Emails About My Sister's Death

Robbin Denise Markley
January 14, 1964 - August 23, 1998

It was Sunday, August 23, 1998 when my older sister, Robbin Denise Markley, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. She was only 34 years old. Robbin was only one year older than me, and she and I were very close while we were growing up. The pain and loss that I felt after her death were more intense than I can describe with words. I sent the following email simultaneously to several of my friends on the night following the morning she died:

I am writing to all of you because right now I need my friends more than I ever have. My older sister died of a massive heart attack on Sunday morning. She was only 34 years old. She and I were very close when we were growing up, and I feel like my heart has been ripped out and left to rot. Additionally, I'm supposed to head to Western Michigan University to start my graduate teaching assistantship work tomorrow. However, I am not in any emotional or mental state of mind to go. I don't know what to do. I don't even know if I even want to go to graduate school this semester, and I don't really care. My faith in God was shot to hell today. As I told my sister-in-law today, "I don't know what to believe in anymore. I don't believe in anything right now." I don't know what to do. I have included my phone number. Feel free to give me a call. I realize that there's nothing that you can really say, but I need my friends right now. My family is taking this very hard, and it is overwhelming for all of us.

Over the next several days, I was inundated with a flood of emails from friends who cared beyond what I could have ever imagined. Many of them struggled deeply to find the right things to say. Their words and advice were sincere and heart felt, and I will always remember and appreciate their love and concern for me. What follows here are many of the emails that I received. All of the emails are reproduced here with permission from each author:

I realize that there is nothing I cay say that can make up for your loss. I am truly sorry. As I sit here and read what you have written over again, I realize that I don't even know what to say. I think I would like to offer some advice about graduate school, however. I think you should do what you think your sister would want you to do. I don't think she would ask that you put your life on hold. I think that she would want you to take the opportunity that you have been offered. I think it may help you to go on as well. Deep down though, you have to do what you want. Please don't think that my advice about grad school is insensitive, it is simply the way that I would deal with my feelings and may not be the best way at all. It is only what I would do, and that's why I say that ultimately, only you know the way for you to deal with your feelings. Please feel free to write anytime you would like. I never know the best thing to say, or the best way to cheer someone up, but I am here for you nonetheless.

I am sorry about your sister. Its going to take some time before you will be back to your old jolly self, and I just wanted you to know that we (Mid-Michigan Meteorology Society) are all behind you. You must do what you must to ease your pain that you must be feeling. Anyway, I'm no good at writing sympathy notes, they always come out sounding so cheezy that I'm afraid no one is going to want to read them. So I will leave it at that. However, if you want some cheering up, that I can kinda give you. Chris and I went storm chasing about a week ago and didn't find a thing, but we drove all over Michigan. Also I have a friend at Western who could help you in your belief in God during this time. You may want to look him up, though I don't know anything but his name right now. If you need some one to talk to personally, his name is [withheld], and he helped me with my acceptance of God, and don't feel like he won't care, he is a good guy whose goal in life is to help anyone physically, mentally, and emotionally. Look him up. Anyway, I had best go. I hope that everything turns out better.

Don't know what to say 'cept for you're in our prayers and we're thinking of you all. I don't know what to do or tell you to do. I'm here to talk.

I am SO sorry to hear about your sister. I wish I could offer words of wisdom, comfort, and love. Yet, I am at a loss for words. I wish your family comfort, peace, and help to get through this difficult time. I understand that when you go through a loss as major as this one, you question everything in sight. I feel that I need to tell you that God is with you and with your family RIGHT NOW! You may not feel that 'cause the pain is too intense. If you read in Isaiah 41 - you will see that the Lord God Almighty will not forsake you! Also Hebrews 11:1 - trusting in God at the hardest time is the most difficult part of our faith. I would like you to feel free to call me or continue to e-mail me about all of this. I am opting not to call due to how it is probably going on in your house right now! Know that I am praying for you, as are others here at Central Michigan University! If you need ANYTHING - do not hesitate to get a hold of me! Take care and let me know how you are doing! Know that I care for you and your welfare.

I'm terribly sorry to hear about your sister. I know that is devastating to you. I also know what it feels like to have something effect you that deeply....that's why you and I need to talk. I have departmental auditions tonight and I will try and call you after that. I hope I don't get too wrapped up in anything because I really need to talk to you! There is nothing wrong with what you're one can dictate what you should or should not be feeling; however, your life doesn't end because your sister's has and if you two were as close as you say, I don't think she would want you to stop living yourself. Take care, love with a big old bear hug...

