My mother has a twin sister. Her twin, Sherry, happens to also be her best friend, her confidante, her soul mate. When my parents and my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Quinn are all together, I can almost feel the satisfying click of life snapping back into a comfortable place. My aunt and uncle drive from their home near Louisville, Kentucky, to my parents’ home in Fort White, Florida. While they are here, I frequently call Aunt Sherry “Mom” on accident, correcting myself when my aunt turns around and grins at me. My children mistake Aunt Sherry for their Nana, and while it surprises them, I think they love that their beloved Nana has been duplicated. Sherry sounds like my mother and she looks like my mother. And, as the years have passed, their resemblance has become even more striking.
Sherry and my mom talk by phone almost daily, and sometimes they talk more than once per day. When my mom hears her twin sister’s voice on the phone, the miles between Florida and Kentucky shrink like a rubber band snapping back into place.
Last Wednesday, my mother talked to Sherry around 2:30 in the afternoon. And later that night, closer to 7:30, Sherry’s youngest daughter called my mother. Sherry and Quinn had been in an accident, a bad one, and both had been life-flighted to the University of Louisville’s Hospital in downtown Louisville, the only Level One Trauma Center in the region.
The next morning, my mother and I flew to Louisville. We spent the next four days alternating between University Hospital and the Marriott on Jefferson Street. Our days were spent in brown plastic hospital chairs, and we alternated between my aunt’s bedside on the 9th floor and my uncle’s bedside in the 8th floor intensive care unit.
My mother, nearly beside herself with worry on the afternoon we arrived, calmed a little more each day after seeing that her twin sister would be okay. Sherry had two pelvic fractures and lots of bruises, including a half-dollar sized purple one on her left lower lip. Over the days we were there, she made great improvements. On the first day, the day following the accident, my aunt was barely able to move without agonizing pain. By the time we left, she had taken her first shaky steps with a wheeled walker and two physical therapists steadying her.
The family held vigil around my uncle’s bedside. Uncle Quinn’s injuries were devastating – bleeding in and around his brain, multiple fractures, including a compound fracture of his left lower leg — and he never regained consciousness after the accident.
The nurses — each one a true angel disguised in cotton scrubs — helped my aunt into a wheelchair at least twice per day so that she could sit by her husband and stroke his hand. We watched the monitor above his bedside, paying attention to which voices raised his blood pressure or which types of music dropped his heart rate. When my uncle coughed or yawned, the ventilator sounded its video-game beeps in annoyance, and we watched, hopeful.
I watched my cousins deal with the agony of waiting on doctors, waiting on tests, waiting on news. I watched them deal with pain of not knowing. I watched my aunt as she talked with her husband, as she winced in empathy, feeling his pain as the nurses shifted his head and body so he could face her.
Mom and I left Louisville on Sunday, and after a flight cancellation and delays due to bad weather, we made it home that night. But though our bodies were physically in Florida, our hearts were still at University Hospital in Louisville. Our hearts were with my Aunt Sherry and with my cousins as they coped with the ramifications of this accident and with the very likely possibility of my uncle’s death.
Quinn died tonight, around 5:15 pm. He has left behind his wife of nearly fifty years, his three beautiful children, two grandsons, and four granddaughters.
He has left behind a family who love him, always.