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Two weeks ago, I wrote fondly about the woman who I used to think of as my baby sister. I did not know, then, that she would provide a far more profound lesson in understanding over the next week. Staring death in the face will do that.
As I silenced my phone before the service, Sunday the 8th, I saw a text message from my brother-in-law. My youngest sister was in the hospital in extreme pain. By Monday afternoon we knew the cancer was back with a vengeance. Two years ago, we were celebrating as Youngest Sister was pronounced cancer-free of a dread strain that has taken almost all it touches. The treatment had nearly killed her, but every quarterly scan since showed no tumors.
Scans did not show tumors because the killer was hiding in the bone marrow, finally robbing her of the blood components necessary to life. The rogue cells were creating pressure, trying to crack the bones inside out. Hence the pain.
I flew in Tuesday afternoon to say farewell. I found Youngest Sister had made her decision, with the help of her medical team and her husband. She would accept support, beyond pain management, for long enough to see our sister who lives farthest away. The wonderful medical staff, the same team who had helped her to temporary victory the first time, had managed to get the pain under control.
Youngest Sister was clear of eye and voice when I saw her in the cancer ward. She had no tears, no fears, and was vibrantly alive. You see, she had spent a lifetime growing in her faith. She was looking past that impostor, Death, to her new life.
Over the past two years, it turns out, she had always assumed that she would have about two years. Youngest Sister and her family had their lives in order and were living every day to the fullest. As her hair grew back in, two summers ago, it had not one gray strand, and was wonderfully curly. They hiked, camped, did scouting and sports, beyond their deep-rooted involvement in their church family.
Last year, she homeschooled her daughter, of whose unusual perceptiveness I wrote. This freed the two of them to road trip to Arizona. I took them on a whirlwind tour of southern Arizona, a prelude to the two of them hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up again. So, she spent every day living and filling her children with understanding for this life and the next. Two weeks before her death, she had ridden 50 miles on a racing bicycle, the longest training ride for a two-day road race she planned to ride with her eldest son.
And then, there we were, a constantly changing set of family and friends filling her hospital room. There were plenty of tears among us, over the four days from Tuesday to Friday. I did not see her cry, although I left her when her husband brought in their children — when I am told Youngest Sister gave them the Christian mom talk about meeting and choosing a mate. As friends visited, Youngest Sister assigning her many tasks to scouting and church women. Finally, as our parents, all of us siblings, her children, and friends had all said our temporary goodbyes, she slipped more into sleep.
In the early hours of Saturday, July 14, 2018, Youngest Sister woke from the dream of this life, rising into Light. In that moment, she finally knew as her Creator had always known her. To have seen her past three years on this world is to get an understanding of the Scripture:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21 (KJV)