It’s so hard to believe that 15 years has passed since you left us. Fifteen! How can that be. I can still hear your voice, as if I spoke with you yesterday. I can still see the contours of your face, feel the warmth of your hands, and hear the sound of your laughter. I easily picture your small frame and the way you walked (a purposeful walk!). I can see you standing by the sink on one leg like a flamingo, rinsing out your mouthpieces after a breathing treatment. I remember you in your blue robe sipping juice at the kitchen table with damp hair in the morning. I see you sitting at your sewing machine working on your quilt. Do you know, I never took that little piece of medical tape off your sewing machine? You must have put it there to mark a seam. It reminds me of you. And speaking of medical tape, I’ll admit, I’ve started wrapping gifts with it sometimes too now. I mean, why not?
I don’t dream of you as often as I used to. I suppose that is affected by the passage of time, and the fact that the intense grief is less constant now. But when I do, they’re always vivid, and I wake up feeling like we really talked. In my dreams, you’re always wearing a bright pink shirt. We sisters have been talking about our memories from the last months of your life. I remember the last time I saw you. I knew it would be the last, and it was so hard. You were laying on the couch, so still, and so tiny. In my memory you were wearing that pink shirt. I honestly don’t know if that’s accurate, but your pink shirt has become, to me, representative of you. Just like that shirt, you were bright. You lit up the room, and you were also so smart! You were vibrant and colorful. You were confident. You were fun.
You left an indelible mark on me. In fact your life had a tremendous impact on all our family, and on your friends and acquaintances too. You did such a good job living, keeping your humor, keeping your faith, staying you in the midst of your struggles. I know that’s not easy. In fact it overwhelms me to think of how much you suffered, especially at the end. Honestly, it scares me. Yet you lived and even died with grace and with purpose and with gratitude. You focused on the gifts and blessings and beauty around you and endured the pain and loss and grief without bitterness. You had so much strength and an incredible amount of courage. You lived well and you died well.
I wish I could sit down with you over beverage…coffee for me these days (I’m tired!). Maybe some Faygo for you. What would I tell you if we could chat? What would I say about these last 15 years? I’d want you to hear about the new medication I’m hoping to take soon for my CF. I hear it’s life-changing. I’m hopeful. I think you’d be so excited about it. How I wish you were here too and we could try it together.
I’d probably share some of my CF struggles. It would be nice to tell someone who truly understands. But I wouldn’t want to spend much time there. It’s not the biggest, most important part of my story these last years. I won’t allow that, because I learned from you, that it should never be. You never made cystic fibrosis your focus or your identity and I’m trying to follow your example.
I know I’d want to talk about my kids. First Lucas. I’d want you to know that he loves you. It is really the sweetest thing. He always includes you when he makes lists of family members or counts how many aunts he has or asks me about what it was like growing up. He told me when he gets to heaven he will be sure to find you. He wishes he knew you here on earth. He talks about you quite regularly. He comforts me when I’m sad because I miss you. He reminds me of you in some ways. He’s smart and very creative like you! He’s very loving. I think you’d get a kick out of the things that make him unique.
And Alena. There are times when I see your face in hers–an expression or a passing look. I’ll never forget the first time she smiled at me, a true “soulful” smile rather than a reflex. She looked up at me and her whole face broke into a grin and it felt like the sun had just burst out from behind the clouds. She is already vibrant, like you! She’s opinionated and feels free to “speak” her mind when she deems it necessary, also like you. She has a great laugh. She makes us work for it, but it’s so worth it! It’s bubbly likes yours. She doesn’t know you yet, but she will. We will tell her.
On my bed I have a basket full of supplies I might need for Alena in the night or early morning. It’s that basket you made, covered in blue fabric with cute little tulips. It’s a reminder of you within arms reach. I imagine maybe someday she’d like to have it.
I guess what I’m saying is that I see daily reminders of you–in my kids, in my house, in nature, in myself. Perhaps it’s because I’m always looking. It keeps you close to me and makes the distance between us feel a little less vast. But really you are here. Bits and pieces of you that you left along the way. Ways you touched our lives, memories we have, stories we tell our children about you, gifts you made, funny things you’d say, advice you’d give, things you wrote. Especially the example we had simply by watching you. All five of us sisters looked up to you (figuratively of course 🙂 ). You were a worthy line leader and an amazing example. I miss touching you and talking to you, yet you live on in my heart and I’ve brought you with me in my experiences. Because I loved you, and you loved me, and we are forever part of each other’s stories.
I miss you and love you so very much. We all do. How could we not? That will never change. And when we get to heaven, we’ll find you.