Bittersweet

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:

Hey Amy,

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.

64 Responses to “Bittersweet”

  1. 1
    bethany

    praise God for miracles…

    what a reminder of His sovereignty and His faithfulness and patience… both with prodigals and their brothers.

    i’m bawling in my office, but closed the door.

    thank you for sharing, amy. i missed these posts!

  2. 2
    SB

    I’m so, so sorry. I thought this must be reason for your long silence. I hope that you find much comfort with G-d and your family during this time. And I’m so glad you’re back — however you feel, or whatever you write. Just glad you’re back.

  3. 3
    Jennifer

    Wow – just beautiful. Bittersweet it is.

  4. 4
    Debie_B

    Thinking about you. Thank you these posts.

    Welcome back to the blog world!

  5. 5
    Debie_B

    Thinking about you. Thank you for these posts.

    Welcome back to the blog world!

  6. 6
    Jennifer H.

    That was beautiful.

  7. 7
    MarySue

    Amy,
    I am so sorry to hear of the death of your sister. And glad to know that she was finally His, and to hear of the redemption of your relationship with her. And grateful to be privileged to share your musings once again.
    May our faithful God be your strength and hope and help.

  8. 8

    Oh Amy, I am so sorry to hear of the loss (on earth) of your sister, but so blessed to hear what God did in her heart and in your relationship. Nothing is worth more than that. What precious gifts.

    There is so much I can relate to in what you wrote. And so much I can’t say. But know that you are encouraging others with what you share. Thank you.

  9. 9

    Amy, thank you so very much for sharing these hard times. **hugs**

  10. 10
    Jenny

    tears….. Thank you for sharing with us. I am reminded to persevere in prayer for my brother, knowing God can save his soul even if he doesn’t save his body.
    May God continue to bring peace to you as you grapple with your loss.

  11. 11
    Laura L.

    Welcome back…I’ve missed your writing. Your sister’s letter is precious…thanks for sharing.

  12. 12

    Amy, Thanks for your transparency. You are right…we wish that life seemed fair. We wish for that happy ending. My mom passed away almost two years ago…and the family seems to be falling apart. We were a model Christian family, and yet, now i know at so many levels not REALLY communicating our hearts. God is good. My family are all believers and I know that through Mom’s death, God is getting the glory. Praying for you and your family.

  13. 13
    Julie B.

    Amy.

    Welcome back. It’s good to hear your voice again. Thanks for sharing about your sister, and your reconciliation. Thanks for the testimony of the hard lesson that it’s better to lose your body than to lose your soul. There is a lot of truth that we think we believe until the rubber really hits the road, when it becomes personal. Thanks for encouraging us that it really is true and you’ve lived it. I’m sorry that your sister is gone. Praise God for some time together before she left. Grieving with you.
    Julie

  14. [...] someone’s life. Even at the very end. Everything I’ve written is to set the table for this piece. It simply reminds us that God has his way of drawing the elect to himself. It might not be [...]

  15. 15

    This is beautiful, Amy. Thank you for sharing.

    It also gives me hope for some difficult relationships in my life.

  16. 16

    Amy, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your sister with us, even if it was for so short a time.

  17. 17
    Stacey McLeod

    (((hugs)))
    welcome back. we’ve missed you. praying that God will give you the words you need to express yourself, not just for your ‘fan club’, but for your own healing….

    much love,
    stacey

  18. 18

    Amy, THANK YOU for sharring. I had a feeling this is why you have been quiet-how can there be words for what you have experienced.
    One of your many Sisters in Christ,
    Mel

  19. 19
    Rhonda

    Oh, Amy. Thank you for sharing this post. Your sisters letter was very precious.

    I know you are as big (maybe bigger) of an Elisabeth Elliot fan as I am. Have you ever read her book Loneliness? I just finished reading it last night. It was one of the most powerful and impacting books I have ever read. It deals with, as she talks about in much of her writing, giving everything, including pain, as a gift to God. If you haven’t read it you should. You will enjoy it.

