updated 09/22/2009 AT 9:15 PM ET
•originally published 09/23/2009 AT 7:00 AM ET
For Natalie Cole, the past four months can be summed up in one word: unforgettable.
“This was a very joyous moment where I’ve got new life. It was also a very sorrowful moment, where my sister had gone on, and the family that donated the kidney had lost their daughter as well,” Cole, 59, says in the November/December issue of AARP The Magazine.
“My first reaction was that I wished I were back on dialysis to have my sister,” she says. “These two people had left this earth – and I was here. Why? I feel like I don’t deserve it.”
Cole was at her sister’s bedside when she received word that a kidney was available, and her family forced her to leave.
“I’ve lost some very special people, but Cookie is the toughest,” says the Grammy winner. “There’s a part of me that’s missing now. I don’t expect that I will ever totally get over it.”
It had already been a rough year for Cole, who was diagnosed with hepatitis C in April 2008. Chemotherapy treatments left her sick and weak, and she later developed kidney problems, which required dialysis three times a week.
She had little hope of ever being healthy again: “They told me the average wait for a kidney was three years. At first I thought, ‘There goes my life.’ ”
But thanks to the transplant, Cole is – as she told the audience at her Sept. 9 comeback concert – “100 percent” healthy. “I didn’t know that I could feel this good again,” she says in the interview.
And she has more people than her doctors to thank.
“Those angels on my shoulder who’ve been there all along – now I know that my sister Cookie is one of them,” she says.