into your life and soul.

    As always, my hopes, thoughts and prayers go out to you and yours. Take care, and continue to spread the beauty that you have been shown, and that you have shown to us, in their struggles.

  • Patrick (yeah, that one)

    Seriously. I can’t add anything new to what the people before me have posted, and simply saying “ditto” seems so school age. You’re brilliant, and you’re real, with every word you pour onto the page, and it is touching and beautiful even through the pain, worry, and fear that underlies the situation. Thanks for that window into your life and soul.

    As always, my hopes, thoughts and prayers go out to you and yours. Take care, and continue to spread the beauty that you have been shown, and that you have shown to us, in their struggles.

  • http://37paddington.blogspot.com Angella Lister

    John, you put into words exactly how I felt when my own father died, 14 years ago now. My aunt said he had “a dignified death,” but I think what she was really trying to say was that “there was magic in the melancholy,” and “beauty in the struggle.” Thank you for capturing that for me.

    I send love to your family, and wish your sister everything she wishes for herself.

  • http://37paddington.blogspot.com Angella Lister

    John, you put into words exactly how I felt when my own father died, 14 years ago now. My aunt said he had “a dignified death,” but I think what she was really trying to say was that “there was magic in the melancholy,” and “beauty in the struggle.” Thank you for capturing that for me.

    I send love to your family, and wish your sister everything she wishes for herself.

  • http://www.rarejule.blogspot.com/ Jules

    beautiful writing.

    God bless these days with your Holliday.

  • http://www.rarejule.blogspot.com/ Jules

    beautiful writing.

    God bless these days with your Holliday.

  • Claire

    John, just wanted you to know that I have just read these three posts and I agree with everything the other posters said. Amazing writing. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Claire

  • Claire

    John, just wanted you to know that I have just read these three posts and I agree with everything the other posters said. Amazing writing. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Claire

  • (another) Claire

    Here via mommypundit. Sending you kind thoughts on this journey.
    Claire

  • (another) Claire

    Here via mommypundit. Sending you kind thoughts on this journey.
    Claire

  • Holli

    Found you through Mama Pundit. Beautiful writing. I am very moved… I’m a Holliday. Born in 1969. Named for my great-grandmother whose maiden name was Holliday. I’ve never known of another one. I will be praying for your Holliday.

  • Holli

    Found you through Mama Pundit. Beautiful writing. I am very moved… I’m a Holliday. Born in 1969. Named for my great-grandmother whose maiden name was Holliday. I’ve never known of another one. I will be praying for your Holliday.

  • Tara

    Hi John. Your writing is beautiful, even when it’s laced with such palpable grief. I’m so sorry for what your family is going through and I pray for your sister Holliday. What a beautiful name.
    My grandmother was a WWII nurse and she maintains to this day that it’s so important to talk with your loved ones while they appear to be comatose, that the last sense we lose is hearing. She’s told a lot of stories from first-hand experience of how patients recalled things that were said (for better or worse) while they were “sleeping”.
    Continue to talk to her and let her hear your voice. :)

  • Tara

    Hi John. Your writing is beautiful, even when it’s laced with such palpable grief. I’m so sorry for what your family is going through and I pray for your sister Holliday. What a beautiful name.
    My grandmother was a WWII nurse and she maintains to this day that it’s so important to talk with your loved ones while they appear to be comatose, that the last sense we lose is hearing. She’s told a lot of stories from first-hand experience of how patients recalled things that were said (for better or worse) while they were “sleeping”.
    Continue to talk to her and let her hear your voice. :)

  • http://www.wonderfriend.com Missy

    Praying for Holliday and for your entire club.

    Another amazing post, John!

  • http://www.wonderfriend.com Missy

    Praying for Holliday and for your entire club.

    Another amazing post, John!

  • http://www.irrationaldad.com Irrational Dad

    So glad to hear that she’s still fighting. I’ll never presume to know the future, or tell you that “it’ll be okay,” but I sincerely hope that it does.

  • http://www.irrationaldad.com Irrational Dad

    So glad to hear that she’s still fighting. I’ll never presume to know the future, or tell you that “it’ll be okay,” but I sincerely hope that it does.

  • http://youthinkyoucanblog.wordpress.com Angelia Sims

    Praying John and thinking of you all.

  • http://youthinkyoucanblog.wordpress.com Angelia Sims

    Praying John and thinking of you all.

  • saul young

    I truly wish that this was a work of fiction, but then it probably would not be such a heartfelt, yet melancholy story.

    The best to you and your family.

  • saul young

    I truly wish that this was a work of fiction, but then it probably would not be such a heartfelt, yet melancholy story.

    The best to you and your family.

  • Maryellen Tipton

    I heard about your blog via MamaPundit, and once I got here realized that we were at Webb together – you graduated when I was in middle school and used to fondly tease me in the lunchroom, as I was like the littlest girl in school. Anyway, I’m glad to be reading your posts and am sorry about your family’s current struggles. I’m glad you’re surrounded by such love and that Holliday has such love in you and your family – and I’ll continue reading. All my best.

  • Maryellen Tipton

    I heard about your blog via MamaPundit, and once I got here realized that we were at Webb together – you graduated when I was in middle school and used to fondly tease me in the lunchroom, as I was like the littlest girl in school. Anyway, I’m glad to be reading your posts and am sorry about your family’s current struggles. I’m glad you’re surrounded by such love and that Holliday has such love in you and your family – and I’ll continue reading. All my best.

  • Travis Hall

    Thanks for sharing John. I just read all three posts and have been both melted down and lifted up.
    Our prayers are with you and your family.

    T

  • Travis Hall

    Thanks for sharing John. I just read all three posts and have been both melted down and lifted up.
    Our prayers are with you and your family.

    T

  • http://stardreamingwithsherrybluesky.blogspot.com Sherry Blue Sky

    John, your writing is profoundly beautiful and moving. I feel right there with you and your family. What a real and wonderful family you have! I am so hoping Holliday can winthis battle – my hopes and thoughts are with you all. Keep writing! Keep on keeping on. It is a privilege to see the world through your eyes.

  • http://stardreamingwithsherrybluesky.blogspot.com Sherry Blue Sky

    John, your writing is profoundly beautiful and moving. I feel right there with you and your family. What a real and wonderful family you have! I am so hoping Holliday can winthis battle – my hopes and thoughts are with you all. Keep writing! Keep on keeping on. It is a privilege to see the world through your eyes.

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  • http://www.fathermuskrat.com Father Muskrat

    How awful…sorry to read this.

  • http://www.fathermuskrat.com Father Muskrat

    How awful…sorry to read this.

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