My sister, Christine, lost her fight with breast cancer a few months ago. She was 40.
I want to talk about it, but it’s complicated. Every time I go down one path in my mind, it leads to another. And for a 500 word blog entry, that makes writing about it tricky. So I’ll do this in parts over time. This is the first piece.
My sister deserves a great essay, but I don’t know how to write that. I want to do something nostalgic and hopeful. But I can’t perform under pressure, and it’s easier to be “busy” than have to wrestle this stuff in my mind.
I want to tell the truth, but I know the truth is not what people want. People want the characters in a story to be either Melanie Wilkes or Hitler. Straight forward. Good or bad; definitely not a-little-bit-good and a-little-bit-bad. I mean, can you imagine what would happen if we found out Billy Graham drank himself a toddy after every crusade? We wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Recently, I read a novel, and I vowed it’d be the last in its genre. How do these stories sell? Love is uncomplicated, the boy always gets the girl, and nobody ever cusses the universe when something we love is lost forever. And definitely, nobody ever has sex unless it is a book written by Mark Driscoll.
The truth is that my sister and I were never close when we were growing up. She was older than me by five years, and we hung out in different crowds. She did hard drugs and snuck out of the house, while I found Jesus and congratulated myself for my good thinking.
So when she found Jesus after her diagnosis, I ran into her arms and we cried until dehydration set in.
Actually, that’s not what happened.
The truth is that I didn’t believe her, and I kept my distance like a self-righteous jerk, waiting for this phase of her life to pass.
But it didn’t pass. And the awkward thing was, Well, now what? Are we supposed to act like friends? Are we supposed to ignore the ugly spats we’ve had? And what do we talk about? There’s baggage here, and it’s uncomfortable.
I don’t remember who made the first step. Maybe it was both of us just doing what we could to make things easy on the other person. And that counts for something.
But one day, she called me while I was at a shopping mall. It was bad timing, but she had something to say. I plugged one ear with my finger to block out the noise from nearby tables and sat down.
She told me that God had changed her heart, and that she was sorry for something she’d done to me so many years ago.
I was so sorry too.
And this was the day — the day I sat down at a cheap, plastic table in the middle of a busy food court to answer my cell phone – that I began believing in miracles. I think I believed before, but not in a way that had grit. It was more of a cheap kind of hope, a gamble that’d I believed would work out in the end because the odds were good. But that day, I knew that if God chose not to heal her of cancer, He’d done something so much bigger. It is better to lose your body than to lose your soul. I know that now. I believe it in the dark corners of my mind.
From that day forward, we’d had almost a year to make up for the 35 years that were lost. We visited three times: she came to Kentucky once, and I went to Europe twice, the last time to be there as she passed.
We Skyped for hours. When we ran out of gossip and ideas and Bible verses (we never really agreed on doctrine…), I gave her cooking lessons from my laptop. I would put my computer on the counter, and do a little show for her. I knew she’d never need to know how to make a white sauce, but I didn’t know what else to do. Sometimes I think we try to act normal, as if in doing that, maybe things will really be normal.
My sister loved my blog. (Don’t hold that against her.) I know she wouldn’t mind sharing this letter:
I just wanted to tell you again how much I enjoyed your visit. I wish I felt better the last few days you were here but am happy that I felt well for most of the time.
My heart is so elated over our newfound relationship and I find myself regretting all the time lost because of stupid things in the past. I realize that God had to bring us down different roads to finally reconcile us and I am so happy.
I feel like I have made a new best friend in getting to know you better and it brings me tears of joy to say “I love you” to you for the first time after a lifetime of not being able to. As we come from the same stock, it is much easier to express ourselves in writing sometimes than to actually say things in person.
This does not change the intensity of how I feel. I guess the biggest problem with saying things in person is the fact I probably will cry and blubber incoherently rather than get my point across and this could be awkward. I am just tickled pink by getting to really know you as a person and I find that you are really wonderful, fun, sweet, and just lovely. I am surprised and delighted that we have so many things in common and my heart just wants to bless you in every way possible.
Before you left I wanted to pray a blessing over you but the opportunity didn’t come up. I wanted also to tell you how I feel but every time I thought about it it made a lump in my throat instead of words. In my prayer time I pray a blessing for you and your family and I really look forward to spending more time with you.
One day, we will. We’ll definitely find each other again. In the meantime, there is one less person in this world rooting for me, and the afternoons in the kitchen right before dinner are a little more quiet.