SISTER SARAH

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As I prepare my post for publication in three days, I am reflecting back on this day.  Today, Thursday, October 19th, 2017, would have been our parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  I am celebrating their day in peace, remembering the party we had for them ten years ago just a few months before they died.  It mostly brings me joy.  It wasn’t always that way; it has been a long journey. 

My parents, Ed and Liz, at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

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I pray, hope and wish for the same joy and peace for anyone enduring grief–new or not-so-new–anyone I know or don’t know who struggles along their way in this journey.  

This post was written in April, and this week I am honoring my dear friend Marilyn for her birthday, with a tribute to  her sister Sarah.  Wednesday, October 25th is Marilyn’s birthday; send her a wish if you know her!  The picture below was taken after Sarah’s funeral. As always, I am honoring my two sisters; I am so grateful for them.

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Laughter after the tears.

Sister Sarah

I have something very important to tell you.   Put your phone down, listen close and focus:  you won’t want to miss this.  I’m only going to say it once, and there will be a test.  It is important to say the least.  To say the most, it is the secret that, when realized, can bring you boundless joy.  It is a lifelong quest, and I work toward it every day.  Here it is:

Life is short.

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I went to Sarah’s funeral today.  I didn’t know Sarah well; that didn’t matter.  It was my turn to be there for Marilyn.  Sarah was a 42 year-old woman:  a wife, a mother of two sons and a daughter, a daughter of living parents, a professional in my field; a beloved sister.  I put the professional part before the sister part for a reason, I’ll explain in a bit.

Six months ago, Sarah was a vibrant, healthy woman.  Her smile and her spirit surrounded those around her.  Then she was diagnosed with neuro-endocrine cancer.  Extremely rare; no cure.

I met Sarah several times when she was perhaps ten, and then again briefly in her teens.  I don’t remember how many times or when, but I do remember her smile.  It was the same vibrant one beaming from her grade school picture on the table of memories at the funeral dinner today.  It was a smile of knowing, even then.

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Marilyn was my potluck roommate in the dorm my freshman year of college.  She was a sophomore, and advancing quickly toward her bachelor’s degree, with her sights set on a master’s degree in her field.  I was intrigued by her major, and, like Sarah, her smile and spirit surrounded the people around her.

That was 33 years ago.  I am still intrigued, and Marilyn’s smile and spirit still surround me every time I am around her.  

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Four years after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from that very college, Marilyn, unwittingly, inspired me to go back for an advanced degree in her field.

She inspired Sarah too.  Sarah went through graduate school in the same program at a different college.  Married.  With a baby.

Sarah is Marilyn’s little sister by 10 years.  I met Sarah when I went home with Marilyn during college, and likely saw her at Marilyn’s wedding, birthday party and the like.  I have kept in touch with Marilyn throughout our lives, and I remember her speaking of Sarah—and her other four siblings—often. They are a close family, much like mine.  They have incredible parents, much like mine were.  It all seemed well and good, all of them living happily ever after.

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Then, in the one second it takes to deliver the diagnosis, all their lives changed.  Six months later, Sarah was gone.  For us, the one second was the final second.  Either way, we both now speak and understand that language, the foreign tongue no one wants to be forced to learn.

Marilyn helped me work toward a degree to help others improve their language and communication, now I will help her with her advanced degree in grief-ese.

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I love, adore and cherish my sisters.  I hope I have made that abundantly clear.  Marilyn’s love, adoration and cherishing of her sisters is no less than mine.   We didn’t lose the same loved ones, but it’s all the same language.

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Above left to right:  Angela, Joyce, Sarah, Marilyn.

Below left to right:  Marilyn, Angela, Joyce, Sarah.

 

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Just like my sisters, they, too, know the importance of smiles and laughter.

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In our profession of speech-language pathology, we separate language into receptive—that which we take in from others typically by listening, and expressive—that which we put out to others, typically by speaking.  A newborn child is exposed to receptive language in their environment (hopefully), and it usually takes a year for the baby to speak.  One year, one word.  That is our general guideline.  They must first be exposed to their native language to understand it, then they can begin to speak it.  They must take it in before they can put it out.

In the language of grief, this process is reversed.   Those of us who have endured loss may never understand this foreign language, yet we speak fluently in this new tongue in an effort to understand it.  We express in order to receive understanding.   Sometimes we know what words to say, we just don’t know how to find the meaning in loss, how to comprehend the what and the why of it all.

Marilyn had six months to receive this meaning, yet it cannot be grasped before the loss, if ever.  I had one moment, and while my learning process is slow, I continue to learn.

Sarah began making plans shortly after the diagnosis.  Plans for her children, plans for her children’s future children, plans for her own funeral.  She accepted her short future with faith, grace, bravery and action.  She knew, short of a miracle, that her life was indeed short.  Not many of us get that kind of warning for ourselves, or our loved ones.  She took it and ran.  She lapped most people with her energy, optimism and grace.  She only stopped when she was physically unable to do anything else, but left no business undone.  She brought peace to situations that needed it.  She got her affairs in order in grand style.  She traveled and lived it up with her family until she no longer could.    She knew the life is short secret, and worked it.   Her short life was boundlessly joyful before the diagnosis, and, as Marilyn reports, was even more joyful after the diagnosis.

