The Life of Jennifer Dawn: My Sister

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Sister

I had another dream about her last night. We were kids again--running through a field of flowers near an old barn we used to go off to with all the neighborhood kids. (sigh) Yes, I remember that old barn. Some of the boys would try to scare us with stories about it being spooky. My sister and I had always thought it was just a pretty place to play and pick flowers. And it was! In the spring, a sprinkling of daffodils sprouted throughout the field. Bright and new, they stood in stark contrast to the worn wood of that old barn. By the time summer came, the grasses and wildflowers were waist high. It was quiet there--the only interruption being the call of a bird or kids like us trespassing upon it's solitude.
Enough on the barn though...I was telling you about the dream. There we were cutting through the field--parting back the overgrown weeds and flowers. My sister's blonde curls were bouncing behind her as we ran. Even in the haze of my slumber, those curls stood out--beautiful and vivid. They are the same curls that my own daughter has been blessed with. My sister and daughter even jokingly called themselves hair twins. Allison was always better at doing my daughter's hair than I was. She made it look so cute because it was like styling her own.

Back to the dream though. Yes, the dream... I keep getting off track. Memories have a way of doing that. One thing reminds you of another which reminds you of another...and at some point you find yourself so lost in them you forget what brought you to that particular thought in the first place. My mind has been winding down many memories lately.

There we were--in my dream--running out into the field. She turned to smile at me with her blonde curls swirling around behind her head. She had an infectious smile--even when she was little. It was as if her whole face laughed when she smiled. We crashed to the ground into a pile of girlish giggles and laughs. I felt a longing in my heart to linger there. Right there...beside my sweet sister. And so we remained for hours weaving daisy stems together into crowns. Or was it only minutes? After all, it was just a dream--a memory that I had lost myself in during my sleep.
And then it ended. My daughter climbing into bed next to me roused me from my restless sleep. As the dream fades and the shadows throughout the darkened room come into focus, I'm forced to sort through the same questions I've been sorting through for three months now...

Is she really gone?
Maybe none of it really happened?
Was the hospital all just a nightmare?
Did I really lose her?

Tears begin to well up in the corners of my eyes. The answers to those questions are almost too painful to bear. Almost. I'm not bearing them alone though.

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10
The Bible is filled with promises that I'm not facing this alone. God is with me. And I feel him. He's in the midst of the prayers of the thousands who read our story. He's the whisper at the end of my own prayers. I let out a breath that I didn't even realize I was holding, say a quick prayer for strength, kiss my daughter, and force myself out of bed.

The longer I'm up, the more the gravity of our situation has time to pull me down. Yes. The field of flowers was the dream. The nightmare from the hospital and its aftereffect are our new reality. You see...to many it was just a sad story. Perhaps the saddest they had ever read, heard, or witnessed. For us, it's not just a story though. It's our life. And hers has ended. I have to remind my youngest son daily when he asks for her or announces, "It otay, momma, we can find Ah-son," that Allison is in heaven with her baby and my dad. That is our reality. Within a short period of time, I've had to say goodbye to my dad, my 29 year-old sister, and her unborn baby, Oliver James. I know they wouldn't want to come back to this earth now that they have witnessed the beauty of heaven, but my heart is heavy from the loss.

"You'll always have each other. Friends will come and go, but you'll always have each other." I can still hear my mom and dad saying those words. I believed those words. Having been blessed with an incredibly tight-knit family, a life spent without my only sibling never even crossed my mind. Life has an unpredictable rhythm to it though. We are never guaranteed a single moment more with the ones we love--at least not on this side of heaven.

Sweet friends, I know I haven't told you the story yet. If you follow along on social media, you probably read some of what happened back in May. I've tried to keep the blog running with recipes, crafts, and happiness though. Business as usual. I haven't known how to share this ugly, dark part of my life with you. I've been processing everything. I'm still processing everything. I debated on whether to post anything at all. It would be so easy to just keep putting up crafts and recipes and never mention the grief and depression I've been walking through. That would feel like a lie though. And I want to be real and raw with you. I even want to encourage you if you're also walking through a dark valley. So here it is...

