A week ago, my little sister passed away in her sleep. Sarah was 30 years old. The last week has obviously come with much reflection.
Growing up, Sarah and I had our typical brother/sister quarrels. That's what kids do. But we also had lots of fun together. When we were probably aged 6 and 3, we used to play a game called "truck." She'd sit on the couch with her legs straight out, and I'd grab her feet and pull as hard as I could to get her off the couch. She’d land straight down on her rear, and I’d proven my strength. She was never able to pull me off the couch. I remember her betting me I couldn’t hit her finger with my drumstick. I quickly won that bet, and we never did that again. I remember our parents having to put a piece of tape in the center of the backseat of the car to mark a barrier neither sibling could cross, as we traveled cross-country for 2 weeks. To this day, I still say she crossed to my side on occasion.
We both grew up musicians, thankful years later for the piano lessons forced upon us both. She was always a better pianist than I. She went on to play violin, flute and saxophone, but her real love eventually became the bass guitar. I remember sitting in as drummer for her band, as she and friends rehearsed a live rendition of “Spider Webs” by No Doubt for the high school talent show. I still remember countless hours of listening to her playing her bass in her room to all of her favorite heavy metal bands. She had a particular (and understandable, I might add) love for Metallica. We both “cut our teeth,” so to speak, on Metallica’s music. We even played together, at times.
We both saw our first live concerts together. Van Halen and Def Leppard, two different shows. We also saw Collective Soul and a few other shows together. We were both equally floored to learn we were related to “Head,” the guitarist for Korn. Meeting him at his parents’ house was like meeting a childhood hero for her. She’d later go on to see Korn several more times, once getting VIP passes that she bragged about for weeks.
When Tanya and I married, Sarah was so excited to have a sister. She loved Tanya as though she’d been a sister since birth. It wasn’t until this week that I would recognize this as probably her greatest strength, accepting others. More on that, later.
When Sarah became a part of the professional world, she shined yet again. In her short time as a writer for the Reedley Exponent newspaper, she showed her award-winning writing skills to be as abundant as her musical ability. She was very proud of this, having saved several of her pieces as personal keepsakes.
In more recent years, our siblinghood matured into a spiritual relationship. Sarah began to see the new peace, joy and life I had through faith in Jesus. I will always distinctly remember her asking me “If God chooses who to make happy, why hasn’t he chosen me to be happy like you and Tanya?” That was a tough question, but became the opening of the door to her very own salvation, which came a little later. We were so excited to give Sarah her own Bible for Christmas in 2004. Only a few years later did the evidence of those planted seeds maturing come into view. In the last couple of years, Sarah was more outspoken about her faith, and specifically in a Savior Jesus. When she moved back to our area, she began attending church regularly with us. Paige enjoyed being able to wake Sarah every Sunday morning by jumping on top of her, putting her face 6 inches in front of Sarah’s, and asking very loudly, “Auntie Sarah! Are you awake?!” The answer was almost always “Well, I am now,” with a big smile.
Auntie Sarah was very vocal about her love for Paige and Eli. Eli played a huge part in Sarah overcoming her anxiety. While he was still in the hospital, Sarah built up the mental toughness to break so many barriers that had recently burdened her. 1. She drove on the freeway. 2. She did it at night. 3. She allowed herself to be a passenger in a car. 4. She rode in an elevator to an upper level in the hospital. She often shared the story about when Paige asked “Daddy, why are we going so slow?” because I actually maintained the speed limit, bringing Sarah up to the hospital to see Eli. Sarah immediately burst into laughter at the well-received distraction, as she tried with all her might to hold back tears of anxiety. The corridor to Eli’s section of the hospital was very long, and was solid windows on one side. As Sarah ran her hand along the wall on the opposite side of the corridor, she asked “Why do these corridors have to be so long?”
I will always remember her saying with such strong conviction “I will NOT allow my anxiety to keep me away from my precious nephew. I’m GOING to see him.”
This became an obvious turning point in Sarah’s life. Only weeks later would she quit her Bakersfield job, and move back up to Fresno, to see family she hadn’t seen in 4 years. Her newly found joy in her victory from Bakersfield and all that time in her life represented was apparent to all. She moved in with our aunt and uncle, her bedroom on the second floor. Only days before she passed, she leaned over the loft railing, declaring to our aunt, “Look! It doesn’t bother me any more!.” She would share in social networking circles “I’d forgotten what joy felt like. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.” Sarah was in a better place mentally and emotionally than she’d ever been in her life.
I’ll always remember having lunch with her only a few weeks ago, while she was still in Bakersfield. She told me “You know, I’m 30 years old, and I’m tired of living like this. I’m an adult now. It’s time for me to start moving forward. I don’t want to be this person any more. I want to be with family. I want to be with Eli and Paige.” She spoke of plans including going back to school to get her nursing degree.
Just as everything started looking up… she was gone.
Reading her friends share their own stories about Sarah, I’ve begun to have my own realizations. I’m disappointed that it took her death and seeing through other people’s eyes for me to examine Sarah’s life closely enough to recognize its real worth. If I were to single out just one piece of Sarah that I will always remember, it will be her acceptance and love. Sarah accepted anyone, just as they were. She was genuine, empathetic, loving and completely accepting. She would take people into her heart whose values completely differed from her own, and she would love them.
I have found myself wondering what sort of woman she would have been at 40, or 50, or 60 years old. I think she might have been a little eccentric, certainly joyful, and still armed with a wit as sharp as a tack. While I certainly miss her deeply, I take great comfort in knowing she knew Jesus before she died, and is already spending the rest of eternity with Him. I am also so greatly appreciative of what she has taught me, a true love for anyone, no matter their story. I am a better person because of her. All of us are.