God taught me a lesson (and is continuing to teach it to me) a little while back. In the process of opening up the areas of deepest hurt in my life to Him, I was convicted that I wasn’t sharing those hurts with other people. I know that it goes against all ideas of self-preservation that we as humans naturally have, but I believe that it is what God wants me to do. My biggest area of pain is my sister’s death.
It will be thirteen years this August since she died, but it still feels like it only happened yesterday. I continue to mourn my sister, as everyone does who loses a loved one. You might feel better or worse at different times, but the ache is always there just below the surface. It only takes a scratch to let loose the feelings and tears again. Andrea’s death is something that I haven’t talked to many people about. It’s hard to talk about without getting emotional. Even as I type this the tears are starting to flow. I also worry that the cherished memory of my sister will be tarnished when I tell people about how she died. Sometimes people assume that because a person is doing drugs, they are bad. However, beneath that messed up coping mechanism, there is a real person who is hurting and who is loved by their family and friends. You have to hold on to the hope that your loved one can change. So, I’ve been afraid that people will judge my sister for the poor choices she made, without understanding what an amazing person she was.
Growing up, we had our spats as sisters do, but she always had my back and was very protective of me and our little brother. Our younger years were full of fun and just goofing off around the neighborhood. This was back in the day when kids would go outside to play after they got home from school, and not come back until it got dark. Andrea loved animals and always wanted to get a horse. In her teen years things started to get a little hairy, and she started making poor choices. I won’t go into the reasons why I think this may have started, but I went through the same thing in my teen years. We were both looking for some love and acceptance in the wrong places. My sister ended up with a boyfriend in high school who was abusive toward her. They had a child together, and I’m sure that this is why she stayed with him. She also wanted desperately to have a normal, loving home life in which to raise her child. She tried, but some relationships aren’t worth fighting for because they will destroy you. Eventually my sister, her boyfriend, and their child moved into their own place and we had hopes that things would get better. That wasn’t the case, though. If anything, the boyfriend’s behavior escalated and there was regular drinking and drug use in their home.
I don’t know at what point my sister started using cocaine. I never thought that she would because she was upset with her boyfriend for using it. I don’t even know how long she had been using. At this point in my life I was so wrapped up in my own little self-centered world, that I didn’t know what was going on with my own sister. Somehow, my sister ended up going with her boyfriend to a party over three hours from where they lived. I don’t know why they were there. I also heard from one of Andrea’s friends that she said she wasn’t going to the party. I don’t know how she ended up going. Once there, she apparently left the party and her boyfriend didn’t know where she was. The details are fuzzy here and I don’t really know what went on. What I do know is that she was found dead, lying on the ground between two houses. She had foam on her mouth because she had gone into a seizure from the amount of drugs in her system. So my sister died alone, outside, seizing, and without another living soul there to be with her. I can hardly bear the thought of it. An autopsy would reveal that she had two 8 balls in her system (I believe she had swallowed them). I still don’t understand how that even happened, since she would have known that an amount that large would kill her. Why would a young woman who was trying to get her life back on track, who was making plans for her future, and who loved her 4-year-old daughter more than anything in the world, kill herself like that? I don’t believe she would have. I will always wonder about what went on that night, but there’s no way to know.
The day she was found, my dad called me at work to tell me that my sister was dead. I don’t know what I said; I just remember shaking and crying. Of course I wanted to go home right away, but I had to wait half an hour for someone to come and fill in for me. That was like torture–trying to wait on people and keep myself composed just minutes after finding out about my sister’s death. We didn’t tell my niece about the death right away because we didn’t really know how to. I believe it was the next day that a bunch of the family gathered in my parent’s living room and we brought in this little 4-year-old to explain to her why her mommy wasn’t there. My dad was sitting next to me on the couch, and he tried to tell her but he couldn’t get the words out. I had to grow up in a way that I didn’t want to that day, and tell my little niece that her mommy was dead and she wouldn’t be coming back anymore. She ran to me and hid her head in my lap, and then she said something I’ll never forget, “My daddy probably did it.” We all looked at one another, completely dumbfounded. You can’t coach a child to say something like that.
I didn’t know how to help my niece, but I thought drawing some pictures might help. I believe it was the next day that she asked me to draw a picture of our whole family. She drew a picture of a machine that would bring her mommy back. We put these in her mommy’s casket at the funeral. My sister looked different in the casket–like it was her body, but at the same time it wasn’t her. My sister had a spark and a twinkle in her eye. She had a beautiful smile and loved to laugh. This was not my sister. I had to say one last goodbye, though. I leaned in and gave her a kiss on the forehead. What I really wanted was for her to open her eyes and come back to us; to give her a hug and tell her how much I love her; not to have to watch the pain my parents were going through; not to have to see a little girl who was missing the most important person in her life–her mommy.
As I’m sure you can tell, this is the rawest part of me. It’s a part that is sore and hurts all the time. For that reason alone, I don’t often dwell on it. I tend to take quick glimpses of it and then pack it away again. I’ll remember something good about my sister, and quickly file it back in the memory file cabinet. But it seems like healing comes from examining the wound and dealing with what I find there. It hurts and I don’t want to do it, but God is calling me to be a whole person. Not someone who can only offer pieces of her life to Him.
When I took the girls from my discipleship group out to my sister’s grave, I was hoping that they would come away with something for themselves, something that God was speaking to their hearts. I don’t know if that happened or not. Teens can be notoriously quiet about what they’re really thinking. It was a good experience for me, which is not what I was expecting. I knew that there was the chance that someone would say something offensive and possibly dishonor the memory of my sister. And that did happen. I don’t know if it was simply because they didn’t know how to deal with the reality of the death that was all around them, and they chose to become somewhat goofy. That’s okay–everyone has their own ways of coping. That evening I was freed from the fear of my sister’s memory not being respected. I know how amazing she was; God knows it, too. That is enough.
Back to what I started with…God might sometimes ask us to minister out of our greatest pain. This is my pain. I know there are others out there who are hurting just as much as I am. There are others out there who have lost family members to drugs. I can’t magically fix their hurts, but I can let them know that they’re not alone. I can listen, talk with them, and be a sympathetic ear. Together we can allow God to speak healing into our hearts and lives. God can do amazing things in and through us when we open ourselves completely to Him.
What are your greatest hurts? Have you handed them over to God? Do you allow other people to enter into your pain, and do you enter into theirs, too? What do you think might happen if you were to reach out to others who are dealing with the same hurts that you are?