Last week, my sister in law died. I have found abundant tears, yet fewer words, to sort that news out, to find my way through the wilderness of grief and loss. I am lost in my loss.
Pancreatic cancer is an evil thing. It has moved swiftly into my life, at many times, taking good people, long before I would even begin to contemplate that their time had come to leave us. Pancreatic cancer is on my short list of things to loathe.
When I heard the sad news, weeks, yes months before I expected it, a Christmas letter from a good friend had just arrived. The letter started off with a quote:
“What is the sum total of a man’s life? I knew the answer, and it wasn’t complicated. At the bottom of the ninth, you count up the people you love, both friends and family, and you add their names to the fine places you’ve been and the good things you’ve done, and you have it.”
—-James Lee Burke, Light of the World.
Each day is a gift, and each moment is precious. We need to make the most of our lives, and to do what is right, and to bring joy into the world, for ourselves and for others. And, I am too often rudely reminded that life is short, and should be cherished, in every moment.
My sister in law’s life was rich in family and friends. She sought joy every day, joy in the simple things, the quiet moments. I suspect she treasured the sunrise, and the moments with my brother, doing simple things, ordinary. Yet, in their simplicity and plainness, there was sacred beauty and peace.
She enjoyed rich, strong coffee. She baked miraculous biscotti to go along with it, as well as a variety of homemade pastas and bread.
I have been blessed to have her in my life. We were buddies, friends. We laughed, we shared jokes and stories.
One summer’s day, we conspired against my brother to wash his pickup. We tricked him into driving it onto the lawn, and we scampered like mischevious children, armed with hoses and sponges, even getting into a water fight with my brother. He resisted, but ended up laughing, soaking wet. His pickup was clean.
She retired last summer, and they took a long trip to Italy, her parents’ homeland. I trust they found long warm afternoons to drink wine and sample great food. They bought a new house, and were settling in to a new, relaxing life when she fell ill. And, all too quickly, she left us.
My life is poorer now, with her gone. But, in many ways, she is still here, in my heart. She has enriched my life and brought joy to me. For all of that, I am grateful for the all too brief time we had together.
Again, I am reminded of the shortness of life, and the sweetness of life. All we really have is this moment, and we should enjoy it.
—Neal Lemery 12/9/2014