Sunday, June 19, 2016
My Sister, Our Last Dance
This is my first blog. It is about an event in my life that happened in July 2014. It is bittersweet. I include this first since God’s face was seen clearly to me several times during these events. It is bitter when I see the temporary nature of the people, places and things that pass out of my reach in this world within the space of a single breath. It is sweet when I see the hand of God in the small things near me, knowing all is well in his kingdom.
My sister Carol was a former ballerina and she passed away at the age of 58. We had not been very close over the years yet during her last year we grew very close. Despite the fact that Carol lived in Arizona and I lived in Alabama, we formed a special bond at the end of her life. I am writing about that bond since it extended strangely beyond some normal means of communication and involved a third party, God.
I was born the oldest in a family with two younger brothers and two younger sisters. Both of my sisters had been ballerinas. Since I had always been fascinated by science and math my sisters and myself never had very much in common. Over the years my sisters and I grew further and further apart. Carol and I were the only one of my siblings married (except for a brief stint by my youngest brother) and God did not bless any of us with children. My sister and her husband always made me nervous since they traveled in some very dark corners. There is no need to go into the details. Several years ago my brother-in-law died of a lung disease and left my sister penniless. My brother-in-law was probably a bad influence on my sister yet she loved him very much. My family was glad to see him go and while I felt a certain relief I also felt my sister’s pain. I remember a kindness he once did for me near the end of his life and I prefer to remember him in this light.
After Carol lost her husband she was suddenly left alone with a large part of her life missing. Because of this she carried a heavy weight, pressing on her heart and soul. I remember this same emptiness before I found God, before I was given a wife to share my joys and sorrows. My wife and I both understood what Carol was going through. Carol was also left with the further burden of our siblings judgement of her lifestyle, a judgement she could not escape. Carol was very near emotional and physical bottom and wanted to change. She had fought hard and abandon many of her old habits at a great cost to her health. One of her last battles, an unexpectedly tough one, that she was waging was to quit smoking. On three separate occasions she almost died from the medications the doctors gave her to help her quit.
The year before Carol died she told my wife and me that our mom was on the edge of death and we decided to visit her. Before our trip I continued to say one of my favorite prayers called the "Divine Mercy" prayer. This prayer is a special one asking for divine mercy from God the father in his son’s name, thanking him for Jesus’ passion and death. The prayer can be summed up in a short phrase: “Jesus I trust in you”. The prayer is said in times of any need, but especially for anyone facing death. It has been known to call down special graces from God displayed as a spiritual and sometimes physical effect. Shortly after my prayers Carol called and told me that our mother had, according to the doctors, miraculously recovered. The prayer itself is not magic, just a way of expressing our love to God and grabbing hold of him during a very hard time. This recovery was an answer to my prayer, but also to the prayers of many others. God can answer multiple prayers at once.
We then visited my family, including Carol. I learned that, unknown to us, we had arrived on the day before the anniversary of her husband’s death. Both Carol, my wife and I understood that God had arranged this meeting. I spent time telling Carol how I had found God, talking of how I saw his hand acting through so many people, places and events. I told her how he had strengthened me and I started to teach her how to pray.
We returned home but I now started to keep in regular touch with Carol. I shared with her some prayers I knew and poems I had written about God’s power. Then as the months slowly stretched forward I could see Carol changing, growing closer to God. I watched and knew that there were dark forces near her, seeking to retain their power over her. I warned her of this and we all kept praying. The tide seemed to be turning against her. My dad suddenly developed serious health problems so Carol had to take care of both of them, taking care of their checkbook and the bills. Eventually my dad had to be placed in a care facility which she helped arrange. Then her health turned and the years she had abused her body took their toll. She grew weaker and weaker and many of my siblings believed she was just being lazy. Deep within my heart a still small voice told me she was dying.
As I entered the last week of my sister’s life we slowly began our dance. This was our last dance, a scientist and a ballet dancer, dancing together over a thousand miles apart, talking daily on the phone and by text messages. When the phone rang I would dread more bad news, yet when it didn't I would dread not receiving any news. Her spirits would sink and I would try and lift them, yet sometimes all I could think to say to her was “Jesus I trust in you”.
Carol was checked in and out of the hospital several times during that last week. I could hear her voice grow weaker and weaker, as if the dance was coming to an end. Then there came the end of the dance. On that last night I was awakened in the middle of the night, my heart pounding, a voice inside telling me to say the "Divine Mercy" prayer for my sister. I finished that prayer, another prayer and then my phone rang. It was my other sister telling me that Carol had just died. The dance was over.
I don't believe in coincidences. God had touched my heart and had me say that prayer at the exact time just before my sister died. I know it is a common thing for people to believe that anyone who dies is in heaven. I believe that we are either moving towards God through the power of His son Jesus or turning our back on him and moving away. Just as I can not look straight into the face of a God who created creation, I can not know my sister’s fate. I can believe, however, that it was God that had me pray. I can believe that he did this for a reason, perhaps more for me than for her. I believe she is with him.
I will leave you with one last thought. The Sunday after Carol’s death my wife and I went to church, as always, and kneeling before God I was deeply moved with sorrow. I then went and talked with the priest, asking him to pray with me. When we finished I went back to my seat with a tear in my eye. Looking at the seat in front of me, I saw a small newborn infant. My tear of sorrow immediately turned into a tear of joy. I looked into that tiny face and I knew I had seen the reflection of the face of God. God had winked at me and showed me that he would now be dancing with my sister.
“Jesus I trust in you.”
Copyright 2016 Daniel Strizak