The Phone Call From Heaven

 

My parents had five daughters: Marie, Kathleen, Marlene (myself), Patrice, and Mary who died in infancy. Oh, what a busy household with all those girls! All three of my sisters have been my best friends. We have always had that special sisterly bond. My younger sister Patty and I were always extremely close. In fact, there could not be a closer relationship between two people than the one we shared.  We shared a womb, our childhood memories, our clothes, our hopes, dreams, and fears. She was constantly there for me through thick and thin, from the joyous occasions like my wedding and the birth of my children to the devastating experiences like the three year illness and death of our father and the miscarriage of my last child.

We went dancing and partying in our twenties, were life time shopping partners (she was a designer fashion diva), and traveled around the country together. The laughter and fun the four Kessler sisters and our mother had together had been immeasurable!  Patty was my soul sister, not just my sister.

I once heard on a T.V. show that a Hollywood star and her mother had made a pact that whichever one of them died first, they would give the other a sign from heaven that only the two of them knew. Sounded crazy to me! Hmmm…..could that ever work? I was certainly very skeptical about it but shared the newscast with Patty and we joked that we needed to try it someday?

I often chuckled that I would send her a bunch of bananas when I died since it was a family joke that I ate bananas every day. I was known to always take a banana or two along for a snack when we went on a trip, a girl’s weekend, or even an out of town shopping day with my mother and sisters. The traveling banana usually came home brown and uneaten because it came in last place to Graeter’s ice cream or one of my other favorite treats. As a matter of fact, one time we were parked at Graeter’s and the banana got too ripe in the car and one of my sisters sat on it and had mashed banana all over the seat of her pants when we got out of the car. We laughed hysterically but it prompted me to quit bringing a banana along for a snack! Pondering the sign from heaven again, I decided that sending a bunch of bananas was not sufficiently unique because someone could send a fruit basket including bananas as a token of sympathy and she could not be sure it was from me! No, it had to be something between only the two of us that was our own little secret, something no one else would ever know or be able to duplicate. This whole idea was only a silly fleeting thought of ours many years ago. I never dreamed one of us would not live a long life because longevity runs in our family. I also truly thought it was rather absurd and could never happen.

My sister was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and fought a horrendous five year battle. Throughout this period, I watched human suffering at its worst. After her first chemotherapy treatment, she had virtually no white count, a 103 degree fever, sores on her lips and in her mouth and throat, her hands were purple and swollen like boxing gloves, her hair and blackened nails were falling out, and she was getting sick every fifteen minutes around the clock for days. The years of chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation were physically and emotionally grueling for her. But Patty always lived with an incredible grace, strength, and faith throughout her ordeal and never complained. She also still dressed like she came out of the latest fashion magazine to go to chemotherapy.

Well, only about a month before her five year survivor milestone Patty fell into a comatose state, lying motionless with labored breathing, before we could ever discuss our little idea and make a final game plan. She was always so determined to survive that we never talked about the alternative. In fact, several weeks before she took that turn we traveled with her nine year old son to Chicago to enjoy one of our favorite cities (and one of our favorite treats – Garrett’s Carmel Corn).

Throughout the past five years I had always stayed with her around the clock throughout her numerous emergency room visits, surgeries, and hospital stays. There was no way I was leaving her now. My mother and sisters were also totally devoted to her care throughout this journey and so our entire family camped out at my mother’s home to be near our sister. After four days my brother-in-law insisted he would stay beside her while I went home and showered. I was certainly hesitant to leave but there did not seem to be any change in her condition so I agreed.

After rushing home, I put my phone in the hard leather case (something I never did) and set it on the kitchen counter. When I got out of the shower I heard my phone ringing and quickly ran from the bedroom to answer it. It was my sister-in-law, Patty Temple.

“Marlene, did you call me?” she questioned.

“No?” I queried.

I am very close to all of my husband’s siblings but it is rare for us to call each other on our cell phones. As we spoke, I heard a beep like I was getting an incoming call.

I abruptly said, “I have to go! It could be Dick calling me about Patty!”

It surely was Dick and he said to come right over to my mother’s home where we had been caring for Patty. We moved mom to a smaller home just a few blocks from me several years earlier so I hurried out the door and drove to my mother’s in about a minute flat.