  20. 20
    Kelly P

    Life is not lived in black and white. Why can’t I accept that? Why does that scare me? It’s hard to take the joy with the sorrow, and someone’s sin with their glory. People are that way, I guess, just like me. And it’s much more painful, awkward and confusing to love someone honestly or to love an honest person, but your love for your sister is a great example of what that looks like.

    You are a blessing, Amy.

  21. 21
    Janet

    See, this is why I have been missing you. You are REAL. You’re honest enough to admit you stubbornly refused to believe your sister’s conversion was genuine, and you’re cheeky enough to mention Mark Driscoll. That’s why I love you.

    Some day, I’m going to find you and your sister, and have a good long chat.

    Glad you took the plunge…

    Janet

  22. 22

    Really happy to *see* you and your humble musings, Amy….but so, so sad to read about your sister. The one thought that came to mind as I read this was “love covers a multitude of sins.” Love, Patricia

  23. 23

    Oh, Amy~ what a beautiful letter from your sister. And what a gift God gave to both of you at the end of her life. It is a miraculous thing– that after 35 years of distance, it is GOD who did what seemed impossible to both of you. I’m so sorry she’s no longer here, but thankful for the time you did have.

    Glad you’re writing again.

    ~Stacy

  24. 24
    marian

    Thank you for sharing this little piece of your heart and experience. Praise God that you can say that you KNOW that you will see your sister again. And as freed-up and lightened and opened as your relationship had newly become through your common bond in Jesus, how much more so it will be — more than any of us earth-side fully know– when truly free of the sin and heaviness of this world and fleshly body!

  25. 25
    Lois

    Oh, Amy. I didn’t dream there was all of that. Will you despise me if I confess that I felt that same doubt when I read of her conversion? And it was much easier to not bring it up while we were there. I am so sorry. Tears here too. How convicting. Thank you for being so transparent and for sharing your sister too. She writes very eloquently too, you know. ((hugs))

  26. 26
    Janel

    Sometimes the answers to prayer are a long, long, looooong time coming. But they still come. Eventually.

    Wooo hoo and booo hooo all at the same time. Bittersweet is right. I can’t wait to read the rest.

    Praying for you and yours.

  27. 27
    Janet

    Thanking God for reconsiliation and forgiveness and sisters.

    Thank you Amy for sharing.

    I know the pain.

    Love you,
    Janet.

  28. 28
    maddie

    Bless you.

  29. 29

    Thank you for writing this. I have a sister who was always doing things against the way we were raised. She claims to be a Christian but her life does not show anything. She has hated me since I went to Kindergarten and she was still home. She still, at age60, is not living for the Lord and has what seems like a messed up life, including her health.

    You have renewed my desire to pray for her and I thank you!

  30. 30
    david t. in fayetteville, ga

    Oh, my goodness! We waited for what seemed a very long time, Amy. And then you really opened up. How does one be so transparent? I’ve told you this before — our gracious God has given you a huge gift. God Bless you! Thank you for the blessing you are to me.

    david

  31. 31
    SLF

    I too am crying as I read this beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your heart with your readers.
    I am hopeful for my sisters, and will continue to pray and believe in miracles!
    God is good.

    Welcome back, I have missed you.

    SLF

  32. 32
    rv

    Thanks for sharing a piece of your heart with us. The range of emotions I’ve experienced this morning already by this post is vast. So glad to hear from you. And so thankful for you.

  33. 33

    You did it, love. You did it. You started writing the pieces and I am all in tears. Thank you. It’s so good to have you back. much love, EE.

  34. 34

    I’m crying now. I’m sorry for your loss, but rejoicing for the miracle God gave you! I wish I could have had a sister. You are so blessed to have had her here and to have her waiting for you in Heaven!

  35. 35

    Amy~

    I am so sorry for your loss and yet I praise God for your gain! May you feel His comforting hand upon you!

