All her life I have taken care of her.
When we were children, she looked to me. A timid child of fear, she looked to me.
I was there in her vulnerable times, the times when Dad and Mom had tucked us in, said prayers, kissed goodnight—and left. I was there. I was there when she peered into the darkness.
Lying in bed, she said to me Shari. What was that? And I murmured sleepily, night after night, Probably just a branch rubbing against the window. Probably just Mom putting away some dishes. Probably just an owl saying goodnight. Probably just, Jean.
Murmuring sleepily was key. I knew that the right degree of drowsy in my voice would lull us both into peace. It was important that not both of us be frightened. Two children could not cry at once, or the world would dissolve itself into weeping. Someone in the room had to be strong. I remember only one time that we shared tears in the absence of an adult.
All my life I have pooh-poohed her fears.
In a deep unconsciousness inside, a place where unspoken knowledge lies in casks for the tapping, I stored a few vintages she did not. I drew strength there, tasted the knowledge of things deep down. First, I knew I was fabricating shamelessly. Realistically, but shamelessly. Second, I knew it helped us. Third, I knew it didn’t matter whether my explanations were “true” in the strictest sense, or not, because they were grounded in the truth that there was nothing out there to get us.
Most nights, I was convinced of what she was not: we were safe.
Therefore I could scoff sleepily at things that went bump in the night.
All my life I have pooh-poohed her fears.
I was there in her vulnerable times, sometimes against her will and my own. I wasn’t the only one there. Dad and Mom had a special place in their hearts for their second girl. And sometimes she threw off our protection and tackled things herself, while our jaws dropped. But we were sisters, just we two, and thrown together much. I got impatient with her. I hurt her. But I was often there—there when she faced not only nighttime fears, but fears that grew as she grew. Fears about God. About confession. About strange people and places. Shari. Do you think we should…? Shari. Do you think…? Shari. What is that?
I said pooh-pooh. I had a few fears of my own, but I never told her.
She grew up. The fears didn’t leave, but she began to learn how to do battle with them. I was proud of her. She got spunk. She grew muscle. She faced dragons I never did, and as she advanced, quaking but determined, they melted into mist. There was nothing out there to get her.
Then one day, she called me and said. Shari. I have cancer.
I felt shock. Sorrow. Anger. Pain. But as we cried (we were adults now, and could cry together) I told her what I knew deep inside. I hate that you have to go through this. It’s going to be hard on you. But you can do this thing. You can beat it.
I knew this was true, because nothing had ever got her before. We could take care of her.
And she did it. She did six months of intensive battle with that dragon, and it melted into mist. Victory!
Then I got another phone call, so soon, so soon. Shari. The cancer is back.
And all I can think is No. No. This will not be. There is no dragon that can hurt her, that can take her down, because she is my little sister and I will take care of her.
Maybe this is the first dragon that is real… and I cannot fight it for her. For the first time in my life, I cannot pooh-pooh her fears.
Now she is strong while I am weak—she, the timid girl when all is going well, the tough cookie when obstacles come. Her courage mounts. She is strong. She has faith. And I am the one afraid. I cannot take care of her. What will happen if I cannot take care of her?
Probably just a mistake, Jean. Probably just a branch rubbing against the window. Probably just, Jean…
PROBABLY JUST THAT YOU NEED TO LAY DOWN ALL YOUR DREAMS, POUR ALL YOUR ENERGY INTO WINNING IN THIS ONE CONSUMING FIGHT. PROBABLY JUST THAT LIFE ISN’T FAIR! PROBABLY JUST THAT GOD DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING!!
Probably just, Jean…
I am angry and afraid and I cannot fabricate.
Is there something out there to get her?
Is this dragon real?
No, it is not real.
It is not real, because there is a Dragon Slayer. His name is Jesus, and He already did battle with the dragons and whipped their butts. Every dragon that we face has already been conquered, and I know that when my sis advances on this one—when she is pale and quaking and determined—it will melt into mist before her. She’s going to win.
His name is Jesus. He slew not only cancer, but fear, and despair, and death itself. There is nothing out there to get her anymore.
And so I draw my puny sword. I fight alongside her. But for the first time in my life, I let her go. I let her face the dragon, because a Man stands between them, His sword drawn and flaming, the fatal thrust already struck.
She’s going to win.
I am crying for you.
