Remembering Ann

Posted on May 3, 2016

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I usually do not use this blog to process my own stuff, but this post is something of an exception.  I hope my readers will find it helpful.

Courage

My family suffered a tragic loss last week with the death of my sister Ann from cancer.  It had been seven months since her diagnosis, but it was really only the last two weeks of her life that for the first time it had occurred to me that she might not survive it, and I still had no idea how imminent her death had become.  The initial diagnosis had given her about a 40% chance of survival, but her attitude had been “I will be part of the 40%.”  Despite the ravages of chemotherapy[1], she had always stayed positive while being realistic about what was happening to her.

Her last moments of life were spent at home with her husband of 40 years.  After asking for help back into bed after coming back from the bathroom, she told him that she loved him and then she was gone.

During her ordeal, she admitted to occasionally feeling sorry for herself (to which she was certainly entitled).  On the whole, she consistently demonstrated tremendous courage in facing her own death.

A Promise Fulfilled. 

Ann and Kraeg would have celebrated their 40th wedding[2] anniversary in June.  When he was 24 and she was 20, they had promised each other to be together for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health ‘til death do us part.  It is one thing to promise this when you are 20 and healthy, and have never experienced any of those things.  It is another to fulfill this promise when the time comes.  Throughout Ann’s illness, Kraeg was her caregiver.  When she was in the hospital and she told him he could go home and get some sleep, he stayed in a chair in her room overnight.  Crossing the country for treatment, he was always there to care for her.  He made a promise 40 years ago, and when the time came, he was faithful to fulfill it.

Marriage is an amazing thing if we actually mean what we promise.  There is nothing like it.  It is also a massive promise to make to another human being that I will be with you no matter what.  You will always have me until one of us draws our last breath.  It is an awesome gift to promise and to receive.

Grieving Together

The family gathered this past weekend to grieve and remember.  We had over 20 family members together for the weekend, plus about 150 friends who came to the memorial service.  Most of the logistics were taken care of by Ann’s friends so the family could just focus on being together.  We cried.  We laughed.  We told the stories.  We ate.  We walked.  We played cards.  But we were together.

Human beings do miserably in isolation.  We are made for attachment and we need other people, particularly in times of distress.  Grieving is a time to not worry about keeping it together.  Cry when you need to cry.  Laugh when you need to laugh.  Live your experience, where close, safe people can be there with you.

Keeping the Faith

My colleague, Ben Lim, had a miraculous healing (his oncologist would tell you the same) from his cancer last year.  There were hundreds of people praying for Ann’s healing, but healing did not come.  What is the difference?  Why does God appear to provide miraculous healings in some situations and let the disease progress in others?  I have no idea.

Every believer at some point has to come to terms with the problem of evil, pain, and suffering.  The problem essentially goes like this. 1) God is all powerful.  2) God is good and wants to bless us.  3) Evil exists.  For the person that is grieving, a theological discussion is not very satisfying.  The best we can do is offer each other the gift of our presence and concern as we wrestle with our grief.  Usually, we don’t get a very good view to the “why.”

This is a fallen world.  It is not the way it was originally designed.  We are faced with evil and disease.  What we have in lieu of “why” is “who we have believed.”  He is gracious, merciful, loving, forgiving, kind, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient.  Jesus knows what it is to suffer.

If there is a set of circumstance you can think of that would cause you to lose your faith, your faith is always at risk because that situation could occur.  Sometimes God protects his missionaries and sometimes they are killed while advancing the Gospel.  We trust that this life is just a part of a bigger picture.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve.  It is okay to be angry at God.  He understands.  Tragedy can be something that pulls that relationship apart or draws you closer to your God.  The former compounds the loss.  The latter helps us bear it.

Legacy

On Ann’s pillow is a post-it note that says “I love you.[3]”  It was written by her 7 year old granddaughter.  Ann adored children and animals, and they always knew it.  Her legacy includes the witness and joy of a 40 year marriage; raising two daughters who felt they grew up in “the best home;” a granddaughter who knew she was loved; a mother, two sisters, a brother, nieces and nephews, and many friends who were blessed by her.

Most of us will not be remembered beyond the circle of those who knew us.  However, the ripple effect from every life is huge either for good or for bad.  We are spouses.  We are parents.  We are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  We are friends.  We are bosses.  We are employees.  We provide services.  We are customers.  Our witness is in how we treat the people in our lives and how we live our lives in private with those closest to us.  The impact of every act of kindness and goodness could be more than we will ever know.

I do the job I do because I believe that relationships are tremendously important, that broken relationships can be healed, and that change is possible.  While we are still alive, there is the opportunity to bless the people in our lives.  There is still time to work on your legacy.

[1] Going to be with the Lord is great, but let’s face it, dying really sucks.

[2] I was one of the groomsmen in the wedding.  Usually guests don’t remember the involvement of the other members of the bridal party.  In this case, I had fainted during the wedding.  I meet people 40 years later and they remember that.

[3] It actually says “I [heart] you,” but I did not have emoticons available.

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