Over the last few months, I've been grieving the loss of my younger sister. There hasn't been a day to go by that I haven't cried for her. I even have dreams about her. Sometimes it's moments from our childhood. Other times it's the nightmare from the hospital that floods my sleep. Before I tell you about that, I should probably go back a few years and share another story.

In May 2012, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He fought a hard battle for five months, but just days before my sister's wedding...things took a bad turn. Allison had already moved her wedding date up once to ensure that our dad would be there for the BIG day. On the day before the wedding, she made the selfless decision to move the wedding to the hospital where my dad was in the ICU.

It would take me hours to fully tell you about the days surrounding my sister and brother-in-law's hospital wedding. I'm not even sure my words would be enough. I do want to tell you about one part though--the walk down the aisle. My dad hardly had the power to stand. Yet, somehow he mustered enough strength to walk my sister down the aisle. It was a testament of his love. He was holding on tremendously hard to life so he could walk his baby girl down the aisle and give her away to the man of her dreams. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. That day...in that hospital courtyard, we witnessed a miracle and we all knew it. It was the miracle of love and God's sustaining power.

I wrote this post from my dad's hospital room just hours before he passed into the arms of Jesus. Then this post was all I could manage to type after he passed away just days after walking my sister down the aisle. This one came a few days later as I was processing the loss. My sister shared some words and thoughts on her blog too. Two years later, I wrote about Mothering Through Grief. Oh, and the belated wedding toast to my sister and her husband... Sorry for the links, but I just feel like the words my sister and I wrote then tell the story better. Those words reveal what we were feeling and facing in those moments.

If you who prefer to not click through all of that, I'll give you a summary. Our hearts were hurting and broken, but with God's presence and strength, we were making it. Minute by minute. Day by day. It was a great loss to our family, and we still feel his absence daily. I've often described the timeline as our own BC and AD--Before daddy's Cancer and After his Death. How much our lives have changed without him! But slowly we were finding comfort from God, solace in each other, and peace in the midst of the loss. I thought life was settling down for us into some sort of "new normal." I had hoped that was the case. But then everything changed again...

***

"Mommy, look what we're wearing! Look at us!" I'll never forget the day that the kids came running into the laundry room after my sister had taken them off to another part of the house for a little surprise. They came bounding back in wearing gray t-shirts with adorable pink, blue, and green pigs on them and the words "Cousin Pig" across the fronts. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes! My sister and her husband had been trying for awhile to have a baby. Leave it to my sister to find such a cute way to surprise us with the news that my kids were going to be cousins and I was going to be an aunt.

Everyone was so happy about this new life coming into our tight-knit group. Daddy would have been happy too. There was so much joy! How could we know that it would all end so suddenly?

When Allison first caught a stomach bug from students in her kindergarten class, I didn't feel overly concerned. I mean...I knew how awful that it was to be sick and pregnant at the same time, but none of us had any idea that this was the start of everything turning upside down.

She was out for most of that week and returned to the classroom on that Friday. By Friday evening she started experiencing flu-like symptoms. We're not really sure where she caught the flu. I'll spare you the details of the nightmare that followed because no one should have to relive that. The basic summary would be: flu, pneumonia, loss of the baby, hospital, ventilator, sepsis, septic shock, gone...all within days.

Thousands joined in prayer with us as her husband's posts on her condition were shared over and over again. In the hospital room, her favorite Kari Jobe album played softly in the background. My mom, her husband, his parents, and I remained by her side until the very end while members from our church, friends, and my daughter were vigilant in the waiting room. We all kept hoping and praying Allison would somehow pull through, but things just kept getting worse.

My daughter demanded that she wasn't leaving Aunt Allison--her "hair twin." Even though she hadn't been allowed back in Allison's ICU room, she felt the need to remain in the waiting room--as close to her aunt as she could be. Only the promise that she could come back the next morning finally got her to go with my husband and the boys the night before Allison passed away. Allison was gone before my daughter made it back though.

On the morning of Friday, May 20, my sweet sister left us. The nurse pointed out that Sweep Me Away in Your Love was the song playing as Allison passed into the arms of Jesus just two days after losing her baby and being admitted to the hospital.

