Today is Ash Wednesday and Carnival in Pedasí is over. But this post is not about Carnival; that will be for another day possibly. This is written in memory of my sister Debi who went to be with our Lord last night. It is probably mostly therapy for me in dealing with my sister’s death. For those who have lost a close relative, you may relate and, for some, may not want to read any further per chance this will bring back old feelings and memories with your loss of a loved one. I totally understand if you stop at this point, but I just feel I need to write out my thoughs at this point as a way of my coping. As I have written before, this blog has been good therapy for me and now is no exception. I apologize that this may be a longer blog than usual; I am writing as thoughts come to mind.
My sister Debi had been fighting a battle with adrenal-cortisol cancer, a rare “one in a million” cancer for over a year now. When she was finally diagnosed after many months of inconclusive tests, the cancer had metastasized throughout her body and was inoperable. She didn’t give up though and withstood chemo, radiations treatments and pain, always rallying in front of her family and friends, believing that she was going to beat this. That was part of her nature, although possibly in this case, fighting hard against all odds and refusing to accept the terminal diagnosis, may have caused more pain, both physical and emotional for her as well as her children. But I believe in God’s sovereignty and His reasons for all that is to happen until our last breath here on earth. Last September, as I wrote in a previous post, most of the family, including myself, and many of her friends came to celebrate her birthday at the hospital in Panorama City, California, close to where she had lived for many years. Due to the terminal diagnosis, most of us believed we were sharing our love and last goodbyes while she was still alive. Afterwards, based on the doctor’s prognosis of no more treatment other than to for comfort, she went home, continuing treatment on an outpatient basis.
And yet in November, I returned to the U.S. for my niece’s wedding in Arizona and Debi was there. She used a walker now and rested in the hotel room much of the time, but she stayed through the end of the reception late into the evening, even dancing with her oldest son. The next day she was at the after-wedding party. It was again very emotional when I had to say my goodbyes to her, believing this would finally be the last time. Some of her last words to me then was, “It’s not supposed to end this way.” It was difficult to stay strong for her at that point, but I managed until I got out to our car. And yet Christmas came and went, January came and went. I kept in touch, mostly through my other sister Geri who, although lived in Arizona, would drive or fly out to be with her often. We knew she was in a lot of pain, but she kept on fighting the battle. She wasn’t willing to surrender just yet in spite how difficult it was for not only her, but her family.
At the end of January, Debi, now in a wheelchair, officially married her common-law husband of many years, Carl. Since California still does not recognize common-law marriages for legal reasons, Debi’s health diagnosis was a good reason to make the marriage legal for Carl’s sake. The jointly owned a house together along with other things; a legal marriage would make things easier for eventual probate reasons. So they had a lovely ceremony at a local park. My brother Dave from Louisiana and my sister Karen from Washington, along with my sister Geri, Debi’s sons, a few friends, and members from Carl’s family attended the celebration.
Debi’s health continued to deteriorate afterwards. Without going into too much more details of the events that took place the next few weeks, Debi finally succumbed to this disease and surrendered her life to our Lord in the evening of February 17th. Her family were by her side, including my youngest daughter Kat, who drove down from Sacramento, California a few days before. That evening before she died, my sister Geri placed the cellphone on speaker to her ear, once for my brother, her twin, to talk to her, and then once for me. It was a blessing that I was able to share my love to her at the very end.
Debra Lynn Ricketts-Tyler was 53 years old. She is survived by her two adult sons, Patrick and Joey, her husband Carl, three sisters and a twin brother, along with four nieces and four nephews. She was born in Whittier, California on September 28th, 1961, 12 minutes before her twin brother, and 10 years, 1 day, and 1 hour after my birthday. From then on, I seem to remember usually sharing my birthday with them accept for my “Sweet 16” pool party. I am the oldest with two sisters to follow before Debi and David were born, the youngest children of our parents, Glenn & Natalie Ricketts. We all grew up in our family ranch-style home in Tustin, California.
Having left home at 19 years old when I got married and moved to Northern California to attend college, I don’t recall to much about Debi’s childhood. We all went to the same elementary school and high school with many of the same neighborhood family’s same-age children. Our family attended a local Presbyterian church together, giving us a basic foundation for our Christian faith, and spent a lot of family time together swimming in our pool, camping in Yosemite and around the U.S., and family/friend get-togethers. I moved back and forth from Northern to Southern California a few times and even with all our various active and separate lives, we managed to stay close and find time to meet.
I may not be totally accurate in the following facts; I guess at my age, things get a little fuzzy sometimes, so this is just the highlights of what I recall. Debi first started working in the food service industry. I remember going to “Olive Garden” where she was a manager for Valentine’s Day, and also “Chuck E Cheese” for one of my children’s birthday. Again she was manager and would give unlimited handfuls of coins to our children for the games as well as provided the pizzas and drinks. She was a very giving and hard-working person. Debi met Carl, I believe through another restaurant she worked at, and moved in together. Still continuing in food service, she supervised the food service department at UCLA until she gave birth to her sons Patrick, and three years later, Joey.
