The Stages of Grief

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I like to fancy myself an amateur expert on grief. (Is that an oxymoron? I know others who have had it worse than me so I can’t possibly be an expert expert.) My brother Jacob died in December of 2010 from a heart attack. Then my daughter Luna was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome and was delivered stillborn in November of 2012. Less than four months later, my sister Jen died from leukemia in March of 2013. Then just a couple weeks ago, my daddy died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

When you lose someone you love, you go through so many different feelings that you don’t know which way is up anymore. I don’t know anything about the stages of grief (including how many there are or what they are) but I do know that there is no rhyme or reason to how you are feeling from one day to the next. One moment to the next. They don’t happen in any order. They don’t stop once you’ve worked your way through them. You will keep feeling those things in one form or another for your whole life.

I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that my dad is dead. In fact, I confess that sometimes I think Jen is really just at the hospital and she’ll be home soon. And on Sunday nights, I wait sometimes to hear Jake come up the basement stairs, his bags rubbing against the wall. That smells like denial to me. Some days it is very real to me and other days are easier to get through if I lie to myself a little.

It is impossible not to feel sad about the loss of a loved one. I get the most sad when I think about how my kids are going to miss out on these awesome people in their lives. Just last week, I was uncontrollably weepy because it was grandparents day at school and I knew Papa wouldn’t be there next year to visit Bo in kindergarten. (Not that he would – he was the type of guy who would rather take Bo on an adventure outside of school instead.) I get sad thinking about the friendship I know Jake would have had with Bo and the girly bond Jen would have had with my “I love pink and purple” two-year-old. Some days I just cry. A lot.

I think it is equally difficult not to feel guilty. I should have visited Jen in the hospital more. I should have checked on Jacob earlier the morning he died. I should have encouraged my dad to go to the doctor sooner. I should have told them all how much I love and admire them before they were gone. I shouldn’t have copped such a nasty attitude when my dad held my hand to pray before dinner the last time I saw him. How I wish I could feel his giant paw wrap around my hand again. I honestly never stop feeling guilty for every moment I thought of myself instead of thinking of them.

But my default emotion in life is anger. I am always angry at something. Angry that I didn’t see it coming. Angry that my time with them was so short. Angry at people who say the absolute wrong things in an attempt to comfort you. (Just so you know, losing your brother/baby/sister/father is NOT like losing your cat/dog/hamster/fish – no matter how close you guys are.) Angry that all this had to happen in so short a time. Angry at myself for being angry. Angry at other people for not being angry or not being angry enough. I could go on, but I think I would just be embarrassing myself.

Of course I have accepted what has happened to me. I am reminded that they are no longer alive every time I have to call everyone in the family. Or buy everyone a present at Christmas. Or save people seats. Or when I want to talk to someone and get advice. Or when I am sitting at a family gathering. Like for Easter this year, I will be sitting there thinking that the crowd is too small. The list is too short. And I accept it because it has changed my very soul to lose these people I love so much.

Like I said, I don’t know what the stages of grief even are, but these are things I feel on a daily basis. Sadness. Guilt. Anger. Denial. I should also mention that I feel afraid. Afraid of losing someone else. Afraid that I am next.

But you might be surprised to hear I also feel thankful. Jen and I memorized 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 with our Bible study girls years ago and it is the only verse that I still have memorized all this time later. “Rejoice always. Pray continually. In all things, give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself, I stop myself and think about how blessed I am. Yes, how BLESSED I am. I would have nothing to mourn if I were not blessed in the first place. I have loved and lost more family than some people will ever have. Praise God that I had the privilege of having such an incredible, loving, faithful daddy and such brilliant, funny, talented siblings like Jen and Jake. If they weren’t so amazing, I would not be so sad. My sadness is a measure of their awesomeness. Praise God that I could carry my Luna those five months even if I never got to meet her.