Marilyn, in her trademark intuition, wisdom and advanced comprehension of all things linguistic, is unwittingly enhancing my understanding of this language of loss.  The language no one wants to speak, and especially not to understand.    Sarah, who was a sister in profession to me and Marilyn, and a beloved sister to Marilyn,  gave me joy through Marilyn.  She taught me, and I thought I was a master teacher.

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It has been said that if we could put our problems out on the table along with everyone else’s and have the opportunity to take back someone else’s instead of our own, most of us would take our own back.

I know I would.

I tell people who were given time to prepare for their loved one’s death that they got the better deal because they got the long goodbye.  Except that I tell myself that I got the better deal because I got no suffering.

Now that I have made peace with my own form of loss, I wouldn’t trade it.  I would, however, trade the valuable insight and the resilience I didn’t ask for to have them back.  Even for a day.   I have, however, grown quite fond of this insight and resilience.  It is a part of me now, and it has enriched my life.

I have come to an understanding with my grief.  It is mine, it knows me and now, after nine years, I know it too.  The now-docile beast resides peacefully next to me, and only rears its ugly head once in a while now, instead of most of the time then.  I have trained it well, and it usually behaves.   Triggers like holidays and sad movies are its obvious green lights, but it sneaks in its turn even with obscure things like a certain song she liked, or a plaid shirt just like he wore.  I have turned the lion tamer’s whip and chair around and am using them on the caged beast, instead if it using them on me.  It obeys me.  It knows I mean business.

Still, sometimes like today, when a patient’s family member talked about losing the love of her life in an accident, I got a little teary.

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I was once sure I would have to be buried next to either of my parents when they were laid to rest.  I was sure I wouldn’t make it.  Just bury me too.  I didn’t let my thoughts go to that dark and scary place in my mind where, somewhere in the future, one of my parents would die.  It was too much, and I was sure I couldn’t face it.

But I did when we buried them both on the same day.

On March 4th, 2008, our parents were killed in a car accident.  They were driving home the day after our grandmother’s funeral.

Now, nine years later, I would take it all back if it was put on the table with everyone else’s losses, because, I am sure now that I got the better deal.  Most days, I am at peace with my loss.  It wasn’t always that way.

We have done our best to turn that black square on the calendar into March Forth, and for the most part, we have left the darkness behind.   Sometimes, it is one step up and two steps back, but we are so far ahead of where we started.  It is a hard-fought, ongoing war, but we continue to win battles both large and small.

My wish for Marilyn, her family and anyone enduring grief is that you will arrive at a place where you can say you have made peace with the beast of grief.  The beast typically never leaves, never vanishes, but we can learn to live with it, control it and shout at it from time to time, proclaiming “You’re not the boss of me,” and really mean it.  “Maybe you once were, but not anymore.  I am stronger than you now, so leave me alone.  Get away.  Shoo.”  And it will.

I pray for strength for your journey.

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So here’s the test, and a lab assignment I didn’t warn you about:  If you lost a loved one in the next second, or in the next six months, would you be ready?   And would you survive and experience joy again?  Or, if you were given a short time to live, would you live it to the fullest, like Sarah did?

And here’s the right answer:  Yes, if you have fully embraced the non-negotiable truth:  Life is short.

Now get out there and prove it.  Have fun and be an Instrument of Peace where need be, just like Sarah was.  Your lab assignment is life itself.   Go live it like your life depends on it, because it does.

Every day. 

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I had a great half-hour phone conversation with Marilyn one week ago.  Among other things, she spoke of a visit we had one week after the funeral.  Tracy and Denise, our other two former roommates from the 1985-86 college year, gathered in Wichita with us to celebrate Marilyn and the wonderful life of her sister.  

Both Tracy and Denise have lost sisters.  They, too, understand.  We talked, laughed, reminisced, and enjoyed each other’s company.  Mostly, we laughed.

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None of us would have missed this opportunity to re-connect, but Marilyn told me in our phone conversation that this visit meant the world to her.  One week later, when she felt the world had forgotten, and that life surely could not go on without her sister, we were living proof that there is joy to be found after loss.  

I wish all of you this same joy.  It is out there to be found after loss, so please hold on and keep looking.

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Dedicated to the memory of Sarah Hageman Probst:  September 22, 1974-April 15th, 2017. And, as always, to the loving memory of my parents.  Happy Heavenly Anniversary Mom and Dad. 

 

3 thoughts on “SISTER SARAH

  1. Reading this one brings back so many memories and feelings of when I lost my mom and then later my dad. I remember after losing my mom when I was 6 years old I was so scared of losing my dad. I like you thought I would not be able to make it if he died. With the help of family and friends I like you have made it. It does get better as time passes but every now and then just like when I read your blog some of those feelings come back. I totally agree with your answer to the test question and will try to do my best to do the lab assignment. Have a great week and I will look forward to next week’s blog.

    Like

  2. Loss is never easy, no matter who it is. Whether it is a friend, family, parent or maybe someone you do not even know. There have been a rash of young deaths in recent weeks that have all broken my heart. I did not know one child, but I knew those who knew them and I see and feel their pain. They have been from 16 to 23 and all senseless deaths from accidents. I loved your post because it does remind us all that life can go on after the loss of a loved one but also that we should not take one single day for granted because we have no guarantee of tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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