In the months after my sister died I had this feeling that her death was something I had to live with for a while but then, eventually, things would get back to normal. Like, maybe, she was just on vacation for a time. I think this is an example of Joan Didion's version of magical thinking. In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion recounts her experiences in the year after her husband died unexpectedly. One of the episodes I remember most vividly from the book was when she talked about being unable to give away her husband's shoes because she knew he'd need them when he returned. I know that kind of thinking, that if these things are still true, this other thing must also be true. It's easy to rely on magical thinking, in the beginning, at least.
Life doesn't return to normal. Or, maybe, there is no normal. This is what forever is.
In the years before our daughter was born, when it was incorrectly assumed that we were struggling with infertility, well-meaning, kind-hearted people would say things like, "don't worry, it will all be worth in in the end." Or, "you'll get pregnant just as soon as you stop trying." And, my favorite, "this will all make sense in retrospect." These are the kinds of things people say to each other when they don't really know what to say.
The truth is, we never struggled with infertility, at least not in the traditional sense. I never had a problem getting pregnant, I just couldn't stay pregnant. We lost untold babies for unknown reasons. (I say untold, not uncounted. Every one of those precious lost ones were counted and known by us, we just haven't told everyone about all of them. But that's another discussion.) The reasons for the losses we experienced remain unknown to our doctors and to us. Some things we just don't get to know, this side of heaven. This is what forever is.
But I think about those well-meaning comments. How can I make sense of it? Or how much retrospection is needed to make sense of it? How do we reconcile our deep feelings of grief over the lost ones with our deeper feelings of joy over the precious children we did birth into this world? If the lost ones had survived the precious ones we have wouldn't have been born. So, what does it mean that it will be worth it, as those kind-hearted folks promised?
I think these are the questions I'll be asking for the rest of my life. This is what forever is.
In the immediate aftermath of a loss, people who care about you ask you how you are doing. They check in on you a lot. How are you holding up? How are you coping with your sister's death? How are you getting through? I suppose that's the proper response in the beginning. The start is a traumatic wound, a gaping hole. We treat wounded people with care. That's right.
Then, as time progresses, the wound becomes a scar. But it seems like people still want to talk about the scar. Now, when people ask me how I feel about my sister's death, I feel like they are trying to pick at the scar. If I saw an amputee in the grocery store, I wouldn't ask her how she lost her leg. That's what it feels like to me when people want to talk about my sister's death, like they are asking me how I lost my leg.
When people ask me about how I'm coping with my sister's death, they are making her all about me. I don't always want to talk about me. When I am 85 I don't want to just remember that I had a sister named Becky who died when she was 32. I want to remember my sister Becky who had an impish grin and was a world class sarcasm dealer. I want to remember that she was compassionate in the extreme and absolutely broken at the idea of someone she loved not knowing Jesus. I want to remember that she was smart and thoughtful and goofy and stubborn. I will always want to talk about Becky but I don't want my talk about Becky to always be about her death.
When I think about what forever is I am constantly drawn to the only thing I know to be true beyond the shadow of a doubt: