On June 23, 1990 my 12-year-old sister, Stacia Cressa, lost a 5 month and 1 day battle with cancer. At the age of 8 years old, my world shifted so traumatically that I believe the loss of Stacia has colored every relationship and life decision since.
I’ve often wondered over the last 24 years what life would be like if Stacia hadn’t died. I wonder if I would be nicer, more obedient, or mainstream with my life choices. I wonder if I’d be more physically attractive and confident as a woman. I wonder if I’d be a wife and mother settled into local-church ministry somewhere, or if I’d live closer to family, choosing to live my life in proximity to my parents and siblings. I wonder if I’d be more or less mature, more or less angry, more or less dramatic, more or less courageous.
A couple of weeks ago my mother received a message from my sister’s childhood friend. After I read it, I knew I wanted to write this blog for the 24th anniversary of Stacia’s death. Here is the message:
I keep having this ache inside me. It’s a guilty ache that my walk with God and our current friendship that I rely on so much could have been the reason or one of the reasons for Stacia’s death. It makes me sad that your loss could have been my benefit in that I recognized God calling me back, that I was able to recognize His voice because of my friendship with Stacia and the impact her passing made on my life. <i’ve been=”” thinking=””>deeply about my walk with God, where I’ve been and where it’s going, how I’m raising my kids and that I want more than anything for them to know Him and never doubt His promises. For my husband and marriage and could we survive that loss?
I love you guys. I have been continually blessed by your love both as a child and an adult. And I’m so grateful. When you get to heaven, if He tells you her <Stacia’s> suffering and passing was for my salvation and that of my family, I hope you will still love me.”
While I seldom talk about Stacia in fear I’ll sound like the deeply wounded child I was (and in some ways still am), her death was the starting place of JUSTembrace. I want my sister’s childhood friend to know that she’s not alone in seeing fruit from such a tragic loss:
I see it in how we honor those who die in our community. Stacia’s funeral was a beautiful and deeply powerful experience that has influenced my desire to honor my neighbors when they die.
I see it as we journey with Melvin through his final months on earth. Having vivid memories of months in the hospital, a grouchy older sister and a mother who never left her side, my compassion for and commitment to be with Melvin is boosted.
I see it as we face yet another season of uncertainty, wondering how we will pay the bills and how God will provide for what He’s called us to. The many times it felt like my family was falling to pieces through grief surely wounded me, but those years also taught me a foundational truth – I can trust God – no matter what or how bad.
I see it in how we aren’t afraid of the suffering of our neighbors. Long before I was able to process it, I was exposed to the truth of our fragile existence as humans. This permanently turned my heart’s focus to the hurting of the people around me.
Nor do we know how much of the pleasures of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter. Almost we linger with Sorrow for very love.
Recently, I have also been reminded of some of the deep wounds I carry as a result of Stacia’s death. While it is wonderful to celebrate the fruit and acknowledge how good things come from our pain, it is also important to be able to acknowledge that we are still wounded people in need of healing.
There is no way to keep a child from the traumatic wounds associated with the loss of a sibling. I have classic “abandonment issues” stemming from the chaos and trauma from the loss of Stacia. I see this at work in my great difficulty trusting people, as well as my choices to cling to unhealthy relationships. I see it in my choices to never stay in one place or close friendship for long. I see it in my fierce independence as well as my fear of being alone. I see it in my ability to shut down instantly when I feel vulnerable to loss or rejection. I see it in the way I can walk away from people seemingly effortlessly.
Once we have seen the suffering Christ within us, we will see him wherever we see people in pain. Once we have seen the suffering Christ among us, we will recognize him in our innermost self. This we come to experience that the first commandment to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, resembles indeed the second: “You must love your neighbor as yourself “
I truly believe what Henri Nouwen writes above. It is not just celebrating the healthy fruit that has come from our wounds, but identifying the places where we continue to suffer, that allows us to find Christ at work in us and in our communities.
Christ’s suffering, our suffering, and the suffering of our those around us and in our world are linked. Therefore so is our healing.
24 years ago my sister lost her battle with cancer. Today, as I still wrestle with the deep wounds from that loss, I also see God’s restorative presence at work through those wounds in my neighborhood. I can only imagine I have much more to learn and glean in the next 24 years.