My cousin, Lisa, and I were born three months apart. I was born in June; she was born in September. Therefore, we were friends from birth. Our childhoods were a tangle of family gatherings, shenanigans, and laughter. We promised that we would be in each other's weddings, and we were. We married within a year of each other, and alternated babies.
When Lisa was about 11, she developed Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, and her race to the finish began. Diabetes was a lifelong struggle for Lisa. She wanted desperately to be like everyone else, and so, she wasn't always careful with her food intake, numbers, and insulin. Eventually, the consequences of such choices catches up to a person. And so, it was for my cousin, Lisa.
As often happens once children enter people's lives, Lisa and I drifted apart. Each of us sacrificed our social lives in order to pour 100% of our energy into raising our kids. It's not that we had severed our relationship; through a mutual, unspoken understanding, we put our friendship on hold with the understanding that once our kids had grown and gone, we would sit in our rocking chairs, remembering days gone by and complaining about our waning youth.
Beginning in her 37th year, Lisa's health began to decline. She was in and out of the hospital so frequently that she wouldn't even inform close family and friends anymore because she was embarrassed.
Fast forward to December of 2011. Lisa was doing some Christmas shopping when she "blew" her knee out while at the mall. The immediate thought was to have knee replacement surgery so that she could be mobile again. Unfortunately, the tissue damage due to diabetes meant that a knee replacement would be futile. Since there was no circulation, the new knee would float unattached and would never heal. Thus, Lisa's decision boiled down to two options: sit in a wheelchair for the rest of her life or amputate and get a prosthetic leg.
Lisa struggled with both options. She prayed earnestly for healing. She argued, pled, and cried to God. She discussed the situation with her family. She discussed it with me. Finally, in May, after much consideration, she decided to amputate with the goal of walking at her daughter, Jenni's, graduation in May 2013.
On May 10, Lisa had the surgery. It went well. Her numbers were wonky, but that is typical for diabetics post-surgery as it is trauma to the body. On May 12, she called me to tell me she felt great and couldn't wait to come home. On May 15, she was scheduled to come home.
At 6 am on May 15, nurses discovered her unresponsive, dead, in her hospital bed.
I have never wept and mourned over someone's death as I have Lisa's. She was 41. She left behind a husband and four daughters, ages 19, 17, 15, and 10. On a personal note, I feel as though I have lost a sister, a twin almost.
On the one hand, I celebrate her new joy. I know that she is in heaven with her Heavenly Father, experiencing her eternal reward. She is now completely free of illness, disease, and pain. I couldn't be happier for her.
On the other hand, I miss her with an intensity that surprises even me. Little things catch me off guard. For example, when I was at the grocery store the other day, I was waiting at the deli, and a young lady was standing across from me. She was taste-testing some deli salads. As she turned, I noticed an insulin pump on her hip, and I inexplicably burst into tears.
My stoic German instincts tell me I should "buck up" and move on. The time for mourning is over, which is true. I don't consider my tears to be mourning. The memory and the ensuing tears are much more than that; they are acts of love.
For each memory that floods my mind, for each reminder that draws her into my presence, for each time I see her face in my mind, I am grateful. Each of these are acts of love that we share that keep her very much alive even though she is rejoicing with her Savior. I am so thankful to Christ, the creator of all emotions. While they may wreak havoc at times, they are necessary to in order for us to fulfill God's most important command: to love.