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.

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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.

 

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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.

fear is the little death

ever read something that you’re struck by, like a bell that resonates throughout your thoughts, echoes through your days? i certainly hope so. it’s like hearing the words of someone you love, intruding into your thoughts, months after they’ve moved away, years after they’ve gone home.

today, i was on facebook, and saw a friend remembering her mother. a mother i remember in bits and pieces as well – the friend and i went to high school together, and her mom worked at our high school as well. her mom told my mom i was wearing my lip ring to class (DIY at home piercings were all the rage in the 90’s, okay?), and that was the beginning of my teenage rebellion/depression/searching for identity. but her mom was always so kind to me, whenever i would spend the night – she had the homiest kitchen, in this really cool cabin of a house in what was then rural area in our county. she also passed away a year ago, a year ago today.

i heard once, that people fear speaking in public more than they fear dying. i don’t mind speaking in public, but the thought of this short beautiful life ending before I am ready for it to, terrifies me. the presence of loss, the specter of death hovers over our every step, and yet all i do is pretend it away. pretend that i can send that email encouraging a friend on another day. pretend that my sharp words can be apologized for tomorrow. pretend there is another day, another time to walk in kindness. pretend that i can be distant in my fear, pull away because of potential pain, hide my heart away and keep to myself.

this isn’t easy to balance. on one hand, there is the guilt of all the things left undone, the words left unsaid as i try to forget that i might lose my mom, my sister, my daughter, my family, and everything, in just a moment. and yet, there are still bills to be paid, work to be done, lunches to be packed, dinners to be cooked, and i could slip so easily into despair if all i thought of was the unavoidable nature of loss. i’m going to, one day, lose everyone i love.

the quote that’s been ringing in my ears today is this one:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

it’s from frank herbert’s sci-fi classic dune, and while most of it is glorious escapist ridiculousness, there is something to be said for adopting this idea. to let what terrifies me be accepted as terrifying. it is scary, and overwhelming, and yet, and yet.

i am afraid of losing the people i love. i am afraid of my sister dying, even though i know it is only the end of her mortal body. i am afraid of losing my brother. i am afraid of losing my daughter, like one friend has already. i am afraid of losing my mother and my father, as another friend has. i am afraid of losing my husband to death like a friend of mine has. i am afraid.

and yet.

c.s. lewis has written so many, many words that bring light to my heart, and today is no exception. i find myself longing to read the great divorce again, to remember that every fear, every hope that i lay down will one day rise again, made truer, made right. lewis writes in various places on these ideas:

Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’.

so today, i am confronted with my fears. and in seeking to let them wash over me, acknowledge their presence without giving them power, and believe that one day, i will see my family in the high country. that the things i lay down, let go of will be abandoned for a greater hope. that this is not the end, and my heart does not need to die a thousand times a day before the ending comes. now to put these words into practice.