June 2019 The Abyss and the Way Out
I always thought it was a lot of hooey when someone, attempting to be comforting, would say that the loved one you lost will never leave you. Yeah, right. But when my sister passed, I struggled. Nobody could tell me she hadn’t left me. It was real and she was gone.
She had been a huge part of my life from the day I was born. She was ten-and-a-half when I was born, and I was her fun talking doll. And from my first days, I felt she loved me. I don’t ever remember life without her, and for many years I wanted to be just like her. But I read a book about nursing school, and education and writing sounded infinitely more appealing.
Then in God’s grace, we spent most of our adult life together. No, we didn’t live near each other except for a few of those years, but they were such important years, learning how to be a mom, a wife, and how to do church. Most of the time, except for a few years when we lived in Africa – something that delighted her- we did live close enough to share holidays and life in general and especially as it related to our faith journeys.
Phone calls especially kept the tie alive though there was much more than that. And then we both got a lot older. Our kids grew up. And left the nest. Her husband died. He too had been a part of my life ever since I could remember. But somehow I got by that loss because I still had her.
A few weeks ago, she did what was natural for someone in their eighties and sick. She left me behind. Surprised by the depth of my grief, I could not imagine how my days would be ever anything but deep gray. At first, when I thought of her, several times a day, I would be devastated afresh because selfishly, I could not call her or see her or touch her or ask her advice, and it seemed like the sunshine had been completely sucked out of this life. The days passed, but I just could not seem to climb my way out of this abyss of grief.
Then I caught myself thinking about what she would say. About what she would encourage me to do. About what she would do if she were me. And I knew the answer. She certainly would not go about feeling sorry for herself. She would not allow herself to be so overcome with grief that she was no earthly use to anyone else. She would not grieve in a way that would look like her faith meant nothing, no hope at all.
And I realized she had not left me, alone. She had filled my life with a thousand memories. A thousand pictures of us holding hands, praying, talking, cleaning chickens (that’s another story), caring for each other’s children, and serving God in a myriad of ways. And I could hear her voice. No, not in one of those twilight zone la-la-la-la ways. But I could imagine just what her words would be, no matter what I brought to her.
She would want me to glorify God. She would want me to keep reading my Bible. She would want me to keep serving God out of who He made me. That meant I didn’t have to worry about not being able to sing solos or play the piano or any of the other things we call ministry. I just needed to keep loving God.
Loving God means loving others. Loving others means thinking about what would bring joy to them or what might meet their needs. Most of all, loving others would mean showing God to them out of me, out of who I am.
Those people who said our lost loved ones remain with us, near us, were right after all. My big sister Peggy is still here, filling my heart, my life with a beautiful model of how to live and how to love others. She left me with beautiful memories complete with sound and color, and if I am very still and paying attention, I can feel her presence.