Last night we learned that my sister-in-law, Virginia, has terminal cancer. They’ve put her on hospice care and given her 3 to 6 weeks to live.
As I’ve been struggling to come to grips with this, it’s struck me how we say such nice things about people after they’re dead, but we don’t think to tell them those same things when they’re alive. Although this diagnosis is a blow, it does give us time to say important things to someone we love. So, my dear sister Virginia, this is for you.
I fell in love with my husband before I even knew who he was. It sounds odd, I know, but it was during a candlelight Christmas celebration at our church. We were in a circle, the lights were off, and we were all holding candles and taking turns talking about our most special Christmas. My future husband talked about the Christmas after his father died, when he was 10 years old. I couldn’t see who was speaking, but I found him fascinating, and hoped to get to know him better. His story was my first introduction to the odd and wonderful family that I married into.
My husband was born into a Georgia family that didn’t want him and made little effort to keep him alive. When his great aunt and uncle visited, they were shocked by his condition and took him home with them, quickly adopting him as their own. They brought him home and Virginia, grown and with children of her own, helped to give him his first bath. She described his bloated belly to me, the cradle cap that covered him from head to toe, and the way that they struggled to get the weakened infant to eat. To Virginia, my husband became both little brother and beloved son, the relationship just one of those odd things that happen in our broken world.
Virginia and her family lived fairly close to my husband and his new parents. He adored her youngest son, his nephew, and followed him like a puppy. His older nephew introduced him to fast cars and white lightning—fortunately, fast cars were the only one he developed a taste for. When my husband’s parents died, his father when he was 10 and his mother when he was 14, the recently widowed Virginia knew he needed firmer guidance than she could provide, and he was taken in by his brother and sister-in-law. She never stopped feeling guilty about it, though.
A stint in the Army brought my husband across the country to me. Eventually, he wanted to introduce me to his family. I was nervous, but they couldn’t have been more kind and gracious. They took me to their fish camp on Lake Altoona and Virginia taught me how to fry catfish. We played cards around the dining room table and laughed about our cultural differences—the Arizona girl and the Southerners coming to understand each other. Virginia took everything so seriously that she was painfully easy to tease. I had to be careful to be on my best behavior so as not to give offense. That didn’t stop her husband, Bill, from teasing me at every opportunity, though!
Throughout our marriage and all the attendant trials, Virginia has been unfailingly kind. She told me all the growing-up stories that I would have heard from my husband’s mother had I had the privilege of meeting her. She shared pictures and mementoes, entrusting me with things from her mother, trying to help me understand my husband’s life from another point of view. She was always gentle, always generous, always gracious. She never gave advice, never judged. We were never able to visit enough, but we stayed in her heart and her prayers regardless of distance.
I love you, Virginia and I will miss you. Thank you for your unconditional love for me. I promise to take care of your boy for you. Go with God.