My sister died yesterday.
Her death was not unexpected; she had battled cancer like a trooper, the first time, 20 years ago, and then again, last year this time, when it came back.
She was tired of fighting, tired of going back to the hospital, tired of getting blood and medicine and more blood. I think she just said, “OK, already. Enough.”
She is the first of our siblings to die. My parents both died years ago. We five children have always had each other. Now we are five, minus one. It feels strange.
I have learned not to despise death, or even fear it, but rather, consider death a part of our life cycle. I keep thinking of John Donne’s sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud:”
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so,
For, those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die, not, poor, death, not yet canst thou kill mee.
I can rather hear my sister saying that to Death as it approached her. She defied death and the doctors, from the first time she was diagnosed with cancer until the end. Doctors said she would be gone much sooner than now; my sister told them both, “I think not.”
When I saw her in April, we were able to talk and laugh and share. What she wanted most was a cup of coffee from McDonald’s. I ran out to get her a cup and the last thing I did before I left that time was to bring her another cup of that coffee. It felt good to give her something she wanted. I took a picture of her, in her hospital bed, with her bald head and IV…and cup of coffee. That picture will forever make me smile.
I am, as a pastor, very familiar with losing people I love. I am even more familiar with the loss death deals as a member of a family. Death doesn’t affect the one who dies nearly as much as it wrangles those left behind.
This coming Monday would have been her birthday. Well, I guess it still is …it’s just that she’s celebrating it in a different space.
Is she gone? Well, physically, yes, but her spirit is all over the place. No life, once shared, is ever fully gone. I took a walk this morning and saw two amazingly beautiful Blue Jays. It was if she had sent them into my space to remind me that her spirit is forever.
There is a comfort I feel, remembering my tenacious sister and John Donne’s poem: death didn’t beat her. She took Death by the hand and led it to where she wanted it to wait until she was ready to go.
Death clearly, in this case, cannot be proud.
That would be a candid observation.