When I walked in the front door I immediately sensed something was wrong and was informed that my beloved sister had passed in the short time I was gone. I was so devastated that I had been with her around the clock for so many days and weeks in the hospital over the years and I was not with her when she took her last breath. I was very distressed that I had left her side.

Patty passed away at 8:15 A.M. as documented by the hospice nurse. A short time later I opened my cell phone to start making calls to relatives and I see…Call from Patty… at EXACTLY 8:15 A.M.! Not 8:14 or 8:16, but exactly her precise time of death. 8:15! This phone call was my sign from her! I had such an unusual feeling come over me, it was like a phone call from heaven directly to me.

A circumstance like this was too unusual not to be my special sign. For one reason, my phone was in the hard leather case on the counter while I was in the shower so I could not have called my sister-in-law, Patty Temple. My numbers go in alphabetical order, Alyssa, Andy… and Patty Temple is way down the list. If I had accidentally “pocket dialed” a phone number, I probably would have hit one of the first numbers. But I in fact did not call Patty Temple or anyone else. I also did not touch or use my phone while I was home showering. So, how my sister-in-law thought she may have received a call from me and in turn called me so I see… Call from Patty… come up on my phone at the exact time of Patty’s death, was only divine intervention. What else could God have done to give me a sign that Patty was in heaven other than “A Call From Patty” when we did not have time to make our secret plan?             I have been very blessed to have many of these “kisses from heaven” throughout my life. God comforts us in big and small ways. Usually, He does so through the love of others, nature, animals, and all of His creation. In this case, God even used a cell phone!

Our family was so devastated by my sister’s terrible suffering and death. I truly believe God sent me this tangible little sign among others for our family’s devotion to Him despite our loss. Patty was now with Him in heaven.

My mother and I went to Mass every day for five years and spent countless hours in prayer with God, always trusting His will. But boy did I gripe and complain at 6:15 A.M. on many days reminding God that I was not an early morning person! Especially in the winter when it was cold, dark, and blowing snow when I was driving to Immaculate Conception church.  I would be ashamed to repeat some of the words I used scolding God about our family’s crisis!  Before Patty’s illness I put in my one hour a week for God at Mass even though I preferred going shopping at Macy’s. All of a sudden I found my family in a grave situation where we desperately needed intervention and God was the only one big enough to help.

Throughout Patty’s ER and hospital stays, there were many days and nights in a row I did not sleep at all while I was tending to her suffering. Even though it was a privilege for me to care for my sister, and a terrific blessing to be the healthy one, the human side of me was naturally miserably tired and uncomfortable on many occasions. Several times I reflected on Christ and how no one would stay up with Him throughout His agony in the garden. I will stay up for you Jesus, through Patty, I contemplated.

I believe every act of love, kindness, and mercy that we do for others is a gesture given directly to God. Our beneficent actions will also be acknowledged directly from God.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

My family, friends, and our entire community prayed for Patty. Just because our heartfelt and sincere prayers are not answered does not mean God does not listen or is not sympathetic. No one is favored more than another person by God. It is often immensely hard for us to understand but He does have an orchestrated plan for each and every one of our lives. One fact of this life is that every human does eventually leave this earth. We can choose to live our time here in a way that ensures an eternal life that is exponentially better than our very best day in our present world. I know Patty is in that heavenly place and I know every one of us can be there as well. For now, just enjoy this life to the fullest!

Note:  Patty’s illness inspired me to start “Patty’s Night Out” which is an evening of respite, relaxation, fellowship, and hope for women cancer survivors. Over the past seven years the event has grown to almost 100 women enjoying an evening of pampering, food, and lovely gifts all donated by area businesses. Patty also inspired me to start a non-profit T-shirt line called “Patrice’s Place-Stick Your Neck Out To End Cancer” featuring flamingos and giraffes (check it out on Facebook) with all profits going directly to aid cancer patients. I have been privileged to serve as two term President and board member of the Cancer Association of Mercer County. This year our organization will have donated one million dollars to directly assist cancer patients in our area.  We have a Facebook page and website: www.camc-ohio.org