August 18, 1998. The day my younger sister Lizzie died.
I remember pretty much every detail of that day. I was driving with John, her 13 year old son, from Stone Mountain to Augusta so we could see her one last time before she died. John had been spending the weekend with me to try to get away from the sadness in his home. We never made that last visit. Halfway to Augusta, I got the call from her husband, Martin, telling me that Lizzie was gone. He did not want me to tell John. He wanted to tell all three children himself when they were together. Later that day I sat in their living room while he told John and John’s younger sisters, Emily 11 and Kathryn 5 that their mom was gone. It was surreal. It didn’t seem like it was really happening. Even though we had known for five months that she was dying, it still didn’t seem true. She was 42 and dead from breast cancer.
Yesterday was August 18, 2012. Fourteen years since my sister died. I didn’t notice the date until a friend of mine called to tell me that her younger brother had been found dead that morning. August 18. Suddenly all the sadness came rushing back. I felt such a weight for my friend as I remembered the early grief over my sister. The ache in my chest. The pain I felt for her children and her husband. The pain I felt for my parents. The endless crying until I just couldn’t breathe anymore. Nothing can compare to the pain of losing someone you love too soon.
I haven’t cried for my sister in a while. I am to the point of grief now where it is just a dull ache and random sadness over events and circumstances. But today, the pain was back, unexpected and unwanted. Hearing about my friend’s brother triggered all those old feelings. So I went for a grief walk and cried. I miss Lizzie. She was sarcastic and funny. She stood up for herself and for those she loved. She could be intimidating because she was so outspoken and no one on earth could annoy me more than she could. When we were growing up she was a pesky little brat but she and I became good friends in adulthood. I miss her every day, but the grief really hit me today.
As I walked and cried and missed Lizzie, I thought about some of the things I have learned from the people I counsel with. I call them my chickies because client sounds too clinical. My chickies think they are coming to me to be healed but it works both ways. I heal as much as they do. One of my chickies told me that as she gets older it seems like grief sticks to her more. I love this phrase because it fits my reality. I, too, have found that grief sticks to me more and knowing I am not alone in this is oddly comforting. Another of my chickies told me the profound way that God has given him hope through the verse “Joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) Frequently, when he is at his lowest, God reminds him of the joy to come and I thought of that today as I walked. Both for me, with my old grief, and my friend, with her new grief. And again I felt the comfort of being connected to someone else in sadness.
God gives us to each other to help the healing. We all hurt. We all have sadness and grief. We all lose people we love.
August 18 will always be a sad day for me. There are some pains that just will never be totally healed. And yet, I am comforted by the people God has put around me to share that grief, even when they don’t know they are giving me comfort.