The tagline for my blog is Solid joys, deep sorrows, aggressive hope. I’m in a period of Deep Sorrow.
Here is a photo of my brothers and sisters taken circa 1959. I’m the youngest on the left. We are seven. Last week my sister Margo (middle girl) died at the age of 67 from respiratory failure related to pneumonia. It’s remarkable that she was just three years shy of threescore years and ten.
In 1979 she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor (a glioblastoma). After chemotherapy, radiation, and a surplus of surgeries, her tumor was encapsulated. But the “cure” brought a lifetime of disability. Her life was difficult but her signature response was “Blessed.” She enjoyed describing herself as not in her right mind.
This is the first of several blog posts introducing you, dear reader, with my dear sister and my forum for processing my grief. I’ll write about how we “sang her to heaven” and how we honored her life.
These are my [edited] reflections which I read at her service.
My Sister Margo
There were just enough years and sufficient siblings between Margo and me that we seldom quibbled and rarely quarreled.
After I left Lombard, she was the Great Communicator. A punster, she loved clever quips and sent me many, many funny cards. Like all of my siblings, she devoured books and music; she insisted I read My Name Is Asher Lev, Lord Peter Wimsey, and a boatload of Brock and Bodie Thoene books. Ten years ago, she and her husband John made a dream come true, by taking me to see the great cellist YoYo Ma at Ravinia.
Our friendship was sustained by annual visits. When finances and young children constrained my travel, she ventured out to Oregon. One October she joined our family’s hunting camp and kept the fire burning. As a nurse, she was fascinated with gutting, skinning, and hanging a deer, disappointed that our guys came up empty.
In 1994 she brought John to meet us. Soon there was a wedding. She was 45. In recent years, I came to Chicago. The sweetest moments we shared were our evening meals. We lingered long after the last bite was chewed and reviewed memories. In the dimming light, she relived school stories, recounted old friendships, told of her travels and took comfort in the simple benediction of remembering.
We played Scrabble. If you know Harpers, you know we compete. Year after year I could not beat Margo at Scrabble. I certainly tried. In 2014 I eked out a one-point win. Oh yeah! I crowed and danced, hands above my head. She leveled her gaze at me and smirked, “You are celebrating beating someone with only half a brain?”
Her life was beset with brokenness and besieged with pain, a continuous series of losses. She lost her balance, her manual dexterity, her ability to walk, travel by plane, hearing in one ear, and eventually clear speech. She steadfastly refused to complain; instead, she reckoned herself blessed.
Margo thrived on belonging. She relished belonging to the wild roundup called the Harpers. She valued belonging to the Lombard Gospel Chapel family. Back in the day, she belonged to her people at Bair Lake Bible Camp, Emmaus Bible School, Pacific Garden Mission, Sunshine Gospel Mission, Belmont Hospital, Rest Haven Homes. She belonged to John; johnandmargo became one word.
Margo belonged to Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism begins: What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. He was her rock, her fortress and her might.
Finally, Margo was beloved. The response to news of her passing is a witness. As a young girl she was warmed and nurtured by her mom. In Margo’s last years of life, Mom’s love — Mom’s praise — was a diamond she pulled out of her pocket and prized. “Mom used to say, ‘You are such a help to me,’” Margaret remembered.
Our brother John was a faithful friend and support, especially the last dozen years of her life. He brought meals, helped her exercise, encouraged and cheered. His love was an important aspect of her life.
When she had long adjusted to life as a single woman, God brought John Walker to Margo. He loved her; her delight in him knew no bounds. Joy and laughter took up residence in her life. Look at the photos! Their marriage was the gospel made plain. He cared about her as he cared for her. His sacrifices shouted “My life for yours.”
Margo’s disability went from challenging to difficult to arduous. John’s love was a counterpoint to her struggles. The more dependent Margo became on John, the more evident was his love. Few wives are acquainted with the depth of love that Margo knew. Indeed, she was ‘blessed.’
Margo loved Narnia; she adored Lucy. Margo’s journey on earth is done. She can say,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
Our ‘Lucy’ — I think of her as Queen Margo the Valiant — has gone ‘further up and further in’. Her faith is sure, her hopes are fulfilled, her love remains. Goodbye, Margo.