My mom’s sister Ardene lost her battle to cancer two weeks short of her 42 birthday. Looking back at it now that day when mom woke me up to tell me we needed to go the hospital probably has the most to do with why my sister and I are as close as we are today.
It is probably hard to know that once upon a time I could have cheerfully strangled my sister and if memory serves me right I may have flat out told her at one point, ‘I hate you’. But life has happened and the grief we have faced has somehow drive us together. I guess the reason I am writing any of this is because we now inhabit a world in love with quick fixes and immediate satisfaction and this relationship with my sister is anything but that. Just because we both inhabited our mothers womb was no guarantee that we would become best friends.
I believe fully the reason my sister and I are close is because of things I really wouldn’t wish upon anyone. We faced loss and good byes at very early ages and our initial response in that place of pain was to push each other away. However through it all we witnessed this legacy of sister friendships.
When our family faced the transition of coming off the mission field we moved to Montana. Melissa and I watched our mother and Aunt Ardene, support each other, tease each other, laugh with each other, encourage each other and eventually one winter day in late January we watched that sacred kind of love that lets go of terrestrial things we were once able to hold to our chest. In that moment Melissa and I began to understand earthly time is not what we have been guaranteed an eternity of.
I am inclined to believe though my own mother learned this kind of relationship from her own mother and her Aunt Arlene, my Gramma and Great Aunt. These two woman raised their families less than a mile apart in the Yellowstone river valley of northeastern Montana. My memory of them was there was always an easy sort of calm, the kind that comes from having walked painful paths together and knowing the other side always comes. The other thing that sticks out is that whether we were ever at the Tieszen house or the Pust house we never seem to make it out of the kitchen, those two woman have passed on more than they’ll ever know to their children and grandchildren within the walls of those kitchens. They are some of my favourite spaces and memories but even then some of those memories are bittersweet.
The summer Gramma was diagnosed with what ended up being her terminal bone cancer I was living with her. Grandpa was still working on the road, so I was the one that went with her to her Dr appointment. When the nurse asked who else we could call to have them come in I am pretty sure I remember freezing up, but they got ahold of Aunt Arlene and just like that she showed up, she just showed up. I went back to Gramma’s house that night and sat in the kitchen as the summer light of Montana faded through the cottonwoods and that giant wind chime echoed through the evening and I realized that kind of love of just showing up when it’s hard, that was something worth fighting for.
So here is the thing with my sister and I, our friendship, our relationship is something we saw, it wasn’t something we figured out by accident, not to say that it couldn’t happen that way. We saw what it is to show up, when it is hard, when it’s inconvenient. How to love toughly because they are being dense but mostly how to put yourself aside and empathize with them through their joy, their, losses, their grief, their pain, their love.
I am beginning to think that the command we are given to love, means we are to empathize. When I was re-reading the story of Lazarus I was struck with the realization that we have skipped over the most important part of the tale just because it’s the shortest verse, ‘Jesus wept’. Lazarus family knew what Jesus was capable of but in that moment I think Jesus understood a piece of the human heart that we are unwilling to look at sometimes. He knew it would matter on a deeper level to share deeply in their grief and not immediately fix the problem. Something I know I will learn for the rest of my life.
Why am I even talking about any of this you ask. Well my mom was diagnosed with cancer this year, my sister and her husband have had to deal with their own grief on deep levels and I am realizing this year I am only 7 years younger than my Aunt Ardene when she passed away and those are seven years I don’t want to waste. I want my sister to know I love her, that she is the echo to my own heart beat, and that whether we only have 2 days, 7 years or old age and grey hair to call each other sister I am grateful for every single obnoxious moment we have had together.
Happy Birthday Squirt, you are kind of the best and you are most definitely made of good stuff.
What follows is a video I put together for my Dad’s birthday. Melissa and I decided that we should have some actual nice pictures taken of us together, of us enjoying things we did as kids, White Christmas, The Muny, Ted Drews, Cardinals baseball and singing together.