Writer's Workshop: Life's Unexpected Lessons

When I was younger, I loved the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I loved reading stories written by other people close to my age, and reading about other people's life experiences. Some happy, some sad, some in between. I never finished the whole book, though, because there was a chapter I always skipped. It was "On Death & Dying". A couple of times I tried to read through a few stories in that chapter, and I couldn't do it. I couldn't comprehend what it would feel like to lose someone close to you. I didn't want to think about depressing things like cancer, or tragic accidents, or death in general. Little did I know that this ignorance wouldn't last forever. Unfortunately, you can't skip over the "death and dying" chapter in your own life story.

A few weeks ago, a sorority sister of mine passed away unexpectedly. She was a new member, a freshman on campus this year, so I only knew her for about 2 weeks. She was sick; she had been fighting Scleroderma for several years, but was finally healthy enough to come to college; her biggest wish. She was the sister of a good friend of mine's (also a sorority sister) boyfriend who is also a friend of mine, so I had met her once before she came to school here. We all knew she was sick; it was discussed when we were deciding whether or not she would be a member of this house, but she didn't let that define her, so neither did we.

One night, she was having trouble breathing and feeling weak, so she asked her brother to take her to the hospital. It was not unusual for her to have to check into the hospital and get fluids and assistance breathing, so we didn't realize how serious it was when we heard. Early the next morning, she passed away.

The next day, we were all woken up really early in the morning and told to go to the basement. It was there we were told she had passed away. Obviously, we were all sad. Although we had only known her for a short time, she was one of our sisters, and that is an instant bond. I was sad for my friend who was so close with her. I was sad for her brother who is one of the nicest guys I've ever met and would do anything for his sister. Sad for their family. But, I didn't cry. I had only known her for a short time, so it was hard for me to mourn someone I felt like I barely knew.

Later in the week was the visitation, and then the funeral. It was decided that we would sing at her visitation one of our sorority songs in honor of her. I really wanted to be a part of this, so I decided to ride down to St. Louis with a couple sisters and attend the visitation. I have been fortunate enough to not have experienced many visitations before; I've been to maybe two in my 20 years of life, for my great-grandparents, so I didn't really know what to expect. When I walked into the room, there were pictures of Lyndsey everywhere, there were people standing in line to pay their respects to her body, and the open cascet.

All of the sudden, it hit me. I felt an overwhelming sadness, and I could not stop thinking this could easily be my sister. As I watched Lyndsey's friends hug Ryan, her brother, and cry, I suddenly saw myself in his shoes. I imagined Anna's friends paying their respects to her, heartbroken. I couldn't breathe. A year ago, a funeral or a  visitation would have never affected me this way. But in November of last year, everything changed because my sister was sick. And after that I didn't know how much longer I would have my sister with me. After that, I could no longer experience or even read about death without thinking of my sister and her fight for her life.

The more I heard about Lyndsey at the funeral and from my sorority sister and her boyfriend, the more she reminded me of my sister. Even my best friend told me that Lyndsey and Anna reminded her of each other. They are both fighters; Neither of them questioned "why me?", they just did what they had to do in order to not be sick anymore. They are positive, and mature, and have such an amazing outlook on life because of what they've been through. It made it that much harder to deal with someone you know dieing when I looked at her and thought of my sister. When we heard she was in the hospital, I was comforting my friend who was really close with her. We talked about how Lyndsey and Anna were chosen for a reason; because they are fighters. I hate to see another fighter lose their battle, because it reminds me that my sister could lose hers, too.

I am lucky that my sister is still here, and healthy now. But sometimes those thoughts still creep up, no matter how much you try to stop them: "how much longer will she be here?" "how much longer can she stay healthy without chemo?" "What would I do without her in my life?". The truth is, I don't know the answers to these questions. I wish I did, but I have to accept that that is part of what happens when you love someone who is sick.

For now, I just carry with me every day the lessons I have learned from Lyndsey and Anna. I don't take life for granted, and I try not to let little things get me down. People have bigger battles to fight, and Lyndsey and Anna did it with smiles on their faces. I would have never guessed that losing someone I didn't know that well could have affected me so deeply, but it did. As a constant reminder of what I've learned from them and that they are fighters, I rock my "Pray 4 Anna" and "For Lyndsey" bracelets every day. It's my way of showing the outer world that they are always on my mind.

"Pray 4 Anna" and "For Lyndsey, Forever an Alpha Chi"bracelets.

I wish that I could skip over the chapter in my life of "death and dying." I wish I could even read ahead to the end of the book to answer the questions I have. But, I can't. And if I had skipped the chapter, I wouldn't be who I am today. You never know when life is gonna throw you a lesson, and a reminder to be strong for the people you love.

This post is part of Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. I used the prompt "In the book I’m reading,Girls of Tender Age,the main character is deeply affected by the murder of a childhood friend. Describe a tragedy you didn’t expect to be as deeply affected by as you are."

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bloomedinjune said...

your right, you can't skip over the "Death and Dying" chapter of your life. it really does make you who you are. i'm really sorry about your sorority sister passing away and i'll be be praying for her family.

i'll also be praying for your sister as well,-who i hope continues to fight her battle :)

Audreya said...

The timing of this post means a lot to me. I recently lost a fairly friend (a pilot for a medical helicopter that crashed on the way to pick up a victim of a wreck)... I've lost a grandparent, I've lost other relatives I cared about, I've lost schoolmates... but this was the first death that just really broke my heart and proved I can't skip the Death and Dying chapter either. And, like you said, we're not meant to. It's part of the fabric that makes each of us. It's hard to go through but somehow manages to make us stronger.

And many prayers for your sister, too!!

PS: The mosquito who bit me while I was typing this is about to be hunted down and face his own Death and Dying chapter. Ugh!

Lexi said...

I, too, loved the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. That last chapter was always a tough one... I had heard of Lyndsay's passing through other AXO's. I'm proud of you and your sisters for making the trip to show her family how much she meant to you. I'm also proud that you recognized that she didn't let her illness define her so you wouldn't either. That's a lot to realize for a group of 20 year olds. We're all praying for you! LITB

Rebecca Louise. said...

How devastating that she passed away but what a fantastic sisterhood you have to go an pay your respects :)

We can never skip death and dying in our lives - whatever age. I am so glad you appreciate life and what it is fulfilled with. Your bound to have those thoughts but always remember Anna fought her battle and she is here with us today because of it. And that is just so amazing! :)

Carina the Blogarina said...

Great post Patrice! I thought you did some really strong writing here. I'm so sorry for your loss, even though you didn't know her very well it's normal to be sad. And I can see why you would dry that parallel to your sister. At our age it's so rare when people die that it makes such a strong impact. I wouldn't think about how "she didn't win" the battle, because that means she lost. She is still a fighter, even if she passed. There was this Norwegian blogger, who blogged about her cancer and she was very aware about just this. When she got the news that she wasn't going to beat it, she kept saying that she was still a fighter. And that she hadn't lost the battle, because it wasn't like she hadn't fought as hard as the ones who survive. Now that she has passed, maybe just passed on the torch for a while and are stilling fighting the battle in a different way guarding over other sick young people, like you're sister:)

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