My sister died a few months ago at the end of May. It was morning. She had been sitting in her chair, in her pajamas, and it seems, she simply passed. She had been having pain issues due to a recent series of falls. Even so, her death was unexpected. She was 59 years old. Truth be known, of all the ways she could have gone, this was the way I had prayed God would provide for her when the time came. No struggle, no obvious trauma, no injuries.
Death was kinder to her than life that day. Her body had long been disabled by the ravages of juvenile diabetes, Lupus, Parkinson’s Disease, and a series of strokes. The strokes significantly impacted her mobility, and as her Parkinson’s disease progressed, her hopes of recovering her mobility waned.
As the days plodded on and her list of ailments grew, she became weary of her body. Yet, she was committed to be in this world for all the days God would give her and she longed to be free from the pain of them. I dreaded life without the sister who was the keeper of a lifetime of our secrets, yet I think I understood her longing. I cannot imagine the difficulty of living in her body.
She had proclaimed from the time we were young that because of her diabetes, she would not live to be old. Because of this foreknowledge, she lived her life with intention. She married young and had children young. She made a successful career out of working with her beloved horses and teaching children to love and tend to them well. Her bucket list was long and impressive. Each year of her short life held the goal of marking moments with meaning.
She invested her time on earth in the living of it.
She paid attention to details—all of them. We joked about it sometimes, how she remembered everything—when we were traveling, when we left, when we would return, our doctor appointments, even the antics of our pets. Sometimes it was a little annoying. Often, on the way to the airport for a work trip, my phone would ding with a text from her, “Safe travels!” If any of us were on vacation, or when she was missing our pets and people, the ding would signal a text requesting, “Pic please!” She always included an emoji if her motor skills cooperated—an ice cream cone, goofy face, or her favorite, the smiling poo—it didn’t matter. She attended to our lives with intention. This is what I miss the most.
About a month after she died, I was cleaning out a cluttered shelf in my bedroom. I came across a forgotten gift she had given to me on my last birthday. I remembered quietly wondering why she had chosen such a thing, a teaspoon engraved with the words, “Good morning, Sister.” Now, I know. It sits next to my coffee maker to greet me each morning.
I have come across other gifts from the past years that I now know were chosen specifically because she knew what I loved and would need from her. A t-shirt with the word “Mimi” across the front, chosen because she knew how it delights me to hear my grandchildren’s name for me. The resin Christmas tree that looks like sea-glass because she knew my love for beach walks and found treasures. Gifts that seemed inconsequential at the time I received them, silly even, now precious in her absence.
We miss her in a myriad of ways, for a myriad of reasons, beyond measure. Two daughters who miss a beloved mom lost way too early in their lives. A devoted dad who misses the daily rhythms with his daughter—delivery of a large Diet Coke, light ice, just in time for lunch followed by an afternoon of errands together. Nieces, nephews, and grandnieces who miss the way her eyes sparkled just for them. A brother and his family who miss how she was delighted by them and their care. She knew us, all of us. In the quiet moments of her quiet life, she reflected on and prayed about what and who we loved. She was relentless in her intentions for us.
Like many sister relationships, ours was a complicated commitment to one another. It grew from decades of love and friendship, frustrations and disappointments, irritation, and competition. For years, I told myself that tending to her needs was my big-sister-way of caring for her. My gift to her. I was ever the able-bodied server. Yet, her absence has shown me that allowing me to serve was her gift to me. By offering the gift of being needed, she gifted me the need to be with her.
We were lucky. After a lifetime of tending others, we had the gift of tending to one another.
Our sisterhood received a second wind. She died in the morning. While I cannot know of her final thoughts, if we have such things, I am grateful beyond measure for her final gifts—time, and a daily greeting as I make my coffee, “Good morning, Sister” that brings with it the encouragement, “Now go. Live it with intention.”
Jill English is an avid encourager of people and a lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, especially if the out-of-doors involves a beach. Her most magical moments happen as ‘Mimi’ while spending time with her well-loved grandchildren and her adult kids. Jill spends her workdays helping others discern vocational call through theological education. Her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of everyday life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.