Saturday, May 21, 2011

Farewell Sweet Sister

How do you say goodbye to someone so dear to your heart?

My beloved sister, Elaine, has passed from earthly life to eternal life this week. She left us on Wednesday, May 18th at 10:10am.

Our relationship was a bit unusual in that she was 36 years older than me. Both my parents were widowed and had remarried and my father was older than my mother. Elaine was dad's daughter from his first marriage. Given our age difference it was surprising that we were as close as we were but perhaps it was because we had similar personalities. Sweet and kind, but fiesty, too.

My father died when I was only 3 1/2 and Elaine would tell me stories about him which I loved because I felt as though it helped me to know him a little better. My whole life long, whenever I met someone who knew my father they would always, (ALWAYS) say, "Oh, your father was a wonderful man." He was a butcher and grocery store manager in a small town on the corner of main street. Back when he was alive, there were no stoplights or pedestrian crosswalks and kindergartners would have to cross the busy street at noon. My dad would go out on his lunch hour and guide the young children across the street to ensure their safety. Just a small but telling example of the kind of man he was. But, I digress, this post isn't supposed to be about my dad!

Elaine and Tom, my brother-in-law, moved to Florida when I was only ten years old. I missed them, and my nephew John, (who is the same age as me) a great deal. Thankfully they visited frequently, especially once Tom retired and they bought a trailer on a lake up by us. They would spend their summers up here and our extended family would get together regularly.

Elaine was a three-time cancer survivor from the 70's and 80's and as she aged, the surgeries and treatments she had endured all those years ago began to take their toll. She lost her ability to walk and had to use a wheelchair. Sadly, eventually, they were unable to make the trip up north to spend their summers with us.

We decided that if they could not come to us, we would go to them and so three years ago my family began vacationing in Florida for a month in March or April. We found that we could rent a condominium for a month for not much more than the cost of a week's rental and decided to pack up our homeschool books and hit the road. We were in the same complex that Tom and Elaine lived in and could walk to their townhome and visit. The condos were so roomy that we were even able to host other family members while we were there and it kind of felt like old times, with everyone all together again.

We had so many special times together, but one memory stands out in my mind. Two years ago we were packing up and preparing to head north and we decided to have a little goodbye party at Tom and Elaine's. Elaine loved ice cream and so we brought ice cream and toppings to their home for an evening treat. She went to bed early in her later years and was already in bed by the time we arrived after being waylayed by chatty neighbors on our walk there. I remember her soft voice calling from the bedroom when we arrived, "Let's eat ice cream in here!" So everyone loaded their bowls and brought their chairs in the bedroom. While we were in there, my daughter Leah asked about some photo albums she saw in Elaine's closet. We ended up bringing out a bunch of old photo albums and reminiscing for hours, way past Elaine's "bedtime". Every time we said, "Oh, we should go, we're keeping you awake." she would protest that she wasn't tired and ask us to stay a little longer. It was a wonderful evening.

This year, my entire family was not able to make the trip for a month, but my other sister, Errin, and I visited for a week in March. I had a strong feeling that we should go because it would probably be the last time I shared with Elaine on this Earth. We stayed with them and had a wonderful week together. Elaine was noticeably weaker but her spirits were high and we made the most of every moment.

Elaine and I developed a sweet ritual of praying together after she was put to bed. On our last evening there, she shared that she was ready to go home, to her heavenly, eternal home. We talked and prayed of the freedom she would have and the beloved family members she would be with again. It was a sweet moment and such a gift from God. I knew while we were praying that I was spending my final moments with her because our flight went out very early the next morning and so we were saying our goodbyes that evening.

I left Florida with peace and joy in my heart because I knew to the depth of my being that our earthly goodbye was not the end. Elaine isn't shackled by a wheelchair any longer. She is healthy and strong! Her body is whole! She walks streets of gold with loved ones and her Savior!
"Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:54b-55

Though I grieve her earthly passing, Heaven has become dearer to me. Farewell, Elaine. I look forward to seeing you again!

With love, your littlest sister.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time In A Bottle

Emily at 11 - Seven years ago.

Leah and Daniel with my nephew's dog, Alice,

taken when we were building our house in the summer of 2004.

The children posing on our property in 2004

on what is now one of my walking trails.

I am acutely aware of the passing of time, for many reasons.

I just celebrated my 46th birthday two days ago. At breakfast when my elderly age was being commented on, I realized that I had known my husband half of my life. Wow! That's a long time to be with someone. I only had three years with my dad but have been blessed to share 23 years with the same man. I thank God for that blessing.

We are in prep mode for Emily's graduation party which is next Sunday. That's just over one week to pull it all together! Usually by now my gardens and landscaping around the house have long been weeded, pruned and cleaned up. Enter (so-called) spring of 2011: cold, snowy, rainy and generally miserable! So, I've been waiting to get out there and this week was the week. My back is a little sore today but the shrubs have been pruned, weeds have been pulled, dead plants removed. We are now in the process of putting down new mulch.

Of course with all that yard work to accomplish, the house and garage haven't gotten much attention. That will be the focus today and tomorrow. Even though it's a cold, rainy day today, I want to get out in the garage and clean it, although with three dogs and lots of dirt in the great outdoors, I'll probably leave the garage floor until later.

Anyone wondering about my fabulous eating plan? Hmmmm... Is birthday cake one of the food groups? That's been my downfall lately. Emily baked me my favorite cake: my mother-in-law's famous "Kay's Rhubarb Cake". Soooo yummy! Then Daniel decided he needed to make me a cake as well: vanilla cake with orange buttercream frosting. It's delicious and beckons me to have a piece more than once a day. So much for going sugar free! Both cakes are almost gone so there's hope for me yet. If I hadn't been walking with my sister and in a gardening frenzy, I'd probably be in real trouble!

Yesterday the children got out our video recorder and started watching old family videos on it. Talk about being made aware of the passage of time. There are loved ones who are no longer with us on there; my children as babies, toddlers and little children... Seriously, if it wasn't so cute, it could have brought me to tears. I realize with my head that my children are a gift from God, on loan, for a time. All the while, however, they are growing and maturing and if things work the way they're supposed to, they will grow up and leave our home. My heart just needs to catch up with my head, I guess.

So that's where I'm at. Preparing for a new phase in our family, with our eldest daughter graduating and going to college. Not only is she 18 and graduating, she's even met and begun dating a young man. We like Trent. He's respectful, mature and very kind to our precious girl. He's enlisted in the Marines and will be leaving for basic training tomorrow. He's got a bright future ahead of him and who knows, it may include our daughter.

It's a lot of change in a mighty short span, but with God's very real presence, we march onward with anticipation and maybe just a twinge of longing for days gone by. I guess it's a good reminder to me: Wake up! Don't miss these precious and fleeting days. I say that frequently, but as I just celebrated my 12th bonus birthday (that's what I call my birthdays ever since my cancer diagnosis) I can't help but be grateful for the gift of life, chaotic and challenging as it may be.