I still relive the walk from ICU Room 19 out into the waiting area in both my waking and sleeping hours. The weeping and sad faces told me that our devastating news had already made it out there. I remember looking through the people gathered to find my husband and kids who had just returned to the hospital. There in that waiting room that overlooks the very same hospital courtyard where Allison and Carl were married just 3 1/2 years prior, I had to tell my husband and kids that Allison was gone. I'll never forget the feel of my daughter--heavy in my arms as she wailed for her Aunt. That was the moment when my already broken heart shattered into a million tiny pieces.

And here we are...a little over three months later...still trying to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts. I'm giving those fragments to God one by one. It's all I know to do. Breathe in. Breathe out. Pray. Love. Remember. Heal. This morning I busy my hands preparing breakfast for the kids. It's the essentials I've been focusing on--eating, breathing, sleeping, caring for the kids, and clinging onto to Jesus. It's all about survival these days. The rest just hasn't mattered.

Everyone keeps telling me to just take it a day at a time. What they don't realize is that my life is second by second, minute by minute these days. In this very moment my focus is on the crack of the egg and the sizzling shush of the butter across the skillet as I blink hard to fight back tears. Music! Yes, that's what I need. I pull up a programmed station on Pandora from the phone and go back to breakfast. Crack. Sizzle. Chop.
You're my strength
You're my defender
You're my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You've always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul...

Oh, sweet friends! It's true! If I could look at and hug each of you, I'd remind you that we are never alone--most especially through the valleys of our lives. God is with us...always.

Lyrics coming from the phone wash over me. The phone doesn't ring or ding as much these days. It just plays. The outpouring of calls and messages has stopped. The rest of the world seems to have moved on. There is a deep loneliness to grief. Have you ever experienced that too? As the rest of the world whirls around, we're left to pick of the pieces and press on. The isolation hasn't been all bad though. It's been a reminder that my happiness doesn't rest in people but with God. Fellowship with him is what my heart needs today.
"Kids, after we finish eating, let's go outside for a little while. We'll play before it gets too hot." That announcement is followed up by gleeful shouts and a scrambling for shoes.
Outside the morning sun feels warm on my face. Later in the day, it will feel too humid and sticky to be out, but the morning hours are still pleasant. How I long for the coolness of fall--Allison's favorite time of year and mine. The soft clucking and cooing of the chickens and the sunflowers swaying in the breeze steady my heart. The flowers from the garden remind me of the ones my sister and I used to pick so many years ago. Being out in God's creation has been a sweet reminder to my soul that he remains with me. I'm not walking this journey alone. This has been my retreat this summer--the yard out back with the kids running and playing and my quiet whispers with God.
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6 comments:

  1. Oh, Jennifer, how my heart goes out to you. This is such a terrible terrible tragedy and there really are no words. I am extending my quiet presence to sit alongside you through your grief. The losses that are closest to us hurt so so much. My Dad died rather suddenly a few months ago and I am still learning to live. As hard as his death has been for me, I truly cannot fathom the depths of pain if I were to lose any of my 3 sisters. I send you so much love, hugs, and those still moments to grieve.

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  2. My heart is breaking for you. Thank you for sharing your heart and soul. My prayers for your family is strong. I understand that feeling when the world continues on and you are still trying to pick up the pieces. Hugs from afar.

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  3. I am so sorry Jennifer. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart. Many prayers for you and your family during this sad time. You are right, God is always there by your side. Hugs.

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  4. Jennifer, I almost have no words. I am in tears- for you, and because I understand. I lost my father in law and my brother in a matter of six months. It was honestly more than I could bare. I believe God never left my side, but it was the worst pain. It still is not an easy thing for me to talk about, and I still have nightmares about the days in the hospitable. I will keep you in prayer, sweet friend <3

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  5. There aren't even words to offer - I can't even begin to fathom where you must be in life's journey with this. Love and support, even if from a stranger far away <3

    -Clarissa

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  6. Jennifer, thank you for sharing this touching and very personal story. You have impacted many by helping us understand a little more about grieving and remembering our loved ones. You are in our prayers as you continue to find peace and comfort with each precious memory.

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Each and every one of your comments means so much to me. I love to hear from friends both old and new. Thanks for taking the time to stop by my little corner of the world and thanks for taking the time to let me know you were here.

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