I have written the opening lines of this post several times in my head over the past week. I have questioned and prayed and cried. I have wondered whether or not I ought to even write it. Are there things so sacred that they ought not to be written? Things that, in the writing, are depleted by the very act of putting them into words? Or is it just that I, as an imperfect being, am frustrated that nothing I say can begin to touch the truth of a life which was…but is no more?
I am not a painter. I am not a sculptor, or a carver of fine wood. If I were I would attempt to remember through my art, to present a portrait of my cousin that could be admired, touched, hung on a wall or put on a pedestal for all to see. Even then there would be limits: her hair was not quite like that. Her fingers were surely longer: a pianist’s hands. How can I portray her laugh?
My medium is less tangible, but no less imperfect: words.
Andrea loved words. She handled them correctly, used them honorably, and her conversation was intelligent and enlightening. I always enjoyed talking to Andrea and she always made me think. I only wish we could have talked more often, and for many more years ahead. She would comment on my blog from time to time, and I cherish those comments – never wasted words, always seasoned with grace.
Andrea’s sense of humor was dry and sharp, much like her mother’s. I didn’t realize how alike they were until, in recent years, I read letters from them both and saw how closely they resembled each other in viewpoints, in political ideas, in tone of voice. Their letters – or e-mails as the case may be – are ones I sit down to read with a cup of tea and a smile. And it is they I am thinking of when I proof-read my Christmas letter each year, knowing even as I do so that I probably have a few errors which they will notice but be too kind to point out.
Andrea wrote about her visit to the plastic surgeon after her mastectomy. She had me doubled over in laughter as I read, describing his harem of nurses, his words of assurance that her new chest would be gorgeous and compelling. She could laugh at herself, her world, her cancer.
When I was eleven or twelve, Andrea came from Ohio to spend the summer with us on Orcas Island, Washington. Living so many hundreds of miles apart had done nothing to encourage relationship, and, while I’d met her several times over the years, I didn’t really know this cousin who was eight years older than me and I didn’t really know what to expect when she moved into our house for three months. After all, I already had two older sisters; did I really want another one?
Turns out, she enjoyed spending time with me! She even wanted to make cookies with me and didn’t mind me hanging around! She helped me with stuff, she laughed and giggled and schemed with me. She even led me in a culinary triumph: Hot Dog Cookies, just so she could help me trick my dad, her uncle Dave – or, as the cousins all called him, “Jungle Dave”.
Together Andrea and I taught Dad that if he asks for Hot Dog Cookies, he’s going to get them. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like Snickerdoodles with a slice of hot dog hidden inside.
I’m pretty sure he even ate one.
After that summer it was back to sporadic sightings of each other, but every time I saw Andrea, I was glad: our grandparent’s 50th anniversary, and later their 60th, family weddings and reunions. She even came to Minnesota for my wedding, and once, she came for work. My husband and I drove over to Rochester to see her that time, about three years ago. We had lunch and we talked about her cancer – briefly. It was easier to not talk about it. Easier to believe the doctor’s words that, while chronic, it shouldn’t be fatal.
That was bone cancer, I think…after the breast cancer and before the brain cancer. Before she couldn’t see to read, couldn’t walk, couldn’t play her piano. And it was before she got married, if I remember right. Andrea waited a long time to find the man who was perfect for her. She told us about him at my parent’s 50th anniversary, when we all met at the Washington coast to celebrate.
We were so happy for Andrea. They got married not too long afterwards. Two years ago? Three? Either way, it wasn’t long enough. Not long enough when you say your vows, believing that, “till death do us part” will still be a long way off, a distant and aged event you both can enter into, wrinkly and bent, but willing because you’ve led a good and long life.
She led a good life, yes. But not a long one.
It’s not fair. It’s all wrong.
The fingers that played are still. The voice that laughed is quiet. She told her family that she was looking forward to seeing her brother, also gone far too soon from a terrible disease. I think to even say such a thing was to acknowledge that she knew that hope, that intangible, wispy miasma, was gone.
Or, rather, is it this way? Was it hope which allowed her so say such a thing? Hope, faith, whatever you want to call it. She knew – as much as a human heart can – that she’d see her brother again someday because she knew Whom she had believed.
Faith in Jesus is what held Andrea together. When she wept, when she questioned “why”, when she cried out to Him that this was not what she wanted, it was faith and faith alone which enabled her to face death, knowing that it was not the end. It was merely a change in viewpoint. A new piece of sheet music upon her piano. A new word – or whole strings of words, of understanding – to add to her vocabulary.
“Where, oh death, is your victory? Where, oh death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55. The sting of death was destroyed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We will see Andrea again.