Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shaken … not Stirred

A few years ago (around 7 now) my life got shaken … not stirred, shaken. My 44 year old aunt at the time was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia (the week of our wedding actually). She spent 14 months of the end of her life fighting the illness before succumbing to it.

This shook my world. Not because I hadn’t experienced a loved one dying, I had. Not because I was fairly close with her, and I was. Not because I couldn’t go on with out her in my life, I could. But because I didn’t think any of this would actually happen, I mean this kind of stuff happens to ‘other people’. If someone you love gets sick, you pray for them and they get better (at least if you’re spiritual enough they will), or so I thought.

Up until the last few days of her life my family was in denial. We all heard the words that she wouldn’t make it but we couldn’t get past her ‘rally’. She was sent home to die and they expected she would within a couple of weeks – 2 max. After 2 weeks she seemingly began to get better. Her hair was growing back (duh, she was done her treatments), she was hopping and bopping, she had pep. One of my last visits with her was crazy weird. The previous ones were held in her bedroom, with her in bed and I in a chair. She was weak yet spunky, willing to be completely honest and open with her feelings and hopes for us as a family to go on and just chill about stuff. We talked about her struggles with letting go of her husband, about giving her blessing for him to remarry someday, and about how much she would miss being at her only son’s graduation and wedding. She also warned me to ‘be careful what you wish for’ - apparently she had always joked about not wanting to become a grandmother because of the connotation of getting old, now she was getting (to some degree) what she wished for.

Anyways, this visit was different than the others. She was up and dressed, wig in place, make up on. It was night time (another big deal). We hung out in the living area and SHE asked ME if there was anything I needed, then she got me a drink. This visit was filled with good conversation, laughs and essentially … life. It was an amazing gift. We got many gifts when she arrived home. A chance to be honest, I asked her a ton of questions which no one else would (I thought ‘Are you kidding? She’s dying I’m getting it all out there’). A chance to say: ‘Good bye, you’re the best, we love you, we’ll be ok’ even though we weren’t sure we would be. And we got not two, but seven weeks with her.

After it was over and life went on, I fell apart. I cried more than I have ever cried in my life. Not so much during the day – I mean I had to ‘keep it together’ and I was known for that, but at night, before falling asleep I would sob and sob. I would wonder how this could possibly happen to our family. This went on for months as I grieved. Poor Wally said that after several months he almost lost it with me because all I ever did was cry. He wondered if I would ever stop.

During the months that followed I grew bitter with some of the close friendships I had because no one understood my reaction. All my Christian friends seemed to keep saying things like ‘She’s in a better place. You had a gift of extra time with her. She’d want you to be happy.’ Here’s the thing, my reaction wasn’t ALL about losing my aunt. It was about realizing that I’m not immune to tragedy. And though I feel that tragedy is a bit of a strong word to use for this, that’s how I felt. Again this ‘tragedy’ wasn’t all about the person I lost, but that I indeed could lose something real and something important to me. It wasn’t in my hands. I was grieving over my innocence and over the belief that God would protect me from the heart break I was experiencing, and He certainly didn’t. In fact he did the furthest thing from it, He allowed me to feel the pain - physically my heart ached. Before that I thought heart break was only a saying.

Seven months after my aunt died that same family buried my grandfather and my grandmother’s brother (they died a day apart). A week before that my other grandmother passed away. These deaths were sandwiched around Christmas. Two of the three people had drawn out illnesses – and the other had attempted suicide a month before dying of a heart attack. I was also grieving the loss of a couple of very close relationships during this process – which I think died off because of this process.

During these months a transformation took place. First in a seemingly negative way (I remember at one point I said the words ‘pissed off’ to one of my friends on the phone about something else and she was stunned – I was changing). Then after a while I really started to re-examine myself, my life and my perspective. I became aware of my humanity and of how fast life passes us by, and how we do in fact get to choose how we live out this gift.

Did I want to live it out with passion or with fear and trepidation? I did not want to live life in a bubble any longer, scared of ever little challenge and fearful of all of the ‘what if’s’ out there. I began to realize how much control I had over some things and how little control I had over others. I then decided I would do my best not to let life’s heart breaks stunt my growth, if anything I’d allow them to challenge me to go forward. I decided that no matter what I was given in life I would do my darnedest to make something better out of it.

Though I am far from perfect at living this out and most often I feel as though I stumble more than I succeed (just read my last post), I can honestly say that I am doing my best to pursue a life that allows itself to get shaken … not just stirred.


Zoe said...

Was I the friend you said "pissed off" to?

Eva said...

no - someone else - you can breathe easy :)

Sarah B said... touching...I have tears in my eyes, actually they're dripping off my chin right now, which is also quivering. I lost a dear friend (My version of Wally's Best friend to be exact) he had just turned 30 when he took his Final Journey...there's a really great song out by Toby Keith, you being a county lover may have heard it before, it's called "crying for me" if you can make it through it without crying I'll be shocked. I've listened to it since October and still cry every time I hear it no matter where I am. Your story touched my heart, thanks!