Celebrating lives

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer


It’s the season of saying goodbye. My sister-friends Elaine and Nicole celebrated their mother’s life this month, and immediately afterwards, their aunt’s.

That’s a lot for anyone to take in.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine wrote an important piece about holding space. I saw that in action this week, and I am forever changed because of it.

Elaine and I, friends since high-school, have long promised to be there for each other when our parents pass away. The magnitude of that promise impressed upon me this week as I did my best to fulfill my part of the deal. I flew home on short notice, and spent the week with my friend. I couldn’t be there for the funeral—something I regret—but I was there for the time afterwards, and I know it’s the time I was supposed to be there for.

As we packed up their mom’s apartment, it was a blessing to share that time with Elaine and her sister. There were many matter-of-fact moments, several tearful moments, and even some laugh-out-loud moments. This is the new normal for her, but she is a woman who believes in facing things head on. I respect that about her. There will be some emotionally wrought moments ahead for her, of course.

We’ve already discovered it isn’t the “big days” like Mother’s Day that inflict the most pain. It’s the unexpected sneak-up-on-you seconds that take your breath away—handing in medication to the pharmacy, turning over the apartment keys, holding a family ring.

Elaine and NicoleWhat joy to see Elaine and her sister-now-my-sister Nicole love each other in the process. I met Nicole when she was five or so. She’s a decade younger than Elaine, and I haven’t seen much of her since then. Now she is a beautiful woman, happily married, mom of two respectful young men. She loves generously, laughs freely. She was as concerned for me as I was for her, but she was grieving. Such graciousness in spirit is rare, but it is a trait she shares with Elaine. After spending just a few hours together, Nicole and I decided to adopt each other.

And that’s the thing about moments like these. Elaine and I have been friends forever. Her sister has always been her sister, someone I heard news about, but cared for from a distance.

This week, death shifted things.

Because of the timing, I had the unexpected blessing to share a Mother’s Day lunch with my mom, my sister and my niece. It’s good to be reminded these moments are precious and few even when—especially when—family dynamics are complicated.

Death shifted things, as it always does. I hadn’t expected to leave this week with the gift of new sisters, but I did. I couldn’t be more grateful.

We’re celebrating lives lived. And lives to be lived still.

5 thoughts on “Celebrating lives

  1. So glad, Crystal!! Oh you shared this story so poignantly. I could feel the optimism sweep over me. This years it was difficult because my nieces did their own thing and my sister, who always united us all, was gone. But my younger brother stepped in the gap and took my mother to dinner. My older brother and I bought her a cake and I bought her a flower. There were moments of floundering alone for me, but we all got through it. You are right. It’s the small things. It’s seeing liquid coconut oil (my sister used only coconut oil and we all knew it was summer when it liquefied). It’s feeling the sunshine and knowing how my sister would have loved it. It’s … my list could go on. 🙂 But having friends and family who are still here make it lovely, too. I held onto your last line: “We’re celebrating lives lived. And lives to be lived still.” It about sums it up. Thanks!

    1. Liquified coconut oil–you know what Amy? I’m always going to think of you now, when that happens. I’m so sorry for the floundering, friend.

  2. I can certainly understand your deep sadness and pain Crystal and Elaine. Just last week I had to sign a paper at the bank to close a joint account which I shared with my mother-in-law Vanna. As the lady from the bank laid the paper in front of me to sign, I suddenly felt tears fill my eyes and I couldn’t sign the paper right away. I had no clue I would react like this. The lady said “Take your time and left me alone in the room”. I thought to myself, this is the last time I will ever have the opportunity to help Vanna. I took it for granted and always helped Vanna without question. The lady returned and I slowly looked at the paper and signed it. As I stood up to leave the lady said “let me hug you” and proceeded to stand up and hold me as the tears dripped down my face. She reminded me Vanna was with God and I would see her again one day. How soothing. As I walked to the car I felt the pain and pressure of the moment slowly leaving. How many more of these moments will I feel as I reflect on the memories I have been blessed with. Many I hope.

    1. Oh Gail, what a kind woman she was. I know you miss Vanna very much, and I’ve heard you speak of her wish such love.

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