Mike Lewis shares his sorrow and memories following the death of his sister — a beautiful, heart-wrenching essay about love and loss:
One of the most formative events of my life happened a year before I was born. When she was about six weeks old, my sister Katie—my parents’ firstborn, the answer to prayer after years of infertility—was found to have a ventricular septal defect (or as we always called it, “a hole in her heart”). She was sickly, losing weight, sometimes looked blue. Doctors couldn’t figure out the problem. Finally, a new pediatrician, Dr. Tan—who was our family pediatrician from that day forward—heard the heart murmur and urged them to get to Children’s Hospital right away.
My own name tells part of the story of that chapter in our lives. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed that my handle is my initials and last name: @mfjlewis. The “FJ” stands for Francis James—the first names of the cardiologist and heart surgeon (Frank and Jim) who saved Katie’s life. Whatever anxiety or struggle or trauma my parents went through in those early days wasn’t something that I ever had any awareness of or even thought about until I had children of my own. Thinking back, I can’t imagine what it must have been for them.
Katie had open heart surgery and her odds of making it weren’t very high, but she pulled through and by the time I came around the following year, she was a healthy, happy little girl. Later there was another brother and another sister, with Katie the big sister—and she let us know it.
But then there is the grief.
The past five years have been one loss after another. First, Dad in 2016, who went from “never sick a day in his life” to dead at 68 after a short battle with renal cell carcinoma. Then Mom in 2019, who never smoked a cigarette in her life—dead, also at 68, from interstitial lung disease. Yesterday brought the biggest shock of all, when Katie died at 42 because her weak heart just couldn’t keep working.
Half my family of origin, dead in five years.
Every family faces loss—the sting of death—over time. But it never entered my imagination that the last five years would be like this. This absolutely was not on my radar 6 years ago. I was 23 when the first of my four grandparents died. Because they all lived into their 80s and 90s, I got to know all of them as an adult. My wife Stephanie had the opportunity to meet them all and even grow close to my paternal grandmother, who died eight years ago at 90. My boys also got to know her and even have memories of her.
This was the natural order of things. Tragedies—car accidents, deadly cancer, dying young—were for other families. Certainly these were people we felt compassion for, and of course we reached out to them in times of need. But those were other people.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her …