In my mind’s eye, she is larger than life – clear blue eyes still laughing, no more wrinkles than she had when she died at 28. While my own eyes have started to crinkle and form lines in the corners, she is still eternally young. While I peer anxiously at my roots to search for gray hairs or smooth work-worn hands over hips gone soft from two children, she remains eternally beautiful.
And even though it’s been eight years since she died in 2005, I still talk to her when I’m all alone.
Just like New Orleans is still rebuilding its city eight years after Hurricane Katrina swept through; I’m still rebuilding my heart after the loss of my own dear sister Katrina.
There are parts of me that know that she’s gone. The rational part that knows that life and death are equal halves of the same coin; the emotional part that held her soft, manicured hands in her final moments, who whispered brokenly: It’s ok. You can go. I love you. The part of me that knows that she was meant for something more.
The ultimate act of unselfishness is to let someone go, even when we are desperate for them to stay. But the reality of letting go is a mirror for us of the love God has for us, proven by sending his son to earth, knowing he would die. Not from terminal illness or cancer, a heart attack or stroke, but from something as common and as devastating as sin.
I can’t explain it, exactly. But the legacy my sister left was the same one Jesus has bequeathed us, his children: Love. And eternal life. So when my oldest daughter proudly tells me her full name — Elise Katrina — and she asks me, for perhaps the hundredth time, who Katrina was — I have the chance to tell her about the auntie who lives in Heaven with Jesus, who we’ll see again someday.
And in the evening, as I get the baby ready for bed, I sing a song that rises up from memories of days at First Baptist Church, wooden pews and worn carpet, voices singing as one while the piano plays. Noelle pauses her constant stream of babble as I start to sing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”:
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.
When I reach the final verse, my heart stutters, throat closing and eyes tearing up. But as my daughter smiles at me, I catch my breath and smile, too, the pain and the pleasure of life mingled as they so often are.
When we asunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.