The hardest thing I have ever had to do was cut my sister’s hair. It was the color of almost platinum that you can try, but never attain with a box, and just enough curl. She was five years younger than me. When we were young, I would braid it, curl it, crimp it, make it wild… as little girls will do. She tried to dye it red once for a friend’s wedding, but her hair was so naturally white it turned hot pink.
That particular day, though, we had to cut it. It was falling out in chunks.
“The hardest thing I have ever had to do was cut my sister’s hair.”
I never really intended to stay in St. Louis after college. I have a desire for change, for something new and different every few years. My family moved enough times half way across the country to give me a bit of a restless heart. We never lived near family, we traveled back and forth on holidays as we were able or invited friends and family to join us on our own vacations. We travelled and sought adventure where we could. Close-knit, but only in our small family unit.
I met my husband, Tim, when I was a sophomore at Saint Louis University. We were friends first and then more. Once, while we were going through a drive-through, he said, “I’ll never leave St. Louis. My family is here, it’s where I grew up. Why would I leave?” “It’s all about family.” he said, “Don’t you want to live near your family?”
Staying in one place your entire life was a concept completely foreign to me. “But what about Colorado, or Utah?” I countered, “Won’t you be bored? You can always visit your family!”
Two years later we were married. Beckie was my maid of honor. Tim was in medical school, then residency, then fellowship. We bought a house.
My family had since moved from Iowa to Southern California. My brother and sister went to college there.
I spoke to my sister often, but not enough. She ran long distance for her college, the marathon. She was girl with the beautiful smile who would never, ever quit. She moved to Texas to teach. I quit working to have a baby. She made him burp cloths and visited when she could. My parents moved to Nashville.
She climbed Half Dome in Yosemite with her friends. I’ll admit to you that I was a bit jealous of her life. I saw her on the East coast at a family wedding shortly after that trip. She confessed she had been in a lot of pain. She was staying for a few weeks with my parents in Nashville that summer since she was feeling so poorly and tests weren’t coming up with anything. When my folks left on a trip, she came to stay with me. Her pain worsened. Tim was doing his residency at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and made a few calls.
More scans and tests were done and then a phone call.
I held it together as best I could as she was checked into a private room at Barnes. My parents flew in. Tim’s parents helped with our son. Tim made some more inquiries and one of the best lymphoma specialists in the area came to see us.
Our son turned one. My heart broke with the tension of a first birthday and a terminal diagnosis. My mom found an apartment nearby while Beckie was in treatment. Her hair started falling out. We thought we could just cut it cute and short, pixie style. I wept and my hands shook. She kept a brave smile. Two days later it all fell out. A friend gave us make-overs at Neiman Marcus. Even bald, she was beautiful.
My mom and sister prayed, expecting a miracle. I prayed, but was skeptical, almost cynical. I wanted to protect them from disappointment. Miracles are hard to come by these days.
As treatment grew longer, God provided a house for my family directly across the street from Tim and me. We went on walks in the park, sat on the porch at night, snuck over for ice cream, took naps and planned her wedding. It was everything I never knew I wanted, except for the one reason they were there.
We meditated on Psalm 46:10.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
I laughed in disbelief when she was in remission, glad to be wrong about miracles, and cried bitter tears when her cancer came back, cruelly proving my initial reaction.
I got pregnant again. Beckie was always happy for me. Always. I felt guilt over my own joy.
We tried to live as normally as possible without denying the harshest of realities. She was dying. I prayed, questioned God, ignored God, yelled at God. I tried to encourage her when she thought her faith wasn’t enough, questioning my own faith at the same time.
Beckie was married at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. I watched her walk down the aisle in the wig I had helped her choose.
She was at the hospital when our daughter Sarah Rebecca was born. She held her just hours after she was born, but didn’t get to see her turn one.
We lived intentionally that year because we knew our time was short. We had deep and true conversations. We wrestled, wept and questioned God’s wisdom. We loved hard, prayed hard and laughed hard.
There will always be “why God” questions that will only be answered in glory. I miss her terribly. She would adore my kids and I know I would have loved hers. I know I could choose to be bitter, to let the ache consume, it is so tempting at times. But, there is also much to be thankful for. In that year, I got to know my sister in an intimate way that I never would have in a lifetime of healthy living in different cities. In the details of her illness, God showed us his tender mercies over and over again in housing, insurance and the people in our lives. My physician husband who guided her care many times over and saw that she had the best care possible. If I had followed my own dreams of a life of adventure, I would have lost my sister still, but my life would not have been as rich for having walked through the valley of death with her.
I can’t explain why God would allow my sister to go at age 23 or why my mom would follow 7 years later. I do know there is beauty in pain. Be Still. Stop striving. Stop. Know that I am God. Know God.
I do know there is beauty in pain
I also know what Tim was saying 17 years ago and I am thankful that I had the heart to listen. I want to live near family, near the people of my heart. I love St. Louis. It is my home. I want my children to travel, to explore and spread their wings, learn to ski, and then I want them to come back home.
All of this knowing. All of that learning through pain, death, and grief. The appreciation of family. The gift of sisterhood. A new definition of beauty. Renewed faith. Maybe miracles aren’t too hard to come by after all.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Thankful for home,
I am a wife and mother of four, a Jesus follower, a runner, and a reader. I love to ski in the mountains, swim in the ocean, and hike in the woods, but most of the time I am watching my loves do what they love and trying to get grass stains out of baseball pants.
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