letters to my sister, on the eve of what should have been her 29th birthday.

i had a moment yesterday, walking around goodwill, where i suddenly realized i was grieving. why it’s hard to concentrate at work. why i am not as fast to return emails, why i haven’t been wanting to cook. or bake. or talk to people.

i don’t know why it surprised me – this week has been hard. actually, this spring has been hard. i see you everywhere – in the cherry blossoms, in the blue skies, in the change in weather. i made ham at easter, and have had a very hard time eating it, because all i can think of is your digestive system shutting down, slowly, for years, and you eating ham everyday. because it didn’t cause muscle spasms and injure your already injured body. and so it’s in these little things that i miss the fact that losing you is a trauma. and i shouldn’t be surprised that i’m having a hard time.

i guess i expected to be crying all the time. i mean, i do cry, but mostly when i’m at my therapist’s office. or when someone posts something on facebook i wish i could share with you. our cousin posted something on your wall, and he said he’d talk with you about it the next time he saw you. that phrasing struck me, as it’s something i’ve caught myself thinking over and over and over again.

i think that’s the part that hurts. or one of many parts. that there won’t be a next time, at least not here, not in this life. i took tomorrow off, because i don’t know what to expect from your birthday. i’m making you a cake, but i don’t even know what kind to make you. i’m thinking lemon, but i don’t know. i don’t know anymore. it had been so long since you were able to eat cake or sweets (and good for you, for being a compliant patient.) that i don’t even remember what kind you liked. i’m not sure if i can ask mom.

it’s been hard for all of us. grief counseling only prepares you for so much, and the enormity of losing you shows up in everything. dad and i were on the phone, and we had to cut our conversation short very quickly, or it was going to be messy for both of us. i’m not angry you’re gone, but i struggle with being afraid i lost you without you knowing how much you meant to me. that’s harder than being angry. the fear that it wasn’t enough.

my therapist and i are addressing that fear, because it shows up in everything in my life these days. but i’m trying. my beloved favorite artist said it best – “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in with all my heart – always seeking without absolutely finding.”

i’ve been working on being good to this body that i have. seeking to prolong my life, to be healthy, to live longer than i was on track to. it’s hard. but you did everything necessary to make your lungs work one more year, your body to keep going, to miraculously recover over and over and over, and so much of it was due to perseverance in doing what your doctors told you to. so if you could, i can.

i had so many things to tell you, but the lump in my throat is getting too big to breathe, and i still have a work day to make it through. tomorrow, i’m going to bake a cake, and plant some flowers, and walk around the botanical gardens. and miss you.

happy should have been birthday, Marlene. i miss you.

letters to my sister, one of many

i miss you. i knew i would, but it’s acute, knowing you aren’t near enough for a phone call. a google chat.

i was looking all sorts of things up, trying to make sure writing letters to lost loved ones isn’t a sign of cracking up. according to the internet, i’m not losing it. though if i go on WebMD and check, i’ll probably have cancer, according to their diagnosis.

a mutual friend posted a video on facebook that i wanted to share with you, and in that moment, i was overwhelmed. you’re gone. and it’s starting to sink in. veterans day was missing your usual gratitude and kindness – your acknowledgement of all our families have laid down for their nation. a wealth of history contained in a few sentences. i miss that.

christmas is feeling more and more precious, knowing that it was the beginning of our hope of glory. i know i’ll see you again, but there are long years until then. years filled with life and joy and hope and sorrow and all the things i know await. but i wanted to be old ladies together, not longing for you through years of distance. the guilt comes and goes – it arrives when i find a get well card i never sent. i constantly reassure myself that you knew how much i wanted you to be well. how much i cared. because that’s a fear. that it wasn’t enough.

it’s what keeps me awake at night, restless and not wanting to sleep. before, when i was up late for whatever reason, i knew where you were. you were attached to me by a long thread that led onto distant highways, and if i was awake, you might have been too. it was comforting, and i didn’t know how much it was until now. the surety that i could call and hear your voice. call and say i love you.

so here’s my i love you. i wish you could read this. wish you could see my attempts to find a suitable crematory urn, something that you would like – pink and sparkley. it’s not going well, but i’m trying to find it… i miss you sister. you would know exactly where to look, exactly what to say.

i’ve been listening to a song, over and over. it’s one you lived by. and i’m trying to as well. i miss you.

 

spotify:track:2rgIBgCtsCIjlkt0KAtHZB

what i’m holding on to

we said goodbye for the last time on wednesday afternoon. she went to sleep, wednesday morning, and never again opened her eyes on this side of eternity.

i don’t have the ability to say how much she was loved. so very very much. she was a connector, bringing people together across miles, across lines of religion and race and all the things that keep us apart.

i’ve got one voicemail saved of her voice. she was just calling to talk. to encourage, to lift up. to do all the things she did so well. so now, we’re without her, and i want to remember her as much as i can. but life continues, and i can’t sit in my room, holding pictures of her, and crying.

Marlene, i miss you. your hands, moving like birds when you put on hand sanitizer. the elegance of your movements, slowed by pain. your beautiful feet. they took the gospel everywhere you went. how beautiful your smile was. your adventurous heart, that found ways to shine the light in dark places. i miss chatting with you. talking about the football teams we cheered for. talking about old movies. just talking. i miss you. and i don’t think i’ll ever stop. i can’t wait to see you again, and i’m going to live my moments as fully as you did. or at least i’ll try.

i’m holding onto a song by sherri youngward. it’s nothing but words i need to hear. words i need to remember.

just one more…

one more day, one more breath, one more football season. and with every scare, every coughing jag, my fear crops up. i’m trying to hard to be present, to connect as much as possible while she’s here.

i’ve never been good at being grounded – flighty, future leaning, always looking forward to the what ifs and the possibilities. fear doesn’t exist for me in the future – i can be optimistic about what comes, but what is here is what scares me. afraid that the video conversation we had on saturday was the last time i’ll see her face. afraid that when i hugged her last, it was the last.

i read about the vagus nerve on the internet today… why your heart aches when you feel emotional pain, why your chest feels heavy with grief. it’s odd, because one nerve, running from stomach to brain can get overstimulated, and bam. you can’t breathe, your stomach feels cold, and you’re aching somewhere inside. knowing that there is a real reason it physically hurts is reassuring. because this body is temporary, and the pain will pass, one day or at the end.

i’ve been so afraid of grief for so long – so afraid of hurt. so afraid that i all but cut off contact with all the things that have the power to hurt me, usually the things that i love. the people i love. and my sweet sister has always reached right back in. she’s figured out the the moments she has are the ones she is in. that tomorrow isn’t promised, only the time she is in, right now. she’s rooted. grounded.

i’m trying to lean in. not lean into the pain, because it’s coming whether i embrace it or not. but lean in to the one whose arms are strong. and when i rest in Him, throwing my pain and fear and longing at His feet, i can breathe again. if this is our last football season, then i want to be here for it. even if it hurts. because the pain makes these moments precious, and instead of begging for one more, i want to be present for the one i have. the one i’m in.

things my mother taught me, or a reflection on mother’s day

tomorrow is mother’s day. i have mixed feelings about mother’s day, because while i want to celebrate my mother as much as i can, i have such a hard time finding ways to celebrate her. flowers are out, she’s fastidious about what she eats so chocolate is mostly out, and most of the cards i find in the store are just too cheesy or flowery to really convey what i’m thinking about.

i’ve been reading dorothy sayers still, slowly digesting each chapter, rereading as i need to truly understand. that’s something my mother taught me, but that’s beside the point. i’ve been rereading a chapter titled “creed or chaos,” a reflection on the creeds of the church, and what it means to embrace christian doctrine. as i read sayers’ words, i see my mother’s actions, her movements spread throughout my life.

if you read my mother’s and sister’s blog – mimisjourneyofhope.wordpress.com, you will see doctrine in action. it is one thing to tell your children that they can have it all. that if they want to go to college, they can; if they want to be successful business owners, they can; if they want to stay home with their children, they can; anything they want, they can have. it is another to show your children that they can truly have nothing but Christ. that the glittering accomplishments the world holds up as trophies to womanhood, to personhood are nothing but dust and ash. that all the things we cling to as proof of our worth are nothing in light of the gospel.

and scripture is clear on what it means to embrace Christ – Romans 8:15 begins by making it very plain:

15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spiritthat we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

by embracing Christianity, and all the creeds and doctrines and beliefs, we embrace both suffering and glory. and there is no guarantee of earthly glory. at all. in fact, over and over, we are told – what comes is more valuable than what we possess here. what we have here is ash, and when we receive the reward for our lives at the other side of this existence, then we will receive our true reward. that which glitters here is not gold there.

and this is something my mother taught me. lived it out, load of laundry after load of laundry. dinners on the table, prayers prayed for my broken heart, nights spent in solitude. that often, the sacrifices we are called to make are the little ones. the little moments of laying herself down, her wants, her desires, even her needs. and it doesn’t stop. she’s been laying down her life for us my entire life, and she is now, even still, laying her life down in a hospital room at my sister’s side.

she taught me that this life is worth nothing, only worth living if we can take every moment we are given and shine the light of Heaven on it. that the only things that are worth keeping and embracing are the things with eternal value. and that not only is it hard, it is a struggle, pushing aside the flesh, setting aside our desires. she embodies what i read this week in “creed and chaos”:

