The Big Picture: Perspective is Everything

The Big Picture - Version 2“I’m like the painter with his nose to the canvas, fussing over details. Gazing from a distance, the reader sees the big picture.” – Author Steven Saylor

My sister Ann passed away, without warning, on the morning of October 9, 2008. An undiagnosed heart condition, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, took her life. How could that be? She was only 51! She all but sparkled she was so alive. Her death didn’t seem possible. Being thoroughly devoted to each other, I had no idea how I was going to live without her.

For the first ten years of our marriages, I had the luxury of Ann only living a mile from me. We got to raise our children together and see each other whenever we liked. In 1998, her husband took a job three hours south of where we lived. I felt the sting of our separation even before she moved. When what I dreaded came to pass, I was shocked that our relationship only deepened. Even though we no longer got to be with each other in person, thanks to cell phones, we were connected more than ever.

Ann and I had gotten into the habit of speaking to each other every morning and at times throughout the day, being detached from her was unfathomable to me. What would I do without her to run every aspect of my life by? There was such a hole with her gone. The minute I learned she had departed, I heard a voice say, “It’s time to stretch.” My soul knew it was a chance for me to face the world standing on my own two feet. The comfort of leaning on Ann had run its course.

After the shock of her passing lifted, the grief settled in. I went from deep sadness to despair. Worse than my loss was witnessing what her husband and children were going through. Their broken-heartedness pulled me even further into misery.

As the months moved on, slowly, slowly, I began to heal. I still remember the first day that went by where I wasn’t consumed with sorrow. As I lay in bed that night, a little pang of guilt pulled me back. Did my happiness mean I was being disloyal?  And what about Ann’s children? I began to feel what I imagined their anguish to be. I was sinking.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances.”- William Shakespeare

And then she came to me. Ann was in the form of an angel with wings. She reached down, lifted me by the hand and deposited me on a cloud next to her. If my body didn’t literally feel the whoosh of being pulled upward, I would have thought I was dreaming. As we sat, she put her arm around me and pointed down to Earth. She told me that whenever I felt myself slipping to look at the big picture. I knew exactly what she meant. I shouldn’t let myself become absorbed in the drama on our planet. In the big picture, nothing had changed. She had never left any of her loved ones’ sides. It was time for her to move on, but nothing could keep us from her love. She indicated to me that life would be so much easier if I wore my trials like a loose garment and didn’t allow myself to become engrossed in them. When looked at from a higher perspective, the sufferings we go through don’t seem so overwhelming. Ann’s insight was a gift from one who knew me so well. It proved to be the missing link in the healing of my many of struggles. That experience marked the beginning of my acceptance of what I had considered a loss. Sometimes I still ache for the physicality of Ann being with me, but I no longer resist these feelings. I simply let them move through me. They are part of being human. When I get to the other side of them, I realize nothing has changed…..not really.

Marianne and Kate

My cousin’s Marianne and Kate modeled to help bring my vision to life.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.





15 thoughts on “The Big Picture: Perspective is Everything

  1. This so was touching…and comforting. When I lost my grandmother, she did come to me to comfort me and (just like you said) although I felt the anguish of the physical loss, I still feel her with me.


  2. Such a wonderful message….so true! From the darkness we find life is good! And find that even death is not so final or to be feared. Thank you! Harold.

    Sent from Windows Mail


  3. Thanks Sue for sharing about Ann. I can only imagine how hard that must have been. She was a sweetheart. I know that death is not the end and it is good to know that others have experienced things like this.


  4. Dear Sue, Thank you for sharing the beauty of your experience and the love. Yes, I have had experiences with loved ones who have passed – a friend, my dad, and even my beloved little dog. I treasure those moments and am grateful to know that there are others who understand. Blessings, Lois


    • Whenever I see a rainbow I think it’s a little wink from my sister. Last night as my first grandchild was born there was a rainbow over the hospital. I couldn’t help but think she was watching over him and his parents. 🙂


      • Dear Sue, You have become a grandmother – what an enormous joy! How blessed that baby will be to be enfolded in your love. And the rainbow…what a precious gift – and a confirmation that God and Ann are watching over this special child. With blessings and joy! Lois


  5. Thank you, Sue, for sharing such a sweet and tender story of sisterly love and loss.

    It is so hard for us, like little ants at the bottom of a redwood tree, to look up and see things from God and Ann’s perspective. One day we will, of course, and it will all make sense.

    In the meantime all we can do is to try to get as close to God’s perspective as we can. When we excel at that, I expect the view, will be just as you so beautifully portrayed it … sitting side by side with your dear, dear sister on a cloud looking down at the top of the redwood forests.
    Many good wishes for bountiful godwinks.


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