Whether we are ready or not, life continues and time marches on. We all have to adjust to new normals, even when we don't think we can.
In October of 2012 my sister Vanessa got one of those recordable books where you can read the book and store the recording for later, safe in the book itself and able to be accessed later at the press of a button. It’s a book to be read to a small child. I had no children at the time, and no real plans for any anytime soon, but we already knew by then that she was going to die and Billy and Jessica helped her get the book to be ready just in case.
I am overwhelmed by how Vanessa had no idea what was in the future for me, but that even through the confusion of brain mets she still “for sure” had faith in me to be “awesome.”
Because everything changed after that. My marriage fell apart, and then Vanessa died, and then slowly my friends and family helped me find ways to grieve it all and be strong by myself again, and then I fell in love again on accident, and then I moved to Nashville “to see if this relationship can work,” and then it did work, with this wonderful person — a spectacular, kind person whom Vanessa never knew and who never got to know her. And then I got pregnant, and Jimmy and I were sort of terrified, but we took a deep breath and decided to walk together bravely towards the unknowns of our future. Then we got married, in a wonderful ten-minute courthouse-adjacent ceremony where I was scandalously, gigantically pregnant and couldn’t stop giggling the whole time, and where I could have almost burst from the enormity of hope and love present.
Then the sister that I still have left threw me a baby shower, and afterwards gave me this book that she had carefully kept wrapped up safe in her basement on the off chance my life would change to welcome a “maybe” (now no longer maybe) baby.
And then I went to the hospital to have this baby, and when right at the beginning the IV was botched and my arm blood was all over the bed and it hurt like hell and we hadn’t even got to, you know, childbirth yet, I thought of Vanessa and her years of treatments and surgeries and how she never complained, and how, when she told me on the phone that her cancer had metastasized to be terminal, she tried to comfort me.
And so then I had a daughter, an actual living human who I still can’t believe they just sent us home with like we’re grownups and know what we’re doing or something.
Then the Winter Olympics opened this month and I was jolted to remember that it was the Winter Olympics, eight years ago, when we first learned that Vanessa was going to die from her stupid, horrible cancer, and how I spent that day in 2010 shell-shocked and frozen and staring at the television to have something else, anything else, to think about.
Now my daughter, Dorothy Vanessa, is two months old, so little and so infinite. She is beautiful and good, and she will never know my sister, her aunt, the beautiful and good woman who inspired her middle name. I take cute videos of my Dottie and then I send them to Mom and Jess in the group chat we have, and we all feel but don’t need to say how Vanessa should be in that group chat too because she deserved to be, she deserved to live to see what we are all becoming, and it is so sad and so wrong that she has been gone for four years.
Oh! My heart.
This never gets easier. It just changes, from year to year. I am humbled by my sister’s faith in me. I am staggered by and so very grateful for her love, even now.
So I will breathe in and try to believe: Today we ache. Tomorrow we remember our ache, so when we see it in others we do not shut our eyes to their pain.
What 2 years of grieving have looked, sounded and felt like. Grieving is hard work, ya'll.
The dying participate in their own death, and by supporting them while they do it, we participate too - their end weaving into our middle.
October 15 is Vanessa's birthday; she would be 34 today. We're doing random acts of kindness in her honor.
A letter to Vanessa, one year since she died. We've had 365 days of life with V missing from it, and 365 days of us missing her.
I saw Big Hero 6 recently and it took me by surprise. I didn't expect to be so moved by its treatment of grief, loss and care-giving. It's lovely.
On what would be our sister's 33rd birthday, her loss hits us hard. We channel her inpatient kindness to find our way through.
Something I hadn't fully considered was that without my sister, the dynamic of every other relationship I had would be changed, too.
It is in the knowledge of the finite-ness of life that we can really understand the privilege and wonder of being alive, now, this moment.
A love story (in pictures). Love is bigger than cancer. LOVE WINS.
Back in February we launched a Live Sincerely t-shirt campaign. This timing turned out to be more challenging than we ever imagined. We're finally checking in to say THANK YOU!
I have found, in these days that bustle with life but still feel silent, that I don’t know yet who I am without V reflecting back to me her view of myself.
I couldn't figure out if I wanted to title this post "The End" or "The Beginning" - so I went with "The Middle" and that ended up feeling just right.
Vanessa's memorial service was a wonderful celebration of a wonderful life. We are so grateful to all who helped us honor her.
The eulogy we wrote together and read together at Vanessa's celebration of life.
Vanessa took her last breaths on Sunday, Feb. 23, surrounded by love.
The current rapidly changing situation suggests we are in our last few days with Vanessa. Thank you so much for your continued support.
In 2006 I gave my sister Vanessa a little song called "Pictures" for her wedding. With V likely bedridden now, I'm a bit taken aback by its prescience.
"For, while the tale of how we suffer... is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness."
The individual cells in her body don't know they are, as a team, losing the war. Each little cell in Vanessa is constantly, valiantly fighting against the cancer. She is exhausted.
Vanessa is sitting on my couch, and is constantly in my memories, and is sometimes in my tears, but I'm missing her soul in this year's Christmas time.
Living and loving impatiently sincere, as my dying sister has shown me how to do her whole life - My last act starts now. When will you live yours?