She and Carl also contracted with a company, managing merchandise sales at Los Angeles Dodgers, Angels, and Anaheim Ducks games as well as other sporting events including the Super Bowls. Occasionally they invited me to help count money at the games and make a little money for myself. One summer, Debi invited me to stay at her house (I now was living in Auburn, California) for about 2 months while I helped manage a booth selling Adidas products at the World Cup ’94 games at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. I also helped sell World Cup products at a booth set up at the “City Walk”, an outdoor shopping center outside of Universal Studios in Hollywood. My two youngest daughters, Natalie and Kat, joined me for that summer and in-between we all had a great time together going to swim lessons, movies, the beach, playing Uno, etc. Debi provided housing, food, swim lessons, and childcare for Kat while Natalie was old enough to help me at the games and earn a little money. On game nights we would stay up late making sandwiches for all the workers, another example of her hardworking and giving character. Another time later I worked at the World Series between the Angels and Giants.
I again moved to Southern California after my divorce, and this time living in nearby Sherman Oaks. Debi and I became very close friends at that time. She arranged for my daughter Kat to get in the same elementary school as her 2 sons and signed her up for AYSO soccer where her boys played. Debi eventually landed a job as library assistant for Los Angeles Unified School District and worked at another school in the San Fernando Valley. Since we both worked in the education field, we usually would have the same calendar. We would again spend a lot of time together camping in Lake Tahoe and Sequoia, attend Broadway musicals (Beauty and the Beast, Joseph and the Multi-Colored Coat), going to Disney movie debuts at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, spend days at the beach, go to Universal Studios and Disneyland, our kids soccer and baseball games, and many family get-togethers. Daily we would talk on the phone or in person. We shopped at the malls and even planned our father’s 80th birthday party, she footed most of the costs.
Although it all sounds like a wonderful relationship, as long as you were on Debi’s good side, she would do anything for you. But if you got on her bad side, watch out, especially when it came to her children. I have seen her humiliate a waitress and restaurant manager in public where we ate for not serving the children’s order before ours. There were other occasions where if she did not like something you did, she would verbally take you out. Unfortunately this happened in our relationship. My daughter Kat, a teenager now, had posted something about our family that was true on “MySpace”. She didn’t like it or my answer, and we were no longer invited to her home. For two years there was no communication from her. But just as suddenly as the relationship was cut off, when our family met for a reunion in New Orleans, all seemed to be forgiven suddenly as if nothing ever happened. I was in her good graces again, but nothing was ever resolved or spoken of about the original reason for breaking ties. I had moved back to Auburn, California and remarried Mikkel by then, so our relationship was never as close as it previously was. But we would talk occasionally on the phone and see each other at family get-togethers such as my daughter Natalie’s wedding. I saw her before I moved to Panama at another family reunion in Tahoe. She was then experiencing some of the symptoms of her disease which caused her to be very moody at times.
That’s the last time I spoke with her until I came to the hospital in September. When she was finally diagnosed with cancer, supposedly she did not want to tell me so I wouldn’t feel I had to fly back to be with her. My son finally called me with the news. I tried to call, but never could get anyone to answer and was unable to leave a message. I have learned in my “Third Life” that if someone does not want to have a relationship, not to continue to chase after them. Life is too short and should be spent with those who do want a relationship.
This is not to say anything bad about Debi. I love her and am grateful for the good times we had. We all have different seasons in our life. Debi and I had a wonderful season together and then we both changed. But I still consider her not only to be my sister, but a caring and giving friend. She was a good mother, doing whatever she felt it took for her sons. She was loving loyal wife to Carl, staying with him through the good and not-so-good times. There are so many more good memories I could write about Debi.
So I am grateful to God for this quiet day after 4 full days and 5 nights of loud music, partying, traffic, and fireworks. It has given me time to mourn my loss of a wonderful sister; a time to reflect on how her life blessed me; a time to cry. And I am grateful to all my Facebook friends from both Panama and the U.S. who have sent there condolences. They have been very comforting. I feel that this time it is a little different then when my mother and then 20-some years later my dad passed away. For my mom, I was still raising my children and for both my mom and dad, I was working. So I had to move on with my responsibilities of my life then and did not have much time to really grieve and reflect. Now I don’t work and don’t have much in responsibilities that need to be done. So I have time to really grieve. I have time to pray. And I am grateful for a husband who has stepped back to allow me to take the time I need to do that. I have the comfort knowing my sister is no longer in pain. There is no more sorrow, only joy as she has joined our mother and father in heaven. I believe some day I will see them again. Until that day, I will continue to miss them. It may take a little time to grasp the fact that my baby sister is gone, but I do have the hope and faith that she is in a better and perfect place now. I will not be able to to back to attend the memorial service, but I am grateful I was able to see her and talk with her before her passing. I count it a blessing to have had a sister like Debi and hope this is a comfort for all of those who read this blog who are also missing a loved one. Debi, you will truly be missed.