I have experienced a lot of different types of pain in my life. It hurt a lot when my parents divorced and when I suffered through my own. I know how it hurts to lose the possessions I mistakenly thought were giving me security and how it feels to walk the halls of poverty. I have also felt the deep hurt of church discord and betrayal of trust. All of those are painful life events which have to be endured despite the pain they cause. But I think I have to say the worst pain I have ever experienced is the death of a loved one. There is something about a loss which can feel so permanent that is as if a piece of my heart was hollowed out and refilled with a nagging ache.
When my older sister Lisa had the misfortune to be the one to call and tell me my younger sister Debbie had died I shut out everything she had to say after those words. Poor girl. She was struggling to figure out what to do out in California with the daunting task of calling all the siblings and parents who were scattered about, while holding in her grief so she could pull things together to go be with my nephews. A true woman of courage and action. I, meanwhile, fell in a heap on the floor in my bedroom and cried into my dirty laundry for hours. I had never felt so deeply wounded. Part of me wanted to hold onto the hope it was all a mistake, that they would discover Debbie had not really died - she was just sleeping soundly - or even that it was not her, but someone else. Nice. I was wishing what I was feeling on someone else. In my right mind I would never do that.
Today, July 3, would have been Debbie’s birthday. It is also my daughter Madison’s birthday. I remember when I called Debbie eighteen years ago to tell her her newest niece shared her birthday. The first thing she said was, “What is her name?” I told her Madison. She blew out a sigh of relief and said, “Oh my gosh! I’m so glad! Mom told me you named her Madeline and I just didn’t like that! It’s not a good name for someone born on my birthday!” From that time forward Debbie always referred to Maddy as “my baby” and reminded me often I better be taking good care of “my baby”. When we visited California she lavished her love and attention on Madison.
The last time I visited California when Debbie was alive she took vacation time and we hung out a lot. We took the kids to Disneyland. My daughter Melodie and her son, Josh are the same age and Maddy is four years younger. As children, Melodie and Josh were perpetual motion machines and at Disneyland they could not get to the rides fast enough. Maddy, with her shorter legs and being much younger and not tall enough to ride all the rides Mel and Josh could, often lagged behind and finally was too tired to go on. Claiming laziness, she sat down on a bench and wouldn’t move. Debbie told us to go on ahead and said she would wait while Maddy rested. After we rode the Matterhorn, we went in search of Debbie and Maddy. We found them in one of the outdoor designated smoking zones. Debbie hadn’t quit that habit yet, and she was relaxing at a table with Maddy while Maddy enjoyed munching a big bag of chips. As soon I walked up to them, Debbie said, “This is a girl after my own heart! I like her! We could sit here all afternoon!”
I do have happy memories of her. But even so, I find myself very sad sometimes not to have her around anymore. She would have been thrilled when my son Mark became a doctor. And she would have been first in line to have Maddy cut her hair. She would have loved to know Mel and Josh still hang out just fine when they get together, although they are not as spastic as they were when they were younger. Debbie wouldn’t have missed Misty’s wedding for anything. And she would have been so proud of the fine young men her sons Tyrone and Josh have grown up to be.
For three years after she died I was numb inside. I would find myself overcome with tears at the most unexpected times. Somebody said to me once, “Why don’t you just get over it? Stop thinking about her.” I could barely speak to that person after that, because you can’t just get over it. I would be asleep and wake up crying I missed her so much. I prayed a lot during those years. Mostly I cried out, “Help me, God. Please help me.” He did. He provided comfort at times when I felt I faced a bottomless pit of sorrow. He calmed me and filled me with His peace on many occasions.
Nine years have passed since I lost my Debbie. There are times when I am just sad for what could have been or because I want to talk and laugh with her so badly. Last night I cried yet again over that loss. But most of the time I think about the good times we had. I am blessed to have known her. I am blessed to know her sons. I am blessed to know she is at peace.