Recently my sister Donna passed from this temporal life into life eternal, unfortunately I was not able to be at her bedside when this transition took place. At first this grieved me but then I remembered the death and new life of our relationship and how it evolved into a relationship of love, understanding and transparency.
As children we were always attempting to rule one another, she the older sister, I the strong willed younger brother who would not listen to her or bend to her will. This may seem like ordinary sibling rivalry but it went much deeper. On my end it became competitive and eventually prideful. We had skirmishes, battles and at times outright war. I believed I knew what was best and I was right, often the most deadly form of arguments, to be right but forgetting about the damages it can bring to a relationship. As we grew older we tolerated each other at best and were never really comfortable with discussing anything of any real substance. At times you could feel viscerally the cold that ran between us, it was sad. I lacked hope of it ever getting better and I despaired believing my relationship with her would be like this forever. Why couldn’t our relationship be like the Cleavers or the Walton’s, I would think.
In the mid nineteen nineties I entered a monastery to be formed as a Benedictine Monk. One evening I decided I would write my sister a letter thanking her for being supportive in my discernment to enter the monastery. Donna said, “I am surprised it took you this long, I remember you desired to do this since you were in your teens.” Although Donna and my relationship was strained she encouraged me in this as she knew it was an invitation that ran deep. My desk faced a solid brick wall and as I began to write I felt a heaviness on my chest as though the wall of bricks were going to cave in on me, I began to weep uncontrollably. Then without warning a soft, still voice stirred my heart and it whispered, “You are to ask forgiveness of your sister for the following things.” The list seemed endless and I did not believe I could do it but that voice spoke gently, directly and with grace. I began to recollect and to write. I asked forgiveness for never taking the time to listen to her, for being mouthy and sassy, disagreeing with her even when I did not understand the entire rational of her decisions and or her opinions, dismissing her, judging her and never taking her advice believing, I knew better. After I finished listing my offenses I once again heard that still, small voice, ‘You are also to say to your sister who she really is, a woman of mercy and compassion and where you have observed it.” I had noticed it many times throughout my life but I chose to be blind to it as I was full of pride. It was when she took care of her friend Kathy when she was dying of cancer and gave to the poor, opened her home and made people feel welcomed. It were the times she would sacrifice for others so they would have more and be comforted. In closing I wrote, “It is in fact you who have demonstrated the love of Christ through the years by your actions. May I in these coming days, months and years be able to do the same. What?! I thought I was the Christian, I was the example of good life. In fact it was my sister who in the words of St. Francis lived, “Preach the Gospel and if you must, use words.” Donna did not use words, she used acts of service, that was her way of speaking the Good News.
The next day, early in the morning I went to mail that letter to Donna. As I went to place it in the mailbox I heard, “What are you crazy? Intimacy is not one of your family values!” I came from a traditional Irish Catholic family mixed with Scottish stoicism and with that comes not discussing difficult subjects nor showing your emotions in public. The quieter, deeper voice, the voice of the heart said, “That is your false self speaking, the true self, which is the spirit that dwells so richly within you inspired that letter. If you mail this letter I will bring healing and restoration to your family, what do you choose to do this day?” I was floored and before I had a second to think about it I let go of that letter and dropped it in the mailbox.
Over twenty years went by and Donna and I never spoke about that letter but our relationship was transformed! It became open, supportive and we listened to one another. We even followed each others suggestions and leaned on one another in challenging times. In her I found both wisdom and consolation. I could have never dreamt this was possible. It brought healing and restoration to us and it trickled down to other members of our family. Where there was once glacial interaction there was now a sense of warmth and acceptance, a sensitivity of understanding and awareness of support even when maybe, just maybe we did not agree.
When Donna was invited home to our Creator I knew there was nothing left unsaid between us, there were no grievances but rather forgiveness, healing and restoration and in that the fruit of understanding, love and profound peace. I was able to wish her a blessed journey and knew that she would be there, on the other side of the veil to greet me so we could be at home, once again with each other and those who have gone before us.