Tag Archives: story

A Sister-in-Law’s Goodbye

My sister-in-law died in Wisconsin last Saturday. Today we buried her in the cemetery within walking distance of my home in Virginia.

Husband returns to the family from quarantine tomorrow. He drove to an assisted living home in Wisconsin the day before Thanksgiving to be with his sister for ten minutes to say goodbye, fully protected in PPE. We knew this would mean no Thanksgiving together and days of self-quarantined separation following.

She died of Covid-19.

Steve held her hand and stroked her forehead. He spoke words that only a protective brother has for a beloved sister at the end of life.

Stories are complex, and theirs is not mine to tell. But I can tell mine.

I met Kris in June, 1987. I was barely sixteen and had my first real boyfriend. He was cute and funny and had the best eyes and smile. He was also shy and blushed easily. I knew he liked me for who I was, and that was important. I was a treasure, not a conquest, and I felt that from him.

Newly allowed to date boys, this was the boy I chose. We dated on Wednesdays and then once on the weekend. This was our weekend time together.

He picked me up in his blue Chevette for a drive around Northern Virginia to whatever adventure we had planned. Maybe the mall, a park, or a subway ride down to Washington, DC. Anything was an adventure as long as we were together with music playing and the windows rolled down.

This was the fun, new, getting to know you more stage of our relationship, and I loved it.

I knew he had two older brothers, but on this particular day he shared about his sister.

I have an older sister, too. She is six years older than me.

Cool!

She has Down Syndrome.

Oh.

In this 1987, pre-internet, pre-inclusiveness, pre-awareness of anything different from normal, I had no frame of reference for this disclosure of his, only that my response felt important. I played it cool and listened further.

She lives in a group home in Wisconsin with other kids like her.

Big exhale. Ok. Now I had space to process this foreign, important data. My new, hope to be long-term, boyfriend had thrown me a curveball, but there was time for me to maneuver and get into place to catch it. His sister was far away, hundreds of miles away, and I did not have to engage with her right now.

Wow. That’s awesome.

Would you want to meet her sometime?

This question felt big. Heavy. Loaded. Important. Inside the thought terrified me. But there was time. She was far away in Wisconsin, and I would cross that bridge when it came. I was speeding toward the bridge and had no idea.

Sure! That would be great!

I smiled confidently, eager to see what fun thing we were about to do.

She’s home for summer break now. Do you want to drive over to my house and meet her?

Right now?

Panic inside. Wait, what? Now? My confidence melted, enthusiasm waned. I knew this was an important moment. I really liked this boy, and he wanted me to meet someone special to him. I had just masked my fear with over-enthusiasm, and to back out would be disingenuous. A quick check of the internal scales brought my continued enthusiastic response.

Sure!

I hoped the insecurity I felt inside wasn’t registering on my face. I literally had no idea of what to expect. What was a person with Down Syndrome like? How do I act and respond to her?

We entered his suburban, split level house, and I saw his sister, Kris. Jet black hair, bracelets on her wrists, and a grin from ear to ear as Steve introduced me.

Kris, this is Julie.

Hi, Julie! What’s the time?

It’s 11:00.

Two weeks?

Steve informed me that this is what she said about going back to school, since her break was two weeks long. It meant she was going back to school in two weeks.

Yes, two weeks. You get to go back to school in two weeks.

I like you, Julie. You’re cute.

You’re cute, too, Kris. I like you.

What’s the time?

It’s 11:05.

I soon learned that What’s the time? was one of her standard questions, though she didn’t have an orientation to time and just lived in the present moment. Any fears I had quickly dispelled as I engaged with this delightful young adult woman who eventually became my sister-in-law.

Tears fill my eyes as I write this. Unexpectedly I am caught off guard by a wave of emotion as I remember younger Julie and younger Kris meeting each other for the first time, not knowing what was ahead for them. I feel their innocence and hope.

My heart aches for all three of the young people in that room.

That’s my brother! You’re cute, Steve. I like you, Julie.

The look on Steve’s face spoke it all. Kris liked me, I liked her, and whatever came next, we had this moment.

Goodbye, Dear Kris. Thank you for introducing me to the beauty of the different in such a gentle, playful way, and for loving your brother so well so that he could love me and our family better. You are so very missed.

Meet Kris here and be sure to read through the memories and comments for the most complete picture of the delight that was Kristin Lynne McClay.

Preamble to a Grief

It’s Friday morning. I set a 20 minute timer to write here, just for myself, to share with those who care to read. By the time you see this it will be afternoon. Or days, weeks, months later.

I feel a need to preamble, which I do now. This is important, because it lays ground rules and understanding and expectation, so I do not have to keep clarifying or explaining myself in the future.

Often when working with a client I will say, Let’s just write up (or simply name and pretend to write) the preamble of all of the good things and all the ways you are thankful and all the ways your parents loved you and all of the ways God is good (if they are a person of faith), etc….Now let’s talk about how there are still hard things and there is grief and your parents were human and we don’t always understand God and you were still harmed.

That helps us to jump right in with the basic assumptions that we don’t have to rehash every time something new surfaces.

I do that here with my current situation.

I am grateful. My parents loved me. Real Jesus is present. For reasons I can’t understand, I still have faith.

AND

I am grieving. My parents failed me. False Jesus was presented as judging me.

