Holey, Holy and Wholly

I’m writing something I never wanted to write. A short while ago, my sister, who was very precious to me, died in a tragic accident leaving behind a husband and young children. I hate to use the word suicide, because it would suggest some sort of choice on her part. I’ll never know what happened, but I know she wouldn’t have left us unless, in that moment, she felt utterly desperate.


A death is difficult

The death of someone who should have many years ahead of them is difficult

A sudden death is difficult

A situation where someone seems to have a hand in their own death is even more difficult.

We are still in shock.

In the first few days of shock and tears, I found myself thinking of two things: my sister in her wedding dress absolutely beaming and happy. This came back to me today with the story of Jesus and the wedding feast at Cana. If she had any faith, my sister kept it to herself and at the same time practised love and kindness to others. I am hoping that she is now experiencing God’s love and mercy.

A totally inappropriate joke

The other thing I thought of seemed totally inappropriate. It was a sectarian joke I heard when I was a child. Although things have got better in recent years, Scotland is a country with a Catholic-Protestant divide. Catholics and Protestants go to different schools and when I was a kid, I didn’t meet many Catholics. It’s easier to tell jokes about a group of people if you don’t know any of them personally.

Anyway, this joke kept going through my head, even though it is totally tasteless and wouldn’t be told now after recent terrorist attacks on places of worship. But I’m going to have to tell it to explain what I was thinking about it. It goes like this:

Question: Why did the priest bring a gun to church?

Answer: to make his people holey.

Okay, the joke could have been told about a minister or some other kind of religious leader, but because I grew up in Protestant Scotland, we made it a Catholic joke.

At first, I couldn’t understand why I was thinking about such a tasteless joke after losing my sister, until I went to Mass and began to understand.

I felt as if I was full of holes, as if God had shot holes in my tough exterior, or allowed circumstances to shoot holes in me. I couldn’t stop crying on Baptism Sunday, as if all the holes were letting in, not just pain, but also God’s love. The pain of my sister’s sudden death was flowing through me, as well as the thoughts of all the love that had been between us. But love could flow out of me much more easily, too, through all these holes blown in my defenses.

And there was so much to give comfort: The spirit of Lord Yahweh is on me for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, release to those in prison, to proclaim a year of favour from Yahweh and a day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, Isaiah 61:1-2.

It’s impossible to explain these first few days: the pain, the feeling that you are falling, and that yet even as you fall you know that you won’t fall forever, that there is something there: God, ground, love, to hold you up. I almost understood why Flannery O’ Connor’s short stories have the possibility of God’s grace being brought into peoples’ lives through what seems to be an irredeemable disaster or unkindness.

In these first few days, I prayed that I wouldn’t forget what I learnt from being holey, and that I would be able to trust and give myself wholly to God. And maybe that’s what it means to be holy.


The strange thing is that it was easier to trust God in these first few days, when I was blown into pieces and had absolutely no choice but to ask Him to help me through the next day, next hour, next second.

Now, maybe I’m trying to rebuild the holes, repair the defences as best as I can, even shoot a few missiles in God’s direction: why me, why her, why us? Why couldn’t You heal her? You heal other people, after all? Why was there this perfect storm which led to her death, so many little things done differently might have had another outcome … But I can’t go there. I’ll lose what’s left if I do.

The hardest thing today is the silence. There’s the silence of my sister. Even when I talk to her in my head or write down my thoughts in my diary, she doesn’t answer.

There’s the silence of others. After the initial whirl of emails and texts and facebook messages and people saying how sorry they are, it tails off, as it had to eventually. I’m sitting at home alone, trying to think of anything but what’s happened and finding I can’t.

There’s my own silence. I can’t talk about what happened. It’s very difficult, even to other people closely affected. We say something, the same thing, over and over, pain bouncing back and forth between us like a hot potato which no-one can bear to hold for long.

The most difficult silence to bear is the one I go into when my weary mind can’t take any more words or thoughts about what is, will be or might have been, when I just breathe and try to be aware of … what? Is God in the silence? Often I don’t feel a Presence. Sometimes I don’t find words to pray, and it hurts more than anything else what happens in this silence. I tell God how I feel and cry. Maybe it’s a healing hurt.

I need to end now, just with the thought that all I can ask for is blind trust. It’s so hard to let go of my beautiful sister and accept that I can’t do any more for her on this earth.


6 thoughts on “Holey, Holy and Wholly

  1. Elizabeth January 22, 2019 / 4:58 pm

    I lost my beloved aunt 50 years ago when she leaped from a building. I was in shock then and still miss her terribly. I see no possibility that someone “chooses” suicide. People want the pain to stop. Every year our church has a special Mass for survivors of suicide. The Mass is terribly consoling as the priest assures us that our loved ones were welcomed wholeheartedly by God who understands completely as we are unable to. I lost my sister a year ago to cancer, not suicide, but I can connect with the deep loss of a sibling who goes with our shared experiences. For you it is a double whammy. Be gentle with your theological ponderings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • canach January 23, 2019 / 2:16 pm

      I am glad to hear that you have a special Mass. I am trying to think of it as being an illness that we hoped she would survive, but it got her in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Elizabeth January 23, 2019 / 8:39 pm

        That is an accurate way to think of it. I think that is the thought behind the special Mass each year.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. 140 Character Christian January 23, 2019 / 7:11 pm

    God has humbled me with so much loss in my life. In the process I have found myself drawing closer to God, even though I often question him. It brought me to tears to read about the loss of your sister. I too loss someone close to me who died way too young. Thank you for sharing.


    • canach January 23, 2019 / 9:18 pm

      not something I really want to share. So many people, even those who didn’t know us, have thought of us and been upset by the news. Felt I had to write just to get the thoughts outside me. sorry to hear you also lost someone way too young.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. loveinthefield January 23, 2019 / 10:18 pm

    There are no words of real consolation to share in the face of these situations. I can’t even begin to formulate something that could even attempt to take away the pain.
    Your pain is felt by Him Who chose to take on humanity… that Word become flesh. You are seen and known by Him. All your holes, your whole holey self is seen.
    May The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world take this pain too and absorb it into His infinite ocean of mercy.
    Thank you for the honor of allowing us to know about this very personal pain and may Our Lord, Who dignifies our suffering, be close to you during this time and may your wounds be healed by the precious wound in His side.
    Lord have mercy
    Christ have mercy
    Lord have mercy

    Liked by 2 people

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