Grief and Loss: Waves and Waves of Pain
I picked up the phone and it was my baby sister, Patty. I love to get calls from family, to catch up on each other's lives and see what's new. Not this time. My sister called with news of her visit to the doctors. She had been experiencing some health issues. She said I have to tell you something. The doctor said I have gallbladder cancer. My heart sank, my mind went blank, and my words failed. After a moment of silence I said through streaming tears, "I'm sorry, I don't know what to say." I don't know what to say was all I could muster. My sister, in her sweetness responded, "I know."
What could I say. I mean, even if I was there, I could do nothing, but I was miles away in another state. What could I do for her from another part of the world? She was able to hear the words I could not speak. She said it was a rare cancer and was only given a year and a half to live; two years at the most. We sat in silence and cried. A difficult battle awaited her and our family. Our lives would be forever changed.
I remember calling her more regularly. Hearing her voice brought me joy. I so wished I could be with her physically, but I know that our phone calls meant a lot to her. It had only been the year before that she had visited us in San Diego. She and my niece, Hayley, came to our son's graduation. Conversations and laughter filled our home as we celebrated this wonderful occasion. But, this year began a different journey that brought waves and waves of pain.
There were times I called my sister, but there was no answer. I had to leave a message. Her cancer treatments drained her. It was time we lost out on, but we did the best we could to hear each other's voice. I prayed she would hear my voice messages and receive the love I so desperately wanted her to feel in our physical absence. I know she did.
It was about a year and a half later when my parents called to let us know they were moving my sister and niece to live with them. My initial reaction was, this was something I could do. I could help the family pack up my sister's house and move her and Hayley to my parent's home. My husband and I booked a flight right away. We were excited to see Patty and the family, though the shock that awaited me was not what I was prepared for.
My sister had been through so many cancer treatments. She had lost her hair. She looked so different, I almost couldn't recognizer her, except she was still the same sweet and funny sister that she always was inside. I was happy to see her. To be physically present. To help with the packing and moving, though there were times our hearts ached. There were waves of tears as we packed and tried not to cry in front of Patty.
Fortunately, Patty and my parents were only about a three hour drive apart. We did not have to ship things out of state or have numerous hours of driving ahead of us. My parent's church had even built a wheelchair ramp to make it easier for my sister and her visits to the doctor. The time, although difficult, was a good visit. My heart was at peace to spend that occasion with my sister. To be there. To help meet some needs through the pain and tears.
If you are not a dog lover, or don't have a pet, you may not understand this part. Riley, our Pitbull-Lab mix, had been sick, as she experienced seizures for about a year and a half. We did our best to take care of her and had the vet adjust her medication several times. She had a check up in December and now in June things were getting worse. My daughter and I took Riley in to the vet that Friday. We spoke to the vet at length and he gave us several theories for Riley's illness, but said he wanted to start with x-rays to see what was going on inside. My daughter and I waited anxiously for the doctor to return. It actually didn't take long and he told us that Riley had cancer and only had about a week to live. We were thrown back with the news. I didn't understand. I told him she had just had a check up in December and everything, other than the seizures, was fine.
The doctor gave us a couple of options to consider. Knowing that Riley only had a week to live we chose to take her home that night so that our family could say goodbye to her. We would take her back in the morning to put her down. Pain. Again. My husband and son took Riley for the morning appointment. Later that same day we got the call that Patty was taken to hospice and to hurry. I booked a flight right away. Got in on Monday and said goodbye to Patty that Tuesday as we watched her take her last breath.
The pain was unbearable. Too hard to describe. Our family had just lost my husband's mom in December and now we were saying goodbye to Patty. Where was the time to grieve in between? I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think.
Our son wrote a beautiful letter, a celebration of life for Patty and Riley, which I read at Patty's service that week before having to fly home by myself.
Sunday morning, back at church, we sang, "The Joy Comes In The Morning." I felt God's peace reassuring me Patty was in His loving arms and the pain that Patty had experienced the past year and a half was no more. She was free of pain. Free of suffering. She was in a better place. Although I hated saying goodbye, I clung to the promise that I would see my baby sister again; for God is our hope and this is His promise.
Today, I wish I could tell you I said goodbye to the waves of pain and tears, but that would be a lie. I keep a picture of my baby sister in my home office where I see here throughout the day. It gives me peace. For a while after my mother-in-law passed away I would pray for her, as I always did, forgetting that she was no longer with us. And, Riley, she is in heaven playing in the company of our family, waiting patiently with open arms for us to be with them one day, in this better place called Heaven. God is there with Jesus our Savior sitting on His right hand side.
I don't know that we ever truly get over a loss, but I know that we cannot go through a loss alone. Isolation is not healthy. We need to allow ourselves time to feel, to grieve, to mourn our loss. We need to speak to others, our community of family and friends.
The grief we experience is different for each person. It's important that we get the help we need to help us move on. If you have experienced a loss, I encourage you to get the help you need today. Make an appointment with a counselor, join a grief support group, see a mental health coach. Don't isolate. We are not meant to go through this journey alone. We are stronger in community.
Above: Once upon a time, Patty and me. Miss you sis.
So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice,
and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22