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.