    Lots of love,
    Sommer

  36. 36
    Lorene

    Amy, the loss of someone is always hard….I know you already know that. Thanks for making us part of the process. I appreciate your honesty and pray that God will be close to you.

  37. 37
    chris

    good to hear from you again, tho’ i wish the circumstances were different.. i can see why you called it ‘bittersweet’: even though your reconcilation with your sister is unquestionably a great good thing, in one way it makes her passing more painful…i’ll be praying for you.

    –chris

  38. 38
    Robin in New Jersey

    Welcome back Amy, even though it’s bittersweet.

    Thank you for being real. What an amazing story you have to tell.

  39. 39
    Paula

    Soooo glad you are back, not much of a commenter but I’ve always enjoyed your words. So sorry about your sister hugs from Ontario Canada.

  40. 40

    Dear Amy, This is lovely and I am sorry and sad for you and at the same thankful that you shared however odd a combination all these responses may be …

  41. 41

    God is so good and gracious to restore that which was broken. What a blessing to have that precious time with your sister. I too lost my sister and had a very similar situation. I am so grateful the Lord restored our relationship and gave us some very special time before she passed. Lord bless you, Amy. You will be in my prayers.

  42. 42

    Amy, your story was heartwrenching and refreshing. Thank you for sharing. I pray that your heart will continually be comforted by our Lord in your loss, not only of your sister, but also of your lost years together that cannot be recouped. I pray a prayer of gratitude for the found years and that they were blessed.
    Glad you are back.

  43. 43
    Sarah

    Wow, thank you for sharing. This was precious. And it encourages me to continue to pray for an unbelieving brother.

  44. 44

    Amy, I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. I missed you very much and am so glad you’re back.

  45. 45

    I’m sorry for your loss, Amy–both the loss of your sister now, and the loss of the many years of relationship that never were. I know something of what you feel. I lost my (much older) brother in the summer, and the grief of his death is tangled up with the grief that he was never much a part of my life, because of the destructive choices he made. And yes, I was the prodigal’s brother many times, in my ugly self-righteousness. There were some signs of change before the end; it makes my heart happy to hear how your relationship with your sister was restored. Not the way things were designed to be–but better than they could have been, right? Thank you for sharing. I’ve missed your words.

  46. 46
    Kim

    I was so happy to see your posts in my feed, Amy.

    I also was/am not close to either my sister or brother. My brother was dying from cancer and we were not on speaking terms at the time (long story). There was the possibility that a bone marrow transplant might save his life and our whole family got tested. Guess what? I was the only perfect match. God will have His little joke. So of course I did it; and because of that bone marrow transplant we were reconciled. I was the self-righteous twit in that story and it was a painful time of growth for me. My brother ended up dying, but I was thankful that I at least was able to be there for him even though it wasn’t enough.

    I’m glad God gave you and your sister time to heal your relationship before she died. That was a great gift.

  47. 47

    What a beautiful story of relationship restoration between you and your sister.

    It’s enough to make even the most jaded among us *cough cough* believe in miracles.

    God bless you, Amy.

  48. 48

    Ahhh, so tender. Sisters-nothing like them. I lost my sister on Nov. 8. She was 11 years older and had been as much a mom as sister. It is a strange and unusual thing-grief. So happy she knew your love at last.

  49. 49
    Joanna

    Thank you for this. And so glad you are posting again! Your voice was missed.

  50. 50
    Jo

    What a bitter-sweet blog posting…..I am so sorry to hear of the death of your sister, and the regrets of many years passing before real friendship came. Sometimes it is hard to forgive and believe in others true repentance when you are the “good” kid, who has tried to do most things right…I know that from experience, and boy, did God ever have to work in my heart to show me my sin of self-righteousness. So wonderful to hear that you are your sister were able to reconcile and become friends and more importantly, sisters in the Lord. I’ve missed your posts!