And reflecting on the ones I have lost also makes me reflect on those I still have. My humble, strong, gracious mother. My beautiful, smart and funny children. My gorgeous genius of a husband. My loving, creative and sensitive sister Jes. My brothers. Jimbo – the teddy bear at heart who would prefer for everyone to think he’s heartless. Joe – the honorable, hard-working leader. Rico – the soft hearted one who is fiercely proud of his family. Jack – the selfless, giving and honest one. My nephews Alex (the deep, thoughtful, big-hearted one) and William (the fearless goofball). Chris who taught me how to serve the ones I love. Eeen who showed me how to take myself less seriously. Erica who loves others so completely and openly. Em-E who is the epitome of patience and loyalty. Bean and Jeff who make Christ such a focus in their family. Gene and Mer who give so much of themselves to others. Mama and Pop Korn who are hands down the most generous people I know. I really wish I could go on and list everyone, but I would never be able to stop. The rest of my extended family. My coworkers. My friends. My students. My Bible study girls and church family. Seriously, how can I not feel blessed?! And I am thankful.

Even when I am sad, I am thankful. Angry? Thankful. Guilty and thankful. In denial, but thankful. In all things I am thankful. When Jake died, I would try to pray, but the only thing that I could say was “Thank you, God, for everything. I don’t deserve anything.” That gets me through even my hardest days.

But today is Easter. Easter is the day I celebrate the ultimate “thank you for everything – I don’t deserve anything.” Not only does Christ save me from a lifetime of sin, but He makes it possible for me to see Jake, Luna, Jen and my daddy again. As if heaven couldn’t get any better! Today I celebrate Christ’s triumph over death and I celebrate it extra because His triumph over death has already given me hope for the future.

We asked Bo what Easter means for our loved ones who are already dead and he said, “It means they get to rise from the dead. And me too.” Two minutes later, he came back distraught because he wanted us to understand that he knew he had to die first before he could rise from the dead. How I wish everyone had that perspective of death. As a stepping stone to resurrection. So today I remember that. In order to rise, we must first die.

More Magical than Santa Claus

My dad was more magical to me than Santa Claus. I know it’s April but the magic of Christmas never goes away. It fades a little but children hope and wait for Christmas all year. There is a magic and a tingle of anticipation that comes with Christmas that comes at no other time and because of that, so many children are in love with Santa Claus. He is the epitome of generosity, warmth, kindness and joy. He exudes peace and hope and love. He makes you smile just to think of him. That is not Santa Claus – that is my dad.

There was something otherworldly about him. I knew – I mean KNEW – that my dad loved me more than he loved himself. Even when I was in trouble I still knew. And I knew that more than just loving me, my dad even LIKED me. My siblings will absolutely agree – he felt that way about all of us. He was willing to sacrifice absolutely anything for us. As I write this, I get the feeling that everyone feels like that about their father, but I am not really doing it justice. He appeared to be an ordinary man but this was simply his alter ego. Underneath that facade of normality was a man of incredible strength, faith, love and talent. My dad was extraordinary in his love for us. My dad was an extraordinary man. I am sad that I won’t be able to make you see just how extraordinary in the time I have.
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My father provided for all nine of us a stable, loving, secure home. Never once did we feel anything but love. We struggled with money and yet, I never felt starved or needy. My dad worked his tail off, getting up at 4 and coming home past 7. Decades of working a job that he was very good at and with people he loved, but a job that he hated. Winters where he would leave when it was dark and come home after the sun went down – never seeing the light of day. He gave up his dreams of illustrating as a profession so that he could be sure to provide for the children he loved. Did I mention he worked an hour away from home? But even though he worked so many hours a day, we never felt deprived because his time at home with us was so special.

As a very little girl, I would ask my dad to give me a kiss before he left for work in the morning, sometimes leaving notes on his pillow. I lived for those kisses. And when he came home in the evening, I would race my brothers to the front door, grab a hold of his legs and scream “MY daddy!!!!” When we were sick, we would curl up against him and ask him to put his giant paw on our heads or bellies because he gave off so much body heat. He was such a hot-box that in the hospital Monday morning – even more than an hour after he had been declared dead, his body was still warm. I snuggled his cheek to feel the scratch of his whiskers and rubbed the scar on his neck and it felt like he had just come inside on a cold day.

