One thing I’ve learned in the year since my sister’s death is that it didn’t cause a new wound – it reopened the wound that was made when my brother was murdered, and it’s a wound that will never heal, this side of the Jordan.
The last time I spoke to Johnny was over the phone on my 24th birthday. As we said goodbye I told him I would call him on his birthday, eleven days after mine. Instead, we buried him. It’s been nearly twenty-two years now. This December he will have been dead as long as he was alive. When he died, the only person who had shared my childhood died, and in a sense, my childhood died with him.
My sister was nearly thirteen years younger than I was and I loved mothering her. When I had children of my own I’d tell people that Anne Marie was my first baby, not even half-joking. I almost didn’t marry – for her sake. Things were getting even rougher between my parents and I was worried about leaving her.
Instead, she spent every spring break and summer with me until she was fifteen or sixteen. She even lived with me and went to school in our town for a semester during our parents’ divorce, a year after our brother died. And the year Mike was in Alaska alone and I was in Georgia with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler, she lived with me to help with my children, and I home schooled her.
I saw her faith in the Lord from the time she was quite small. I saw her struggles as she reached adolescence, and when she began to pull away from me as a teen I tried not to take it personally, to let her have her own space while assuring her that I was always there for her. I know she knew how much I loved her. She always called me when she was having any kind of trouble to ask me to pray for her.
But I can’t stop the questions. “Why didn’t I…?” and “What if…?” and “Shouldn’t I have…?” Surely, if I had been a better sister, a better Christian, all this suffering could have been avoided.
In those last months of her second struggle with leukemia, following a bout of breast cancer, I saw her faith grow. She talked about being ready to be with Jesus. I know she’s safe with him now. I know she’s not suffering any more. I’ve seen the good fruit she’s borne through her death, in the newfound faith of one of her best friends.
I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. And that’s the only thing that makes the pain of loss bearable – knowing that it’s not forever.
But really, that knowledge doesn’t stop the ache of loss. I want my sister to know the joys of marriage and motherhood. I want the hollow, hungry look to go out of my mother’s eyes. I want my Baby back.