Heartbreak, Healing, and Heading for Home

By: Dr. Tracy Bailey

My oldest sister died of a heart attack in 2006. She’d battled schizophrenia all of her adult life. When someone you love dies it can feel like a bond formed at the molecular level is being ripped apart. The death of a sibling, a spouse, a parent—these moments can be the most painful due to the intimacies shared, the multitude of closeness. There’s no measure for the amount of time I spent praying that my sister would be healed, that the voices that compelled her would quiet. When she was having an episode, it felt to me like she was lost and trying to find her path. It felt like all of us who loved her were lost, trying in vain to help.  I prayed for peace. She was 18 years older than me and her illness kept us from being really close. But she was my sister, an integral part of my inner circle, a part of me, an extension of my being. Saying goodbye to her put my own mortality in perspective in a way nothing else could.

In the years since she died, I’ve learned that a strong level of grief and introspection can also be triggered by the death of people we have loved and admired from afar but have never met. The deaths of Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Pat Conroy, and Harper Lee have impacted millions around the world in significant ways. Prince’s death especially saddened me when I reflected on his creativity and courage. It has been said that he was in constant pain for years, but never let that keep him from creating music and wonder. We see in him and the other icons we’ve lost what we could be if only…if only… And a certain invisible kindred is formed.

If my encounters with death have taught me anything, it’s that its sheer finality and utter inevitability is unifying. It’s something we rarely acknowledge, but we’ll all say goodbye to loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes at the end of a long illness. And our loved ones will say goodbye to us. Not to sound morbid, but death is our one sure thing, our transition from this earthly training ground to a heavenly home. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” This is not to say that we spend our precious moments waiting to die. On the contrary, we are to remember that Christ came that we might have abundant life. God is calling us to fulfill our purpose while we have the chance. That’s why we’re so moved when we hear of the passing of great men and women. Something in our spirit is nourished when we realize that there are people who have passionately responded to the call on their lives. That’s why losing my sister caused me to take stock of the days I had left.

Knowing that God wants us to adopt an orientation of expectation removes the sting from death, eases the pain a little every day, opens our hearts to the possibility of friendship with it, makes the inevitable sweet. Because there is no Parkinson’s in heaven, no schizophrenia, no pain at all. Only love and light.

So I have made a decision. While I’m breathing, I plan to go for broke. I’ll strive to pour out my life and my energy at the feet- on the feet-of my Savior every single day, every kindness, every forgiveness, oil from Mary’s albaster box.  I want to love Him with greed and abandon, constantly seeking more. Constantly finding ways to give more to the hurt and the defenseless and the healing. It’s the least I can do to honor a God who answered my prayers for my sister by taking her by the hand and leading her home.

Meet Dr. Tracy Bailey
Implementation Manager at Achieve3000Professional Development Associate at The Leadership and Learning Center
Executive Director at Freedom Readers