I woke today to the thought that has greeted me every March 8th since 1990: “My sister would have been…”
Fifty-five. That’s how the sentence ends this year. My sister would have been fifty-five.
Twenty-four years removed from her death, I still live the truth of what Rick Lischer describes in his book Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son:
“Grief is a series of caves–dark, multiple,and unfathomed. You do not explore them. You fall into them. Which means you are constantly righting yourself and daily, sometimes hourly, recovering from little plunges into unrequited longing and despair.”
It’s certainly not hourly, or even daily, but every now and then something triggers a memory that plunges me into a cavern of longing and despair. Sometimes the cavern isn’t deep and I quickly return to whatever I was doing. Sometimes the cavern seems bottomless.
I once believed that grief had an antidote. Just let time pass. One day, given enough time, grief would end.
It seemed to me that grief worked like one of those glow sticks that you snap to light up. A glow stick burns brightly at first, but it quickly and predictably loses intensity with the passage of time. One day you take the stick and throw it away because it no longer lights up like it did at first.
But grief isn’t like that at all.
Oh, I suppose some have experienced it that way, but I haven’t. My grief seems to intensify with the passing days.
I pick up some random object and a buried memory comes pouring out.
I look at the way a cloud moves over the mountain and remember a trip taken decades ago when a different cloud covered a different mountain.
Myriad other unpredictable and unrelenting moments that keep reminding me over and over again of what is no longer possible to experience or embrace.
For reasons I can’t fully explain, Sarah’s birthday is always that sort of moment for me. I sense this deep longing to call my sister on the morning of March 8th and to celebrate with her. And then, as I remember that I rarely did that in the years before her death, a familiar ache arrives.
Grief is not neat and predictable because life isn’t. So many layers of disappointment and pain, of joy and hope, of laughter and tears and expectation intertwine over the span of life that it is impossible to sort them all out.
Today I dwell in the place which Lischer calls “a settled sorrow.” That’s the place from which he could think of his son’s death and finally say, “He was my son, and I give thanks for him.”
Today is Sarah’s birthday. She would have been fifty-five.
She was my sister, and I give thanks for her.