AND

I am seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living even as death lurks in the shadows. Redemption is near, close, beautiful. The hope of glory makes this present suffering bearable.

It is from this place that I write and remember and process.

I have deep support in the form of loving siblings, extended family, and friends.

We have laid such a deep foundation of healing work together, that in the midst of the ache and the grief we also find laughter and hope. Even in dying there is deep life.

I know it sounds strange, but it’s true.

As I write and share my experience here on the blog, it is from a place of deep grief and heartache, yet not from despair.

Infrastructure has been built and put into place over this past decade of my life specifically to carry me through this season. It is both brutal and beautiful to behold.

To understand more, I invite you to read this post that I wrote two summers ago for Red Tent Living.

This is the preamble for what is to come, however it looks. You don’t have to agree with or understand me. You don’t have to believe the same way I do to listen, lean in, and learn from my story.

I do ask for kindness.

Always kindness.

To my story and to yours.

Happy Decade Day

Someone special begins a new decade of life today!

Her heart holds its stories close
Every so often one
Rises to the surface to be

Noticed and told
And she shares it, laughter
Mingled with curiosity
Excusing the format of

Ink penned words
Scratched on the back of

Cut paper
And not exactly written as a
Real story
Yet shared authentically
Not stopping until the end

And I get the gift of
Noticing more of the woman
Destined to be my mother

Still growing, learning, curious
Holding much in a heart that
Expands to reach those she

Loves
I long to know more of the
Kindness inside and how she
Endured hardships and
Struggles to arrive at the place she is now

But those are her treasures to share
I love her and
Remain curious to
Discover more of who
She is as she enters a new decade of life.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I hope this decade is your best one, yet!!!!!




Christmas Morning

I woke Christmas morning to quiet. Thoughts filled my head. Words filled my heart. Leaning over the bedside, I pulled the laptop from it’s place on my nightstand shelf.

Propping up on pillows, I opened it and began composing. The bedroom door cracked, my husband doing his signature peek to see if I was awake from my sleep.

Do you think you will be long? Everyone is waiting for you in the living room.

Of course they were! In a classic move of having words come to me at the worst time, I closed the laptop, replaced it on the nightstand shelf, and eased my way out of bed.

Wrapping in a cozy robe, I exited to the living room, where a combination of excited and sleepy faces awaited my arrival.

The month of December has been full of celebration. From the first weekend when our eldest and her husband came to celebrate with us, to the weekend before Christmas when my son and his wife visited, we have eaten no fewer than three Christmas breakfasts and as many dinners.

Programs, concerts, gift exchanges, parties, and the wedding of a friend’s son filled the days leading up to the big one. Shopping, wrapping, tending to individuals occupied my time. Christmas cards still being worked on were intentionally set aside until the days after Christmas.

Christmastide.

This brought me to Christmas morning and all of the words in my head and people around the tree. Two adult children and the four still at home greeted me with various levels of excitement and exhaustion written on their faces.

I knew they had been up together late into the night playing games in one younger sibling’s room, sleeping over together in another. The one sharing his room slept downstairs by the light of the Christmas tree, keeping his own tradition.

All of this worked itself out without my planning or control over bedding and beds and sleeping arrangements.

I’ll take care of it, Mama. Don’t worry, adult daughter said. And she did. I went to bed, slept soundly, and woke thinking I could write while everyone was still sleeping when they were all quietly waiting for me in the living room.

This is how I know change has come.

We weren’t awake late into the night trying to settle small children into their beds and startled awake early in the morning to excited knocking on our door. The excitement, while present, was more contained and less explosive.

Present.

Contained.

Less explosive.

These word choices reveal work that has been taking place in my heart and the hearts of those in my home. Learning to be more present. Helping to contain and handle strong feelings. Revisiting and repairing places of rupture with adult children. Revisiting and repairing places of rupture in my own heart.

I woke to words from my story, the story of a younger self, the last Christmas spent with my family before marriage. It was the self of 20, the age of my youngest adult. The words in my head were spoken by a sibling, 13, the age of one of my own.

I have a clear visual of these ages and more context than ever, which is why I think the words came so loudly and clearly. It is why they came with kindness for those present in the scene.

I am still coming close to late-teenage me. From ages 16 to 20 is a painful blur in my story, beginning with a move following the Christmas of ’87 and punctuated with the words,

We’re not having Christmas this year. We’re having a wedding, Younger Sibling, 13, Christmas ’91.

I was married on January 4, 1992.

Christmas and the season surrounding it holds much for me. There is loss and grief and struggle and joy. There are heavy places in my story with Christmas, places even nostalgia can’t reach.

I didn’t write on Christmas Day. I spent time with the family, soaked in the tub, and took a nap. I spent moments on an unexpected phone call with a friend. I hugged adults goodbye and found presents that had not been wrapped in the excitement and passed them out and played a board game.

I watched Elf and went for a walk after dark to look at the neighborhood lights. I fed my parents’s cats. I brewed a cup of Sleepytime tea with my husband, choosing to end the night with tea and reading instead of wine and more eating.

It was a kind choice. As is this early morning writing time two days later. Little by little, step by step, things are changing, have changed. (Yes, do click on that link.)

It is a good gift.

Merry Christmastide, Friends!