My heart aches. It aches to think that my children are going to grow up without him. They only had a few short years (months in Joe’s case) to get as many bear hugs and scruffly kisses as they could. Bo recently discovered the classic monster movies and the two of them spent hours watching them. Bo would ask a million questions and Papa was more than happy to answer each and every one. Bo’s greatest regret right now is that they never got to watch Dracula together.

My dad got to babysit all three of my kids on his own a couple weeks ago and even though they put him through the ringer, (I mean, when he asked Maggie to clean up the soup she spilled, she got mad and promptly peed on the floor. He made her clean that up too), he was delighted to hear them ask when he was going to watch them again. He cuddled and soothed crying babies and reminded me every chance he got how blessed I was no matter how grumpy, demanding or difficult my children were. He has donned big bad wolf masks for story time, lovingly passed down stories of his family and childhood and even waxed philosophical with my two and four year olds with questions like “Is Frankenstein’s monster the real villain or Frankenstein the scientist?” Every one of his grandchildren was in love with him and he was in love with them. Boy did that man love children.

So many memories. Things I don’t want to forget. Things I am afraid I will forget. Like my dad hiding behind the curtain in the delivery room so he could be the first to hold his first granddaughter. Or the time Patrick asked him for permission to marry me and he got up and mowed the lawn without saying a word. The time I called him to catch a mouse in my house and he insisted on trapping it and releasing it on the outskirts of town. The way he stubbornly mispronounced words. How I could feel my children relax in my arms at the sound of his voice. His very particular way of sketching something. His unique parenting technique of “evenly distributing the yeses and the no’s.” The way he would call us “stink weed” and his silent, open mouth laugh when something was really funny. His love pats. His giant bear hugs. His smell. His voice.

But there is one thing I will never forget. I cannot forget. His unwavering faith in Christ. I can’t forget this because my parents – both of them – have etched this into my very being. Even as a child, when I was afraid of the end of the world and pretty much everything else, my father taught me to trust wholeheartedly in God’s plan. This was not the naive lesson taught by a man who had never had to struggle in life – this was the advice of a man seemingly mistreated by life. A rocky childhood. Losing a sister at an early age. The SIDS death of an infant son which he blamed himself for. Standing by while his 16-year-old son has a heart attack and then 9 years later, losing that son to another heart attack. Losing his mother and stepfather in the same year. Holding me up through the diagnosis and stillbirth of my daughter Luna. Treating my sister’s multiple miscarriages with pinto beans and cornbread. Supporting his oldest child through her struggle with leukemia for a decade and then sitting by her bedside, holding her hand when she silently slipped away. Until the very end, my father held firm in his faith – never once questioning the wisdom, love and kindness of the God he served. Always trusting in God’s plan. When life became difficult, he stepped closer to God instead of turning away. Perhaps more than anything, this is what made my dad so magical. More than anything, this is what I will remember.

I am sad to lose him, so as my mother taught me, I need something to be thankful for. I am thankful for the grace of God to give me a mother and father that would equip me to survive this life I have been given. I am thankful for every magical moment and every mystical second of my life with my father. I am thankful for the bits and pieces of himself that he left in each of his children and grandchildren – like how he left his face on Alex. I am thankful for the sacrifices he made for us. I am thankful for his hugs. And I am even more thankful that he taught me the faith that allows me to know that I will also spend eternity with him. Now if only he had taught me about patience…

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To My Brother in Law

Dear Chris,

It is no secret that you are Incredible. Incredible with a capital I. I watched you serve and love and care for my sister for decades. Even before the leukemia, you were always taking care of Jen.

Not only Jen, but the rest of us too. Giving us rides. Inviting us on vacation with you. Letting us sleep over. Giving us firm, solid and truthful advice. And for me, your gentle encouragement during my awkward middle school years kept me from falling off the edge into low self esteem. I still remember some of those things you’d say to me and how they changed my whole outlook on boys, friends, drama and life. I thought then that it was because you were older and wiser, but I know (now that I am older than you were then) that God just equipped you to encourage, advise and teach young people. I am proud to be the recipient of a good bit of that and I would like to think I helped you perfect your skills.

