December twenty something……yesterday…“Damn, it’s cold” I mutter to myself as I step out of the cab onto the corner of 101st and Madison in uptown Manhattan for what seems like the millionth time. Anyone familiar with NYC in the winter months knows it can be as cold and unforgiving a place as anywhere else on Earth. The wind off the East River can chill you to the bone in seconds…. It would get colder soon…much colder…. but that comes later…As I walk through the sliding doors and past the watchman I say my good evening to the gentleman behind the security counter as I always do, we don’t sign in or adhere to visiting hours anymore, these people know us all to well by now. No small talk tonight though, I need to get upstairs…. Kate needs me on the 10th floor. I’ve walked through this atrium and down these corridors many times, and it is really a special place, architecturally it is beautiful, great angles, large open spaces, and the best part, tons of natural sunlight during the day, and dim lit and peaceful in the evening. I have always seen it as a place of hope and dreams…I don’t see it as a place of desperation and sadness as I witness in so many other’s faces here. There is too much goodness here. I don’t judge, God only knows the pain that these people are going through. You learn to deal with this your own way … and no way is the wrong way….
I push the button and quickly arrive on the 10th floor. It is always quiet here at night, the nurse’s station is in the center of the room, and there are twelve to fifteen rooms that wrap around it. All these doors are seemingly always open, the people here are sick, very sick, and I have seen these rooms change patients many times, too many times. I keep my head down on this floor, I give these other patients their privacy and have nothing but the utmost respect for them. Besides there is only one person I need to concern myself with tonight, and she is three doors down on the left. As I walk into my sister’s room it is never lost on me how many regulations these people have allowed us to break, it’s Christmas time and you would think Kate’s room is Rockefeller Center. We have lights strung all about the room, decorations, gifts from friends of Kate’s are always surrounding her, we have a couch/bed that is adorned with comforters and throw pillows, Get Well letters galore and pictures of all our friends and family hung over the walls. She has a stunning view of Central Park and I can’t help but wonder what this 1 bedroom/1 bath would rent for if it were not in a hospital. Kate is sound asleep, so frail, so tired of fighting, she needs this sleep more than anything. I will sit here and watch and talk to her for a while, and eventually nod off. I’ve done this countless times before. I sleep here often, just in case Kate needs something throughout the night, my father, mother and I take turns, and when my other siblings are able, they rotate in. Erin has her 2 babies she has to take care of, Tim is in Vermont at college and Megan is in high school at St. Rose. We have an apartment right across from the hospital. Our “control center” in NYC…Camp Kate is never without a Shea, literally 24 hours a day. I lie down on the makeshift bed and close my eyes. I drift off when suddenly I hear beeping and a loud commotion enter my dreams, and then the lights are on in a flash, and Kate is sitting upright in bed crying , surrounded by nurses, and I have no idea what the hell is taking place. She is pushing at the nurses and saying “Where’s my brother? “Where’s my brother?” I hop onto her bed and say “I’m right here Kate!” “I’m right here!” I hold her head on my shoulder and hug her from a distance as I now realize she is having some form of anxiety attack in all of this…. “I’m here girl….I’m here.. Just relax, keep your head down, hold my shoulders…Relax…shhh… relax…..that’s it girl…..just breath”. She raises her head right then, and looks into my eyes, and she tells me something with them,. I stare at her and talk back with my eyes saying “I get it Kate, I got it.”. During this, one of the nurses has administered a sedative through Kate’s i.v. tube and I feel her anxiety begin to ease. She lies back down and she is quickly off to sleep again.
As everything settles and the nurses return to their station I sit there on Kate’s bed for a bit and stroke her face. I get up feeling strangely peaceful and walk out of the room. I take the elevator back down to the lobby and walk out onto Madison Avenue again. There is no cold anymore,…. My baby sister has just told me, in no uncertain terms, that she can’t do this any longer, she isn’t going to make it, she is going to die and she knows it……I feel like I might get sick, but tears just well up. I walk over to Central Park and just let it go…all of it comes out in a flurry and I find it hard to breath. My body eventually relaxes and I find myself exhausted in this long journey and by Kate’s revelation.
Kate passed away days later, at her funeral it was literally the coldest day I have ever experienced, and on the morning of her funeral my best friend Sean O’Rourke commented ….“This is the coldest goddamn day I can ever remember.” I knew right then it was Kate’s one last way of saying to me with her sly smile…..You thought it was cold the other night??...This is what cold really is. Kate influenced the weather that day I am sure, she wanted me to feel her on the loneliest day of my life…..and I did….
I needed you to get better for you, for the family and friends, and for me….. All you needed was me to hold you on that cold winter night at Mount Sinai…You are the most selfless person I had the honor of knowing and I will never forget that moment. Even in death you came right to me when I needed you most. …I love you girl …and I promise that whenever I bitch about the cold again, I’ll make sure to wear an extra layer….