A few weeks ago, my dear friend, C., asked me if I had selected my word for this year. I had thought about it, briefly, but hadn’t committed. I knew that if I did, it would have to be grace, but I didn’t say that out loud. When C. said that grace was her word this year, I smiled. We are soul-mates, sisters at heart. Because God always fills the gaps.
I awoke Saturday morning mid-dream, in a disturbed state of awareness. My vocal chords were strained from silent angst, my heart was racing. This is not the first time. But for the first time in a long time, I could remember the source of distress. They were taking my sister away from me.
It is not a dream so much as a recurring nightmare. I lay there quietly for a few minutes, absorbing the weight of my blanket of sadness before I arose, tired and burdened like a pack mule. It was a long, slow Saturday. Will I ever stop grieving my sister?
It’s hard to describe, this grief. It never goes away. Mercifully, it lives under the surface most days. It may be a few weeks or a few months, successfully suppressed. When it surfaces, my outlook turns gray and cloudy, my heart becomes heavy. The worst part is that I know it doesn’t have to be this way. It hasn’t always been this way. We were once a family for all seasons. Or so I thought.
I’ll probably never understand what changed but it was dramatic. Long stretches of silence. Inaccesible. Hurtful. Cold. Closed doors, hearts, minds. There have been brief reprieves, occasional glimmers of hope, an opportunity to reconnect, a sliver of sunshine parting the clouds. But it was never right, or enough, or right enough.
As painful as has been to fail again and again, the alternative was also a strain. For years I tip-toed through our interactions, listening hard for the clues to maintain an uneasy equilibrium on eggshells. Then, when we inevitably crashed in a pile of fragile fragments, I’d try desperately to put us back together again. It was exhausting. Each time, it seemed harder to find my way back to her.
So I am not surprised that we’ve returned to that long, deep trough of resistance, refusal, and rejection. I know it too well. Ours is a relationship frozen solid as North Country clay in January; as hardened and dry as a sun-baked furrow in July. It has been harsh and unforgiving. Grace has been in short supply.
This time, though, it feels different. Perhaps I have finally come to accept her choice. This last time, crossing the chasm, I finally learned the truth. I am neither the problem nor the solution. No one took my sister away from me. She left.
Not that that makes it okay. There isn’t an occasion with my mother and other sisters that I don’t miss her. There is hardly a conversation among us where I don’t feel her brooding, silent presence. There hasn’t been a celebration where I haven’t longed for her to join us, if only she would enter in with joy and gladness. If only she could. As a family, we are achingly incomplete in her absence. Sometimes it makes me so mad I could spit! Mostly, it makes me so sad I could cry.
The loss is inestimably great, not just for me and my family, for my other sisters and their families, but also for her and hers. My greatest anguish in separation from my sister is that her children are all but lost to us. Do they know how much we all loved them, love them, will always love them? Will they recognize that dim, happy memories were in fact reality of a loving family? Will they ever again know the blessing in extended family?
In February, our grandgirl was born on my sister’s birthday. My soaring joy in first hearing Sadie’s cry was followed by realization whose birthday she shared. Sweet Sadie joins two of the most lovable little boys in the world: big brother, Ollie, and cousin, Henry. This beautiful trio will become a quartet in July. Such joy! How can my sister refuse? If not for herself, how can she refuse her children? I must imagine she believes it is for the best. Otherwise, it is just cruel.
Each generation in our family seems to have a similar story, scenarios that defy rational explanation. But as I have sadly learned firsthand, the whys and wherefores do not matter after a time. The whole miry mess becomes much, much bigger than the sum of its parts, impossible to untangle. I have come to realize there will be no sorting it out; there is no justice to be had.
Truth be told, I would personally prefer justice. My sense-of-right-and-wrong self, the play-by-the-rules girl of my youth would really like her due. But my moving-past-middle-aged self knows better. She is wiser, by far. She is much more quick to hit the reset button than to stand her ground, arguing pedantically. She will choose the higher good; she doesn’t need the win. And she will never lose hope.
For faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
I will continue miss my sister as I hope against hope for that day of healing and restoration. I can hardly imagine a greater joy! However, my time for grieving this loss is done. Life is far too short to continue to mourn what might have been. Joy is in the here and now, in the loving and the living.
Have you met my grandbabies?
God sent me to announce the year of his grace … and to comfort all who mourn. To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes. Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Isaiah 61
Grace to you. And more. Much more.
~ René Morley