Before you even met Jen, God was shaping you into a person with a lifetime of lessons learned and stories to tell. I have heard you talk about your childhood a number of times and I am always impressed that you’re not angrier than you are. How could I, with my pretty awesome childhood, struggle with anger more than you who has gone through so much? God made you to do more with your life than just get angry. He has been molding you into one of those diamond in the rough types that can and will change the world.

And if there was any doubt at all of your fortitude, your wife got sick and you showed us just how incredible God made you. When she first got sick, the doctors gave her weeks to live and you began caring for a four-year-old and a one-year-old on your own. Cleaning the house, feeding and caring for small children, running back and forth to the hospital. You didn’t know it then, but God was shaping you into the man Jen and the boys needed you to be. The man God needed you to be. Then she recovered and the challenges were different.

What I can’t imagine is how you survived those eleven years when Jen was sick. How did you breathe knowing any moment she could take that turn and die? Did you sit for hours just staring at the woman you love and begging God not to take her away? How did you drop her off at the hospital knowing you may get a call from her nurses saying this is it? And then how did you keep breathing when you finally did get that call? How did you get through those moments at home where you had to decide if she was sick enough to go back to the hospital? Maybe she’s well enough to sit it out at home. Maybe she’s too sick for you to handle and she needs nurses and a team of doctors to make these decisions instead of you. If you make the wrong choice, it could mean waking up to find Jen gone. How in the world did you ride the remission-relapse roller coaster for over a decade?! The leukemia is gone. The leukemia is back. It’s gone. It’s back. She’s great! She’s miserable. She’s back to normal and back to work. She’s back in the hospital.

It breaks my heart that I did not have more compassion and serve you more during those many years. How dare I wait for you to ask for help before I offer it! How dare I feel sorry for myself when you are suffering so much more! And worse yet, after Jen died, how dare I deny you happiness. I will admit that I was uncomfortable with the idea of you dating someone, especially so soon after losing my sister. I battled with the idea and even though I love Miranda, it made me unhappy. There I was again, thinking only of myself. I prayed for God to change something and he’s changed my heart. You deserve happiness and love and joy. You deserve peace and hope. After eleven years of being the caretaker of a seriously sick spouse, you deserve to do what makes you happy. I am sorry I wanted to selfishly deny you that – even if you didn’t know that I did.

I know we could never do enough. We could never make up for being faced with mortality before you thought you should have to be. We could never compensate for those weeks and months where you had to function like a single parent and then the shock when you actually became a single parent and realized those two things are NOT the same. The loneliness. The sleepless nights. The gut-wrenching cries alone in your bed. Those moments you don’t “feel” like doing something but have no choice because your family needs you. The crying children. The suffocating worry. The insensitive remarks from ignorant people like me. Dealing with people who won’t visit your spouse in the hospital because of some selfish hang-up. They don’t want to face city traffic. They hate hospitals. They don’t want to make her uncomfortable. Whatever.

On behalf of everyone who made your day worse while you were dealing with things that are so huge, I am sorry. I am sorry I didn’t at least try harder. We could never do enough to take it all away, but we could have done SOMETHING. We should still do something because the hurt doesn’t just go away.

I am excited that God had chosen you to be a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. You have so much to teach and so much to share with the students at Stevenson University and McDaniel. It fills me with hope to see you use what happened to you and Jen to point to Christ and to teach others to see beyond themselves. I am happy to support you in this FCA thing both prayerfully and financially. I know you have a message that needs to get to the world and God has blessed you with the ability to change lives. I wish I could give more.

Jen was a game changer. She waltzed into your life and turned it upside down. She taught you about patience and faith and strength and I know she is more excited than any of us about your work with FCA. You could be that game changer for someone else. You could teach someone else about love and strength and faith. You have already taught me. Does it surprise you to learn that you were teaching me about Christ’s love before you even believed in him? Like I said, you’re going to change the world and I am glad I get to be a part of it.