[christianity] is fiercely and even harshly realistic… that there are certain eternal achievements that make even happiness look like trash.

her joy in life has been pointing us towards the cross. both pointing us to Christ’s suffering, and pointing to the glory to come if we can embrace it. she’s not been suffering in silence, putting on an aggrieved face, and doing what needs to be done begrudgingly. she’s been embracing the suffering of this world, the hard, the painful, the unwanted, and doing it with joy.

and just so you don’t think i have a completely unrealistic view of my mother, i know there have been many many times she has not wanted to do what she has been asked. disobeyed, turned away, begged not to do what lay before her. she’s overreacted, missed God’s leading, spoken from hurt, made the wrong decisions. she’s been angry and sinned, and yet. and yet.

in spite of all of those things, what filtered through was this. in order to embrace Heaven, we must embrace Jesus. not just the victorious, triumphing over all the world resurrected Messiah, but the one who begged His father in the garden, as recorded in Mark 14:

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

i can think of little else of more value than this, than what she taught me, and teaches me still: everything is possible, but what we are promised is suffering. and after these pains fall away, we are promised Heaven.

a bright day

today (april 7th) my lovely younger sister turned 26. most of my memories of her as a child concern sunshine, and smiles and a lot of brightness. she always seemed to reflect light into every place she went, at least in my recollection. of course, i’m learning how flawed my own remembrance can be, with so many years of darkness to skew my perception of light. while i struggled in the dark, she fought a different sort of battle. perhaps not the exact same, but she’s wrestled with the same darkness and came out the victor a lot sooner than i did. i do know this, as sure as i’m breathing and drinking earl grey tea on this warm spring night – marlene has always been a light in dark places.

my little sister has cystic fibrosis. if you’re not familiar with this terrible and hidden disease, please take a moment to check out the very quick overview that the CF foundation offers here – about CF. i call it hidden, because for many years, no one could tell anything was wrong. she was bright, spunky (okay, she still is) and fully participatory in so many activities and hobbies. but CF takes it’s toll, and while i left and got married, and sunk into a deep valley, she started paying the price in her body. and i was unaware, and incapable of even conceiving what she dealt with and still deals with on a daily basis.

i have had opportunities for 6 years to talk about her sunny disposition, her never failing encouragement, her constant ability to know what a word in due season is, and yet i haven’t. mostly because of shame. it’s sad to think about my fantastic baby sister ever battling anything painful, and so i didn’t. think about it, that is. and in the process, distanced myself from the only sister i’ll ever have. the only sister who can tease me about the terrible mullet pictures taken when we were kids. the only one who knows how her obsession with sound of music in elementary school sparked a not so secret love of musicals. the only sister who introduced me to frank capra’s other films, and broadened my horizons by never stopping her concentrated reaching in. she never stopped believing in me, and believing my life had value and hope.

so here i am, realizing i’ve lost a lot of time to depression. my counselor told me there would be a reckoning at some point – that i would grieve the lost time. i think i’m starting that – trying not to get lost in regret, in shame. in loss. because i lost time and precious time at that, with one of the most unflaggingly encouraging people i know. she continues to astonish me with her depth of compassion, her understanding, and her joy. she is joy, and hope and so much of the reflection of the Lord. the day she was born was a bright day, and every day has been brighter with her in it.

it has been a hard fought light, and a hard fought fight. i’m so proud to call her my sister – she causes me to desire more out of my life, my relationships, my hopes, because she embodies hope to me. she continues to fight a physical fight that seems overwhelming to me. the amount of treatments, the medications, the physical pain, the hurts, the sleepless nights, the limitations. and yet none of those things limit her. she continues to speak life to everyone she meets, to shine a light in every place she walks, to minister the Gospel at every opportunity. she’s never bitter, never angry, never hopeless – or at least not that i’ve ever witnessed.

so today, sister that i love so very dearly, sister that should be receiving late birthday cards from me (this happens every year if i send them at all), sister that didn’t receive the loud and obnoxious phone call we wanted to make (their phones were down), sister that never fails to encourage me, to expand me, to challenge me, today know you are so loved. sure, this post is late – yay me! but know that i’ve been thinking about what to say all day, and when i didn’t get to call you, i knew i needed to get it out somehow. you are and have been sunshine in my life, a joyful voice speaking life to me, my friend, one of my favorite people, and thankfully, my sister. i love you.

 

i’ll be posting about this very soon, but i’m forming a team for the great strides walk at the georgia botanical garden in october. more details coming soon, but i thought it might be appropriate to mention this in conjunction with the very reason i would participate – miss sunshine herself.