We've been talking about spring and renewal a lot. Well, it is spring after all! But spring comes after winter, a time when things die. And that, death, we don't usually want to talk about. Grim though it is, we all know it's a necessary unavoidable part of life. This spring for me had me thinking about it more so than often since it's a decade since I lost my younger sister.
I used to be an avid reader of Reader's Digest growing up. Most from my generation did. The digest always ended with one true story, something horrific, tragic even with loss and death, but always heroic, always bringing forth the amazing human spirit and its capacity to overcome and survive a natural calamity, terror or disease, or to leave something everlasting in its wake. Most of these essays started with 'you think this would only happen in the movies or to other people, not to you'. This was precisely what I thought about. About all these people who thought the exact same thing and were faced with something dire. In our case it was my sister's terminal disease at the young age of 17. It was horrific, tumultuous, and in the end we lost her.
It's been a decade now and I never stopped missing her or thinking of her. It changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The rug was pulled away from beneath our feet and the aftermath was devastating. It was a crushing, crippling, helpless feeling mixed in with guilt. The guilt of surviving, of not having spent enough time or done more or said more. For the longest time it was all I talked about and struggled with. It has taken me forever to come to this, to speak of the good. Yes, there is good at the end of it all. Actually, there really is no end. There is only continuity. I never did understand nor cared to relate to the life lessons such events leave you with. But I have finally come around and here's a few things I have learned.
Death and regret
What is there to regret? Time moves on and we are born and die. We become one with the universe, the earth, the air. We meld back into it quietly it seems. Everything is more silent. People are silent around you. Around the dying. They are silent. Silence is more silent. It is not stifling. I sense respect. I feel deep thought and reflection. It is a beautiful, tranquil silence if we accept. If we can all accept.
Grit, courage and a sense of humor
My sister's attitude was remarkable. Her dignity and resilience in the face of insurmountable tragedy was nothing short of amazing. And, she had a massive sense of humor which nothing could deter. During the worst of it she laughed and made others laugh. She could see the bigger picture, always. She loved life , didn't dawdle, lived and let live. It's incredible she knew how to do that from the beginning. Perhaps she knew her days were numbered and so she made the most of it. Funny thing though is, all our days are numbered too.
What really matters
We were surrounded by all and then we were alone because everyone has their life to live. I had a hard time with how the world continued. People went about their lives. What I didn't realize was she was all alone too, even with us right by her side. She was aware of that, she chose to see something else over the loneliness. We can feel as alone or as surrounded by love. It is our choice. She was whole as a person, had to fight her battles alone but she cherished what she got from the others and took strength from what she had within. She looked past the pain. She was no fool, she did not pretend. She knew very well what was coming but she still laughed. I remember she could barely speak, she had gone mostly blind, she was bedridden, her breathing was severely labored and she fought hard to say something. We were in the hospital in and out of the ICU, she was 23 and just came out of a coma. After many tries we figured out what she was trying to say. She wanted us to give the physiotherapist a good beating by ambushing him in the dark :) It was painful for her to go through physiotherapy but she still managed to laugh, cracking us up and herself with her jokes.
Grief is part of the journey
There is this saying I love 'Don't take life too seriously, you're never going to get out of it alive' She embodied that. We are all going to die so why not enjoy the ride, none of us really know how much time is left. But it is a journey to be experienced and part of that journey is to feel. I don't see the point in crying for her now. I want to cherish what I had but until I came to see that, I needed to cry, I needed to feel the pain. I'm in a place today where I am able to live and laugh and accept life the way it comes, strive for what I can and not worry too much about things I cannot change. I could not have got here without going through my path at my pace. Don't judge another's journey, their strength and character. We can learn from others but our paths are still different and we have to respect that.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Every day is precious and though a lot is not in our control, how we react to life's many curve balls is completely up to us. I came across this piece of wisdom, quite elementary but hardly followed and it has truly become my mantra!