Love always,
Your favorite Katie

3 years, 1 year, 9 months, 1 month

It has been 3 years since we found my brother Jake dead.

It has been about 1 year since we buried Luna.

It has been 9 months since we gathered at Jen’s bedside and she breathed her last.

It has been one month since our Baby Joe was born.

It seems that the longer we live the more anniversaries and milestones we have to remember. It almost seems like every day has different memories and every day marks some meaningful event.

I have been mulling over this entry all weekend because I thought I would have something more meaningful to add to this. The truth is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It still feels like yesterday that Jake was slicing my throat with his hand and poking my side so I would jump a mile high. It still feels like Jen is a phone call away and a drive down the street. It still feels like nothing has changed and at the same time, it feels like nothing could ever be the same. Baby Joe will never get to fall asleep cuddled into his Aunt Jen. Maggie and Joe and their cousins Grace and Lolo will never get to play crazy imagination games with their Uncle Jakey. I will never have to whine about finding Jake’s hair all over my floors or complain to Jen about how she never lets me sleep because she wants to stay up late to talk. And Luna would be 9-months now!! What would she be doing? Standing? Pulling herself up? Getting ready to walk?

Some days I can convince myself that nothing has changed and then other days I feel like my loss is dragging me around behind it leaving me bruised and battered for weeks.

It’s strange the things that remind me of my siblings. We got this baby chair for Bo that vibrates and plays music when he was born. We used up the batteries when Bo was a few months old and hadn’t replaced them until a day ago. (Yes, that was four years and two babies ago.) So I hadn’t heard the chair’s music since before Jake died and when we turned that chair on for the first time with Baby Joe in it, my brain got confused. I totally expected to find Jakey in his room doing his ridiculous exercises or something.

And of course it’s Christmas season. So everything reminds me of Jen. Decorating the tree. Christmas shopping. Presents. The other day I saw PeeWee’s Big Adventure on TV. And whenever I dress my children to go out in the cold, at least one of them is wearing something she made.

And can I confess something? Sometimes, if I walk by a window or mirror at the right speed and angle, I think it’s her for a split second before I realize it’s my goofy reflection.

I guess what I am saying is that memories and reminders can be random. And those days where you are expected to remember the ones you’ve lost are no different from any other day except you are reminded more often in the day. And while I am confessing things, I admit that I sometimes like days where I get to think about them more than usual.

Brand New Blessings

One of those things that veteran mothers tell newbies is that every baby is different. And this is absolutely true. But my mother (a veteran mother and labor and delivery nurse) would always add “And every labor is different too.” After experiencing four deliveries, I can say that I have yet to prove her wrong.

This labor was so different from the others that I wasn’t sure I was even in labor yet. The contractions were not increasing in intensity or becoming more regular. I had had contractions on and off all morning and while they seemed to be closer together around dinner time, they weren’t stronger. I texted my mom and said that she could come over, but I wasn’t positive that it was time yet. I texted my sister who had volunteered to stay with Bo and Maggie and told her to be on alert. But she lives an hour away and I didn’t think she needed to leave yet.

I continued to relax and breathe through contractions when my mom got here and all of a sudden, it felt urgent. I got the shakes and my body temperature started jumping around (cold one minute, really warm the next). I guess in L&D speak, I was transitioning – moving from the initial phases of labor to late stage labor. And I was still sitting in my living room with my two-year-old hugging my legs asking me if I was okay. And no one was here yet to watch the older kids. Patrick’s brother Gene was on his way but had gotten pulled over and Jes was stuck in rush hour traffic.

Once Gene got there, we (Patrick, my mom and I) got in the car and raced to the hospital. I was genuinely afraid I would have the baby on the way. We got there at about 7:30 and my mom bypassed hospital admissions and put me straight in a room. They gave me a gown and I threw my clothes off without paying much attention to where they ended up. Then the nurse checked me and I was 9.5cm dilated and she said she could feel the bag bulging. I really wanted to push, but the doctor wasn’t there yet. My mom put on gloves and that made me feel better. She told me to bear down just hard enough to relieve the pressure.