I don't know what to say other than that I am deeply sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what pain and suffering you are going through. The only thing about death is that it can either make you stronger knowing that you can make it through such heart ache or it can pull you down deep within its core and take you down with it. Be strong and hang in there. There is a time for family to come together, and unite your love of one another. Your family will pull you through this as long as you help them through this tough time. I hope that you will make the right decision about graduate school...only you know what the right decisions are! My heart goes out to you Bob and you are in my prayers. God bless you and your family.

I can't put it into words how sorry I am to hear about your sister. I'm sure the family is devastated at this sudden loss. May the God of all comfort give you all the comfort that only He can give. No one can understand why things like this happen. I will share your letter with Alton tomorrow. He has been in the hospital since July 18 and is essentially a quadriplegic. He has Guillain-Barre' Syndrome. We have hopes that he will recover, but it will be a long period for recovery. He is unable to do much of anything for himself. He has limited use of his hands and arms and no use of his legs. His mind is sharp though. He can't read but he can pray.
[Note: Alton has since recovered and is no longer a quadriplegic.]

I sent a second email to my friends on the night of Thursday, August 27, 1998, which was four days after my sister's death. I showed much more hope in this email, but I still had a lot of emotions to work through:

I want to thank all of you for your help and understanding over the last few days since my sister died. I wish that I could tell you that I am back to normal, but that wouldn't be very honest. I'm confused, hurting, and angry. I have tried for days to make sense of this, and I can't do it. I called the geography department at Western Michigan University on Monday and I told them what happened. They gave me until Friday to decide what to do, and they told me not to worry about anything until that time. I decided today that I will go to graduate school as planned. As many of you pointed out, my sister wouldn't want me to stop living or to give up my plans. And if things were reversed, I wouldn't want her to stop living either. So, I will go on as planned no matter how hard it is. The next days, weeks, and months will be difficult for me, but I will survive.

The emails from friends who cared didn't stop coming. I received the following messages after I sent my second email:

I am sorry that I did not email you back sooner. I felt that what you are going through deserved more than an email. When I was reading your letter, I started to think about what if my sister were to die all of a sudden. I started to cry. So, even though I can't say that I know how you are feeling, I know that it has got to be devastating. And yes, Bob, it is okay to grieve. It is okay to be angry. It is ok to ask questions. Why her and not someone else? But Bob, DO NOT turn your back on God! God had a reason behind this. What it is I don't know. But He has a reason for everything. To postpone grad school would do you more harm than good. You will "heal" a lot quicker by getting your mind occupied on other things. If you postpone it, you will constantly be thinking of her and won't get anywhere. My advise would be to talk to your pastor, and ask for advice. Your pastor should be able to ease your pain a little, and possibly give some positives on this. I know it hurts, Bob, and I can't even try to begin to understand your anger, frustration and confusion, but the world is still turning! Bob, make your sister proud of her little brother! I will be praying for you, Bob, and I am sure that others will be too. I hope to hear from you soon.

I'm very sorry to hear about your loss. I don't know what I can possibly say to make you feel comforted, but I am here as a friend and as one more listening ear. My brother-in-law lost his brother to cancer almost 3 years ago. He was my age when he died, and I'm sure that you can imagine how devastated my brother-in-law was. He still cherishes some of his brother's personal items, still speaks of his brother very reverently, and most importantly, still tells stories of his brother so that my nieces will be able to know him and love him. The greatest loss was to the girls, because even the older one doesn't really remember Uncle Truck; they just hear the stories and laugh at how Big Bad Daddy got Big Little Bro into trouble again. I don't know what you're feeling right now, but I must agree that your sister wouldn't want you to give up on your life right now. No matter how hard it seems to cope with and impossible it seems to get past, your life will go on. You are her living legacy; therefore, it only makes sense to keep on living :). Keep writing as often as you need, and remember you have many friends to call on when you feel overwhelmed.

Sorry about your sister. That is really terrible. Only 34, too? Did she have a history of heart problems? You made the right choice about starting Grad school and not backing out. It will help keep your mind off of your ordeal and besides, they need you at Western Michigan University, they want you at Western Michigan University, and you'll do well and excel above all of your expectations because that is the type of person you are. Sounds like you had a real trying time just before school. I'm glad you chose to go with Grad school. Things will get better for you.

I know your heart must be breaking. I will pray for you. I know what that feels like. About 3 years ago, 10 people that I knew died within a matter of 18 mos. I wish I could hug you and tell you that I really understand and that you are not alone. No preaching from me. I have no answers or words that can make it hurt less. I really do care. Hang in there.