My birthday is coming up, and I’ll be turning 36. I’ve been thinking about my age a lot this year, because my sister Sheri died from cystic fibrosis just a few weeks before her 36th birthday.
My perspective on her age has changed as time has passed. After she died, people would say, “She was so young!” I knew that to be true, but at the time, I was more focused how she had far outlived her life expectancy and pulled through so many serious illnesses. I felt comforted by the triumph of nearly 36 years of a full and happy life in spite of her ongoing struggle with cystic fibrosis.
But now, at nearly 36, I realize how young she was. Because I feel so young. I feel a deep sadness that her life was cut short. Now that I am here, I can better imagine what she must have felt like when she realized the end of her life was near, that her time had already come.
Reaching Sheri’s final age has brought up some surprising emotions. Although she will always be my big sister, suddenly I’m older, “bigger” than she ever was. I feel like I’m in uncharted waters with my CF. I haven’t seen CF at age 36 and beyond. I wish I could still have her years as a reference. Knowing she had walked through those years of life ahead of me was a comfort.
There have been moments this year when I’ve felt panicked, afraid that like Sheri, my life on this earth might be cut short. I’m no longer naive to the disease that lives with in me, the force that can consume and destroy. There was so much I didn’t understand about cystic fibrosis when Sheri was still alive. I hadn’t started to deal with my own CF in a significant way yet. I wish she was here so I could tell her that I get it now; that I understand more of what her life was like. I wish we could cheer each other on through the battles. I wish I could hold her hand.
Sheri wrote these words a few months before she died:
“[W]e are all grieving. Grieving what we know is to come; grieving the time when my earthly days will be gone; and the grieving will continue…I grieve for what I will miss – all the events in your futures of which I will not be a part. I grieve for the grief I know you will experience. And I grieve at losing what I have: my husband, my family, my life. I enjoy the package that makes up my life so very much. I have been so richly blessed. And even though I am headed for heaven of all places – perfection of glory and beauty; the habitat of my Lord and His children; no more struggles and pain; no place more wonderful – still I grieve…But God still has all things under His control. I’ll be okay – better than okay. And you will be okay. Because we have been knit together by the Father, we will always have part of each other as part of the fiber of our being.”
When her life was nearly over, when she was experiencing more pain and struggle than ever before, still she clung to life. I love that about her! She was thankful for the blessings, and still she wanted more days, suffering and all. She was full of life, love and hope to the very end. So now as I’m about to reach 36, uncharted though it may be, that is my aim. To cling to life. To fight for life and health. To be full of love, hope, and grace. To reach out and take hold of God’s hand. He will show me the way. He will guide me with His counsel, and afterward take me into glory (Psalm 73:24).