Today is a day that evokes numerous memories, many of which I don’t want to remember but most of which I will never forget. October 15th is just another day for most people but for me it is a day when I remember my life changing forever. It brings forth so many emotions – grief, sadness, regret, hope, love, and peace.
On October 15, 2008 my family was hit with total shock, heartache and sorrow when we learned that my sister, Kim, at 37 years old and 19 weeks pregnant with a baby girl passed away unexpectedly. This was absolutely heartwrenching for everyone who loved her. People don’t just die suddenly without warning, do they? I’d heard of circumstances where someone just collapses and dies but something like that couldn’t possibly happen to someone in my family could it? At the time I kept thinking that it must just be a dream. A really bad dream and then I’d wake up and everything would be okay. But it wasn’t a dream and every time I woke up in the days that followed I awoke with a sick feeling that something wasn’t quite right and then I remembered.
I never felt angry with God but I did ask him, “Why did this have to happen?” I had plans for my future and this was not part of my plan. I had plans for my sister and I to get together with our little boys and watch them grow up together. I had plans for our kids to be best friends and sleep over at each other’s houses. I had plans for our whole family to be together at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthday parties and everything else. Plans to be together as sisters our whole lives and grow old and wrinkly together.
I liked that plan. It was a good plan and I was happy with it. But that was not God’s plan. As difficult as it has been for me to accept, God’s plan is not my plan. But I have come to realize that His plan is perfect and even though it isn’t always the same as my plan, and even if I don’t understand any of it, it is still a good and perfect plan. He works all things for good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
As time has gone on, I have seen blessings come from the pain of such a great loss. For me, I have come to know God so much better than I did before and through the work of the Holy Spirit I feel a love for Him much deeper than before. I have my eyes heavenward very often, much, much more than I did before. My decisions are more often based on my realization of what truly matters in life as I consider the long-term. I’m not perfect by any means and I am still growing and learning, but I am much more focused on God’s will for my life, His promises, and my obedience.
My family has also been a great blessing to me. My parents and my oldest sister have lived out their faith in a way that is so inspiring to me. They have shown what it means for us to support each other through these difficult years and just by example they have shown me how to trust God during the most difficult times. And as much as I have hurt from the loss of my sister I know that my parent’s sense of loss is so much more. Yet, they are such giving, selfless people and Christ’s light shines through them. I am incredibly thankful for them.
And I am also thankful that my sister’s husband (my brother-in-law), my nephew and their new family continue to be a part of our lives.
Working through my grief has been difficult because grieving just isn’t easy. My family and I went to a grief support group at our church within a month or so of my sister’s passing and that experience was very helpful. Some of the take-aways that I remember are these:
- Everyone grieves differently.
- Our grief will change as time goes on.
- The grief won’t go away but we will learn how to live with it.
- There will be unexpected moments of grief in years to come.
And I can relate to all of these points. In recent months I’ve had more than my fair share of moments of grief, even after so much time has passed. I get emotional when I find a picture of my sister that I’ve never really looked closely at before, or hear a song that reminds me of her, or when I tell our children about her. All of these things are a reminder of the huge loss we have experienced.
But I hold on to God’s promises through it all. I cling to those promises so tight. I know He is faithful and I know that because of His promises my sister and I will be together again. This isn’t our home and as Kellan said “she got to go to heaven first.”
As I think back to that first day of sorrow and the days afterwards I not only think about our loss and the memories of Kim, but I also think about the people who showed their love for me in such awesome ways. It touches me deeply when I think about the compassion and love that was shown to me and my family through the kind acts of these people.
When I think about those who showed love and support there are so many people who come to mind. I think about my best girlfriend who grieved right alongside me, who called me every day to check in with me. She seemed to always say the right things and ask the right questions. I am so grateful for her friendship.
I also think about my mother and father-in-law who came to the house to be with me after I received the devastating news and who took care of Kellan in the days that followed as we handled funeral arrangements and tried to wrap our minds around what had happened and what this would mean.
I think about my now brother-in-law who went to great lengths to track down my husband to share the news with him when I couldn’t get a hold of him. I think of my sister-in-laws who listened and supported me for many months afterwards. I think of my neighbors and friends who made home-cooked meals for my family and I and who lent a shoulder to cry on and didn’t feel the need to say anything but to just be there. I think of my co-workers who showed kindness in so many ways.
I think about my husband who has walked this hard road with me every step of the way. Who has listened to me talk for a countless number of hours about good memories and my sorrow. I would have been lost without him. I am struck by all of these acts of love to the degree that I am brought to tears when I remember.
But in all of this I know that God is preparing me. All He has in store for me, I do not know. But I am sure there will be days when God will ask me to show his love by supporting and being there for someone else who is grieving. And because my wonderful family and friends showed me how to do it well I am much better prepared to complete such a task than I was before.
I miss my sister dearly. She was such an amazing person who was caring, kind, thoughtful, smart and fun. I suppose I could sit around all day today looking at pictures and crying my eyes out but I’m not going to do that. Instead I am choosing to celebrate my sweet sister’s life and remember our time together as sisters and friends. For that dance-loving girl I am going to dance joyously to some of our favorite 90’s dance music. Kellan can’t get enough of Rhythm is a Dancer so I’m sure he’ll join me in this spirited celebration.
**If you are interested in knowing how to support someone who is grieving, especially a mother grieving the loss of her child, I recommend reading this article. Amy Roberts lost her daughter when she was 7 months old and shares some advice for supporting a bereaved family member or friend.
From my own personal experience I would give just one piece of advice. Don’t say anything that starts with “At least_______(fill in the blank)”. Such as, “At least you have good memories”, or “At least you had the time with her that you did”, or “At least she’s in a better place”, and so on. The grieving person knows these things but it is not helpful for them to hear this during their time of sorrow. Maybe years down the road they can accept this but not when they are at the height of their grief and all they want is that person back with them. I know we all want to be helpful to those who are hurting and I believe that often times the best thing you can do is to just be there with that person, listen to them, and cry and grieve along with them.