Early on in life we all come to have certain expectations about the way things are supposed to be. There is an order to things. This we know. We learn this through observation, generally, and experience too. The sun rises in the east. Ace trumps king. Easter comes after Christmas. Chromium (Cr) comes before iridium (Ir) on the periodic table, and tomorrow is another day. All these things we know.
We also discover, in good time, that in life there are many surprises—the vast wisdom of our parents, our children’s stage-3 narcissism, marriage after kids, grown-ups do not enjoy neither the freedom, nor the liberty, the average child imagines we do—that catch us flatfooted, that make us rethink our positions. These things take time to learn, but we learn them nonetheless.
Still, we tackle our days with a mutual confidence, by and large, that events in life will unfold just as we imagine they ought to, just as they’re supposed to, for each of our family members and our friends—with auspicious outcomes. This prejudice is only natural, because it is human nature, after all, to live if as if things will end well. Imagine the alternative.
Likewise we take for granted that all in the family will be hale and hearty, together again, for the next holiday wingding. To greet, hug, and share in the next episode of nearest and dearest merrymaking.
Sadly, however, life does not always move forward as it should, as we would like it to. And though life is a delight in many respects, it’s suffering too, and tons of it. This we know, and we needn’t look far to see evidence of it.
And so it is with my family these days. Suffering that is. My youngest sister, Amy, 42, died last month, unexpectedly, and in a hail of confusion and disbelief—leaving behind a drove of punch-drunk relatives and one confused eight-year-old son. Wait what? There was still much for her to do, not the least of which was to adore, care for, and fret over her son, Adam, to rear him up, into a man—that he was owed. That he deserved. In the end our loss is great…but his loss is enormous.
Her death smarts in numerous ways, but mostly it just challenges my understanding of the order of things. It’s events like this that tend to give one extended thought to the very purpose of it all. Thus my assumptions and expectations, my understanding and beliefs, have all been turned upside down by this grim event. Losing your baby sister can do this you see, and it has. So, little makes sense at the moment.
And never in life will I have an experience that contains such earnest sobriety as the one in which I observed my sister take her last breath, a wilted cessation, and pass—gone forever. That was big. That is something I shall never forget. Because it is only in death that we discover the supreme finale, it is, after all, irrevocable.
And though my sister is not the first loss my family has experienced, regrettably, as the youngest and the most buoyant, she was indeed the most unlikely. Had I know her time here was to be so brief, or that our time together was to be so limited, I surely would have made more of it. I would have taken her to lunch, or for coffee, at least once this past year. I didn’t. Had I known all of this I’d have spent more time valuing her many qualities, enjoying her eccentricities. I didn’t.
So yes, there is and order to things. This we know. But in this case my sister died out of order…before her parents, before her older siblings. This is not the way it is supposed to be. My youngest sister, Amy, was supposed kiss us goodbye, to cry for our loss, to make our final arrangements…not the other way around.
And so while we’re planning away, as we do, making assumptions aplenty about how our own time in this life, and that of our loved ones, will play out, we’d all do well to chew on the gravelly assurance that circumstances can change in a jiffy.