  51. 51
    Pam

    God Bless and comfort you always Amy. So glad you’re back, you’ve been greatly missed.

  52. 52

    What a beautiful tribute to your sister. What she now sees by sight we still walk by faith. I can see you were a dear blessing to her. I’m continuing to uphold you and your family in prayer as you adjust to life without her. Blessings and hugs to you!

  53. 53
    Christy

    I’m glad to see you back writing again Amy. Your writing is a blessing. I’m thanking God that you had that year with your sister and that she is in a much better place and you have the hope of seeing her again. It doesn’t take away the pain though.

  54. 54

    Amy, it is such a bittersweet loss. I thank you for sharing your story as honestly as possible. I am thankful that you got to spend time with your sister as well as begin a real relationship with her. I am sorry for your loss.

  55. 55
    Kim

    thank you, amy, for sharing your journey-your joy and your pain, with your fellow sisters on the journey.
    you are in my thoughts and prayers.

  56. 56

    You’ve made me bawl. Or maybe it’s the LORD. Or maybe it’s the anxiety in my life that caused me to stay up til 1:30am. As I read this… my sister and I are trying to sort out who get’s each of our mother and grandmother’s things. It’s hard. It hurts. And it’s stupid. I don’t want “things” between my sister and I, they will burn up. Our relationship remains. Yet, I want some of those “things”. Sigh. I grow weary of the flesh.
    Anyway, thank you for the timing of this.
    Seeking Him,

  57. 57

    Mindy, I feel so sad for what you are going through. I remember that in my own family and in my husband’s family. I handled it well in mine, giving up everything that someone else wanted and I am fine with it. The relationship is so vastly more important. In my husband’s family, I was not so gracious since his sister was ugly about grabbing and running roughshod and acting entitled. I found that the things were not so much the issue here as the attitude of superiority and dishonesty she exhibited. I had a really hard time with that. Sometimes, I still do. Although, I do encourage my husband to keep a relationship with his family because it matters and they rarely keep one with him. This flesh is too often brutal. I can only function well when I keep a continual eternal perspective.

  58. 58

    Amy, I am so glad you had that time together. I preach this loudly ever since my Mom died in her sleep.

  59. 59

    So much better than those “everything works out in the end” stories. I’m so sorry for the loss of your sister and for the time lost before that, but what a drop in the bucket that will be when you’re together again!

  60. 60
    Betty hewlett

    So touched by your openess and willing to share, God will use this and you as He is already. Love, forgiveness, and transparency so difficult yet freeing. Thank you so much. If you like to read you might like Karen Kingsbury, her books are real.

  61. 61

    This choked me up…

    I believe in miracles too.

    Thank you… thank you.

  62. 62

    Beautiful! I am am so sorry for your loss.

  63. 63

    Broke. My. Heart.

    I am praying a blessing over you and yours. So very very thankful that He reconciled your relationship and most of all – that he took your sister in His arms! What a wonderful joy to know she’s waiting on you!

    This reminds me that I have a lot of praying to do for all the people in our lives who are not saved — and who are over 40! Sheesh! I am turning 40 at my next birthday! Every day is a gift.

  64. 64
    April

    Amy,

    It will be 5 years, April 12th, that I lost my sister. God has been so gracious to keep my weak faith. I want to let you know that I appreciate your transparency regarding your sister. I can relate to pretending everything is fine cause you want to be hopeful. I was always hopeful around her because my sister insisted she was going to be healed and when she asked me to have the same faith that she would be healed, I had to be honest with her, and tell her that I didn’t know what the Lord’s will was for her. It was so hard to tell her that. It hurt her and I still wonder how I would have gotten out of that situation without hurting her and yet still tell the truth. I believe that God saved her during the time of her sickness. She was able to share the gospel with nurses, write letters to encourage others, she even addressed how she should have done thins so differently with her eldest son. She lost her body but not her soul. All Glory to God! I am so grateful for Romans 8:28- I cling to it!


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