Shining light in the shadows

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Me and Vanessa approximately 10 years ago. A four-year-old took this picture.

My high school classmates are gathering this month for our ten-year-reunion. I can’t be there, but I’ve been thinking about it. Ten years ago when I looked ten years in the future, I am certain I did not picture the reality I have now.

Though I never would have predicted then that I would now live in Terre Haute, Indiana (with a husband and working for nuns), I may have had the general sense of venturing out, finding love and finding employment. But companioning my vibrant, beautiful big sister through breast/bone/brain cancer? That would have been nowhere on my radar. Nowhere.

It is easy to feel like things went wrong, that this should not be where we landed in time and space. If I’m honest I can’t act like I buy that everything we’re living through has a reason or grand purpose. I’m grateful for this time I do have with my sister, but I would rather not be losing my sister in the first place.

So it’s also easy to wallow. Everything is hard these days. I live too far away from my family. I hate driving three hours each way just to see the people I love. When I am in Terre Haute I hate being away from Vanessa and not being able to share the caregiving duties as fully as I’d like with Jess and Mom and Billy. When I am in Cincinnati I miss my husband, miss my bed, even miss the chance to do laundry or clean my house.

In general I cry more than my chapped nose can handle. I assume I am less than fun to live with. I am doing a bad job at most things, from being a friend to returning library books on time to eating things other than cereal. So it goes.

But somewhere in the back of my head a quote keeps popping up:

“When we shine light in the shadows, the shadows disappear and we can see what has been lurking there: our anger, covering our fear of chaos and the unknown; our laziness, unwilling to be held accountable for our behavior; our self-indulgence that wants to hold on to the way it was ‘supposed to be.’ Even those parts of us that are promiscuous in our suffering and loss insist: ‘I earned this misery and no one is going to take it away.'”

It’s from a book called Good Grief: Healing Through the Shadow of Loss by Deborah Morris Coryell. A wise woman I know recommended it, and it’s good for me. It helps me get closer to living my reality as it is, even if I’m not quite there yet. I can’t act like I’m not angry or terrified or lazy or self-indulgent, because I’m all of those things, but at least I can be those things honestly.

To me, living sincerely is not living happy-go-luckily. It’s living whatever-and-wherever-you-are-right-now sincerely. Sincere, the Internet tells me, is “Without dishonesty or pretense.” “Free from duplicity.” “Saying what you genuinely feel or believe.” So I am trying to recognize when I’m actually angry at mortality and not at David leaving dirty socks in random places. And when I’m crying because DEATH and not because NO ORANGE JUICE LEFT. And when maybe I’m letting myself be too indulgent in my suffering when I convince myself yet again that Netflix trumps grocery shopping because I Had A Hard Day.

I don’t have a moral to this story. It’s one of those dualities where both sides are true:

I’m doing my best, but it’s really hard.

It’s really hard, but I’m doing my best.


  1. Thinking of Vanessa and all of you every single day. Your post is very powerful. I love that you say Living Sincerely is “living whatever-and-wherever-you-are-right-now sincerely!” It is so true. Always sending lots of good thoughts to V and all of you.

    V’s Scar Sister,


  2. Kathy Rowell says:

    Christina, you just made me take another look at what living sincerely really means and i thank you. My prayers are with you and your family.

  3. Thanks Christina, for writing this blog! I think you cover many of the issues we all deal with. And I love your attitude here in the blog and at home. Being honest in the moment and making it great. I love you!! :-)

  4. Christy says:

    I totally agree with Kathy on taking another look at what Live Sincerely means. Thank you for sharing your struggles, thoughts, and feelings in a way that makes us renew our vow to Live Sincerely.

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