On Thursday the 26th of April, my youngest sister Lisa passed from this physical life into the embrace of the love of God. This is my language and what Lisa would have understood a phrase like the love of God to mean is something that I don’t think I know. Always practical, my memories of Lisa are that she didn’t have a lot of use for conventional religious notions of an afterlife. Her energies were firmly focused on the life lived here and now, her children, her family, her job, and her beloved women’s hockey. I remember on a visit home some years ago Lisa turning to me and asking in all seriousness how many sports channels did I watch in England. The fact that I watched none spoke volumes about the difference between us.
Lisa was diagnosed at a relatively young age with breast cancer. The age of first onset seems to be a prime indicator of the likely reoccurrence of the disease. People marvel when I tell them that all three of my sisters have been diagnosed with breast cancer and that there seems not to be a family genetic explanation for this. I have reflected many times on how each of them, Lynette, Lisa, and finally Ali, came to terms with their cancer. Each did so in their own remarkably individual way. The way each has responded speaks to the depth of their character and dare I say the qualities of their soul.
When we human beings are thrown into a life crisis, the walls which we build to protect ourselves from the storms of life begin to crack. It is only then that the quality of soul emerges. Through the cracks in the walls we are invited to change, to grow and to renew ourselves. In my experience it is soul-quality that connects me to the reality of life being lived-out against a backdrop of something bigger than what I can immediately touch, see, or know. The quality of Lisa’s soul revealed in her a deep commitment to life sustained by her enormous reserves of courage and love.
Stubborn, willful, bloody-minded are terms that come readily to my mind when thinking of Lisa. Yet, these are simply the qualities of her determined life-force that would brook no thought of easy defeat. Over these last months as Lisa fought to delay the approach of her inevitable death, my mind has turned again and again to the Dylan Thomas poem that opens with:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Lisa bargained hard and won a space in which to prepare those she loved most for the time of her dying. For her, relationships were what mattered most. For me, the embrace of the love of God is simply a way of saying that in death the truth about what is most important in this life deepens. What is universally true is that relationships, be they good relationships or difficult relationships, are what most matter. For me, God is not a solitary being. God is a community within which the interplay of relationships bring joy and delight. God is a Trinity – a Divine Community defined by relationships that share themselves with the life of the Creation and become the model for the way we are invited to live our own lives.
I am not sure what it is I should, or even am, feeling at the passing of my little sister. The distances of time, she was only 12 when I left home, and of location, my thirty years living in the UK, in many ways separated us from each other. At the end of her life in this world I remain separated, this time by immigration processes which currently restrict my ability to travel outside of my current home in the US.
Yet, these limitations of time and space cannot seriously inhibit the exercise of love. For the distances of time and the separations of location no longer inhibit Lisa and I. Lisa’s death acts only to strengthen and deepen my sense of being in relationship with her. Despite my separation from others who mourn Lisa, I nevertheless rededicate myself to life lived motivated by the primacy of relationship. In this way I incorporate into my own life the priorities that Lisa expressed through her own living, loving, and gifting of love and friendship.