The loss of someone close brings us so many wake up calls. This week marks the second year without my sister, Leslie Chandler Robinson. Her passing has left an unthinkable void in my life and, along with this new reality, has come a number of valuable realignments in my thinking and behavior. Here are a few lessons I’m learning as a result:
1) I am not in as much control of my life as I think. When things are going well, we can get the illusion that we are actually driving the bus of our lives. People, jobs, and events are all going along as planned until something horrendous happens to throw us off course.
With the loss of my sister, I was reminded that much of my life is out of my hands and no amount of management on my part can change that. Probably one of the greatest lessons of my life continues to be learning to catch the curve ball. I don’t have to like it, and I will certainly need ample time to grieve, but the sooner I can accept what has happened, the less I will suffer.
2) Grieving digs greater depth in my soul. Tragedy makes us wise. It shows us there really are more possibilities to life that the ones we’ve experienced so far. It wakes us up to the brutal fact that we are way more vulnerable that we think. Though I wish it could have come another way, I am now more connected to the broader human experience. I have a deeper and wider emotional capacity.
3) I will never be the same after this mourning. Losses give new eyes and ears to the survivors. I hear the pain in people so much quicker now, regardless of what’s causing it. I see the faces of those who are hurting with more clarity and concern.
When I learn of someone at the bedside of a family member I know the strain and anxiety they’re experiencing and I’m more apt to reach out with a note or call or prayer. Our compassionate senses are awakened by the shock of someone passing. This is one of the greatest gifts of grief.
4) I am more present to life and my loved ones. Death is The Great Reality Check to the ones it leaves behind. It has made me feel my own aliveness in a fresh and profound way. Now, when we’re walking, I lock into the feel of my husband, David’s, hand in mine and I savor it. I am less distracted and more eager to appreciate the moments I get with our kids.
Without being overly morbid there is a sober truth in the air that our days together are numbered, that we are one accident or incident away from not seeing each other again. I think about this when I leave the house to run an errand or hug a friend good-bye. I cherish everything and everyone more.
5) It is helping me relax my need to police the little things. When the big thing happens it casts a shadow on all the nit-picky small stuff. In my case, after losing Leslie, there was no energy to make things perfect. The drive to have things “just so” seemed shallow.
So many must-do, must haves, must be-s evaporated overnight. Of prime importance became the nearness of my family and close friends. Life snapped into sharp perspective. Priorities got crystal clear.
6) I’m growing more grateful. When we’re going along in life and all is well, it’s wonderful. It’s delightful to feel like the seas are calm, the load is easy, your heart is light. If we didn’t have those moments we would all go insane. But life gets really precious when there’s a threat to losing an important part of it. I wish I was more naturally grateful all the time for everything. That’s probably not realistic. So a good thing that comes after losing someone is that our thankfulness for even the smallest gestures gets a reboot.
7) I’m reminded that death does come to everyone, everywhere. As obvious as that sounds, until it happens to someone you love it’s easy to feel immune or blissfully avoidant of that possibility. You know everyone is going sometime, just not now, not this year, least of all, not your youngest sister.
But even that perfect, intact family you admire from afar (or you hope to be) will one day be grieving an unthinkable loss. The younger you are and the longer you live without the death of someone close, the easier it might be to somehow feel above it. In time, we all come to experience how common our suffering is with the rest of the world.
8) Eternity is now. One thing that has comforted me through the last two years is my belief that I am in eternity right now. This earth is not my true home, not where my true self resides.
Though physically it feels like my sister and I are separated by eons, on the most tangible spiritual level we still share this common bond: we are both being held right now in the Presence of God. And whenever I can tap into that Presence I am once again sharing the same space and time as my sister. Often, in times of silence and solitude, I imagine us being together with God. This has brought me hope on many difficult days.
The scripture that “God makes all things work together for our good” has almost become a cliche, it has been used so much. But, these days I am living the reality of some of those “good things” that come even through the harshest losses.