“A beautiful picture of what sisters do for each other” she says as the screen blurs…
Thank you so much for helping me think this through, Marie…
Oh Hugs to you Shari! I cry with you, for you n Jean, everyone…I’ve never faced cancer with a sister but with a very close friend and it’s not easy. I do have a sister with Chronic Lymes disease and watching a sister go thro things like that is…well, it’s just not easy being strong for them, is it? I’ll keep praying! LOTS!!!
Is Aslan safe?
No, Aslan is not safe. But he is good.
(as my memory serves me…)
My heart is breaking right now. Watching someone you love do battle is such a helpless feeling and all of us can pull together, pray together (even online), and rejoice together when the battle is won. We’re here for you and if I can do anything from afar (from St. Louis) for you or your sister, please oh please, let me know. My e-mail is above – please use it if you need to. We can all send cards or encouragement or anything else that’s needed. Blessings to you all.
And that brave sister of yours.
This past summer as we felt the raw pain of the death of our brother-in-law we were able to find some rest in the words of a wise friend. He said, “Don’t ask why questions. (Why cancer? Why Jean? Why now?) They will only lead to confusion and despair and you will most likely not find the answers to them this side of heaven. Rather ask what questions. (What can Jesus do through this? How can there be healing in our hearts through this?)”
Nevertheless at the end of the day sometimes there is only raw pain and tears left.
We are praying with you and for you as well as for your whole family. I’m blessing God above that he sends “happys” your way and that you are able to receive them. Joy and pain… run together on parallel tracks. Hugs
I’m crying for you and Jean…
(and that was beautifully written, Shari.)
Beautiful! And I too am crying for you and Jean!
Beautiful words Shari, of pain & courage.
Crying & aching with you…
My heart clenched in dismay when I read about Jean’s ongoing battle. I, too, have only one sister, a little sister that I reassured as we were growing up. Your post made me cry. Just wanted you to know that I think of you and your sister often during the day and remind a merciful Father about you. May He give you a quiet heart in the middle of all this.
Shari, Jean is so lucky to have a sister like you. As I read, tears pooled in my eyes- your love for her is beautiful. Not all sisters are so lucky.
And I’m so sorry that Jean, Josh and you all have to go through this dark, painful path. But yes, the Dragon Slayer is victorious, no matter what!
Your words about Jean are brimming with agony and beauty. It comforts me to think that Jesus is collecting all these tears that are being shed….
Mercy and grace to you as you stand, not in Jean’s stead, but by her and with her in this journey.
You make my spine tingle with those final paragraphs. Those are the concepts I hang onto with fragile fingers when I meet fears, especially the great swallowing fear of death. I’ve never looked it so starkly in the face as you are.
Your words are full of bravery. May faith and courage be yours.
How i understand. See, I have 2 sisters. They are both sick. One much more than the other. A year ago I had to let her go also. I could give no more, do no more, be no more. I had to give up and let Someone else fight for and with her. He was there all along.
Our sisters will win.
So beautiful. Your words bring tears.
We are blessed to know Jean from her teaching days in GA. And a memory…. Jean singing “We Are Never Alone” at a friend’s wedding; her voice soaring so beautifully it brought chills to listen, then tearing down the steps to walk up the aisle as a graceful bridesmaid. Love her spunk. And now, to think of the words of that song…. They are just as true today as they were then.
We are praying.
Thank you for being real!!!
I put off reading this post – it would require time to grieve, that I knew.
I knew I would sob because its *Jean*.
But that would not be the only reason for my tears.
I’m reminded of other losses (can we ever entirely get done saying “good-bye”?), some already past, some on the brink of happening. Other people – pillars – lost to cancer. A disease possessing an unborn baby, her birth will be her death sentence.
questions. Questions. QUESTIONS.
I turn to music.
Quietly, in harmony with my guitar, I sing – trying to absorb the song’s truths. And then, when tears well up from my core and choke all song, allowing the guitar to take over the melody and simply aching with God.
“Peace, perfect peace, with sorrow surging round?
In Jesus’s presence ‘nought but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’s keeping we are safe, and they.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.”
“Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears:
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.”
so let it be.
Elaine, this is beautiful!
Your words are true. I’ve been crying about Jean and wondering about you and your Mom and came here (instead of calling). Your stories are beautiful. Thank you. I just flipped through the pictures on my camera and cried wondering why I have all the happy and Jean has all the sad. God told me I have sad too, just like Jean still has happy. I know this, that my happy is deeper and more aware because of sharing Jean’s sad.
What beautiful words!