sand [ sand ] 1. material made of tiny grains: a substance consisting of fine loose grains of rock or minerals, usually quartz fragments, found on beaches, in deserts, and in soil, sometimes used as a building material
My beginning was in 1972 and not my own for long. A sister came into the picture four years later. She was a spit-fire named Amanda. We grew up in Georgia with magnolia trees, humidity, and church. It seems like as long as I can remember, we were at church. Church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Monday nights, Wednesday nights, and even Saturdays. This was our own safe world. I grew up knowing that God made me and loved me. My entire life I have never questioned that. I have questioned the path he chose for me, but not that I am his child. I thank my parents for raising me with faith and the ability to call on God at any moment.
Even though I had this understanding, my life was not perfect. There were always tiny grains of self-doubt. I often felt like an outsider. I tried to fade into the background in social situations, because I was an easy target to tease.
The summer before my seventh grade year, we moved to a rural suburb of Atlanta. My parents planned for us to transition from private school to public. This was culture shock for me. I knew almost no secular music, had always worn uniforms or dresses to school, and most of my class sizes had been less than fifteen.
I think I cried almost every day of my seventh grade year. The kids had all been together since kindergarten, and I did not look like a typical southern girl. Summer time had been filled with days at the pool and no sunscreen. I inherited the ability to become extremely tan from my Hungarian grandmother, so I started a new school looking quite brown. My eyes are dark brown and my dark hair had a fresh, stylish perm. So, I think the kids were not quite sure which group I should fit in to. The white kids thought I was black. The black kids thought I might be bi-racial but pretended not to be. It was 1985 in rural Georgia, so there were hightened racial tensions.
As the school year progressed, I made some friends and joined the Drama Club. The middle school plays allowed me to belong to a group, but it also gave others more ammuntion to tease me. Some of these incidents are still tucked away in the recesses of my mind. In the hallway one day, a group of girls put a price sticker on my back. One of them poked me and said, “Twenty-five cents? I wouldn’t pay twenty-five cents for you!” In class one day a boy told me I was the ugliest girl in the whole school. Another girl put a sign on my back that read, “Kick me, I am chunkarian!” I think she couldn’t spell Hungarian. Maybe all middle schoolers experience this kind of teasing. I pray that many do not.
My sister never encountered this. She was beautiful and funny. We could walk into any store and the clerks would notice her immediately. People were drawn to her. I regret that I was jealous. At that time I did not realize that I had many more years to command attention. Amanda did not.
Amanda was 10 years old when she went to Heaven. It had been a little over a year after she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. That year was full of hospital stays for her and my parents. Our lives were turned upside down. No longer were we concerned with dance classes or slumber parties. It was all about chemotherapy appointments and blood cell counts. I watched my vibrant sister swell from steroids, scream in agony if anyone touched her, and then become excruciatingly thin. She looked like a little old man. We used to put on plays, dress up, giggle, swim, and play. My sister was fading, and nothing I said or did could bring her back.
My parents chose to bring her home when the doctors told them the cancer had spread. Amanda was in a hospital bed in the front room attached to an IV. Nurses would come to check on her daily. My parents, grandparents, and family friends would be at her bedside daily to pray and read her scriptures. She began to hallucinate from the medicine. She spoke of opening the door to let Jesus in and angels surrounding us. It was always apparent that she was a special child of God. Her heart was to pray for others before herself. She was amazingly strong. In her short ten years, she did more to bring others to the Lord than most of us will in our entire lives.
I was there when she took her last breath. It all happened so fast. She would gasp and then moments would pass before another gasp. Eventually, they ceased. The doctor came to pronounce her dead. The funeral home came to take her body. I was angered that they covered her with a sheet before she even left our house. My chance to say goodbye was gone. It was very surreal for me as a 14 year old. My heart was breaking, but I needed to be strong for my parents. I did not want to make them sadder. Why had God let Amanda die and not me?
Her funeral was called a celebration. It was filled with music and words of encouragement. One of the songs was “Angels all Around Me” by the Bill Gaither Trio.
The lyrics seemed so true. She always knew that she was surrounded with God’s love. Amanda was no longer in pain, had gone to be with Jesus, and was in a place where she could dance and twirl. My truth was that I was left on earth with no sister and alone. It was bizarre to see the faces of people in agony, streaming with tears. Why couldn’t I cry? Did that make me a bad person? It was just so strange to see a lifeless body in the casket. The feel of her waxy skin made me realize that the body was not my sister. It was only a shell. A shell that had housed her spirit. My ability to understand life and death started at that moment. God let me see that our bodies are only temporary. Our souls live eternally with Him.
I seemed to watch through a fog as the next months progressed. My freshman year of high school began and the kids at school were unsure of what to say to me. I could hear them whisper about my sister dying that summer, but most did not offer their sympathy. If they had, it would have been to say, “I am sorry.” To which I would probably have replied, “Why? You didn’t kill her.” Not a very nice reply, but it was my way of dealing with hidden pain. It took many years for me to be able to summarize my thoughts and feelings. I was angry deep down.
Lord, I miss Amanda every day. I wish she could have been at my wedding, at the birth of my children, and there to answer a phone call. We had conversations that never took place and games we never played. Sisters are supposed to be there for one another. I could not protect her from cancer. My life with her was too short. I wanted more time.