Finally the doctor arrived and they let me push. Two pushes later and Joseph Calvin Obadiah arrived. I am skipping over the pushing part because I hate pushing and I am pretty certain I fought against the process at that point – at least a little. To push as hard as you can for a count of ten just seems so long when you’re delivering a baby. But he was born and was healthy and pink. There wasn’t the time to get an IV or ask for meds or anything. I got to the hospital and then he joined us.

I slept between each contraction when I labored with Bo and Maggie was back labor. Luna was my only delivery with medication and Joe was my super fast labor.

But there were other essential differences with this labor and delivery. As the first delivery after losing Luna, each squeak, squeal and cry was a triumph. Every newborn coo and sigh and cuddle was a moment of relief and rejoicing. I thought my heart would burst as overnight, my husband slept snoring on the couch beside me and my newborn slept sighing and squeaking in the cradle on the other side of me. When they took Joe to the nursery to do some routine tests and things, I honestly forgot for a moment that they would bring him back at some point. They never brought Luna back and I was left to recover alone and for just a brief second, I thought that was happening again.

Now that we are home, I find myself making other adjustments. I don’t think I have put this baby boy down for more than a few minutes. I hover around people holding him and have become a little clingy. If he wants to stay up all night, we stay up all night. And I am not even mad at him for it. My neck has an ache from sleeping on the couch and my arm cramps up from holding him too long, but I don’t even mind. I live to hear him laugh in his sleep and to hear him sigh when I kiss his head. I know this can’t go on forever, but for right now, I am giving him whatever makes him happy.

And I am happy. God is good. But I keep reminding myself that even if something had gone wrong – even if I had lost my Joe, God is still good. All the time. ALL the time.

Why I love Autumn

Fall was not Jen’s favorite season. She loved the winter holidays and she loved the beauty of spring, but her real favorite was summer. Swimming. Going to the beach. Crabs. Sunshine. Warmth. Cookouts. She has always been a summer girl.

But in my brain, there is so much about fall that reminds me of my sister that it has become almost a symbol of her. This is cheesy, I know, but I am a sentimental pregnant woman. Bear with me.

As the air cools and I have to reach for a scarf in the morning, I realize that most of my scarves were knit by Jen. I wrap the soft warmth around me and it’s as close to a hug as I am going to get. I remember how she chose that pattern for me because it had something in it that made her think of me, whether it was the owls on Maggie’s hat or the Luna pattern of my shawl. Sometimes I think I can see her fingers furiously knitting away at some of those pieces.

Crisp autumn Saturdays mean football and I think about all the football games I went to so that I could cheer alongside Jen for her boys. She was so proud of those boys. Especially on the football field, she saw so much in them that she admired and encouraged. They are fearless and determined. They are smart and made decisions in seconds. She wanted them so much to see how those same qualities would serve them well in everyday life. How many Saturdays did I wrap myself in blankets to sit beside my sister and watch her beam with pride for her husband and sons? Not as many Saturdays as I wish I had, but enough to know that she was beyond happy.

The changing foliage reminds me of Jen for two reasons. First of all, I love that as the leaves on the trees die, they erupt in sheer beauty and color before they gracefully fall to the ground. People travel for miles to watch the leaves as they lose their green chlorophyll – a fact which ultimately means they are losing their ability to support themselves through photosynthesis and are dying. Like those leaves, Jen was definitely dazzlingly beautiful as she was dying. It seemed to me that the more scarred and ragged and tired her body got, the more beautiful and Christlike her heart became. Barely a week before she died, I watched Jen patiently – even sweetly – handle a newbie nurse I would have torn to shreds for her incompetence. A nurse Jen would have torn to shreds herself a few years earlier. And people came from miles around just to be around Jen these last few years because her beauty was so incredible.

But mostly the reds, yellows and oranges of fall remind me of Jen because of something she taught me. The leaves turn these brilliant colors because the green chlorophyll is lost revealing these other pigments underneath. These other pigments were always present, but the chlorophyll hid them. Only during this brief season do the trees let those intimate, personal colors shine through. I feel like Jen was constantly pushing me to let some of my brilliant fall colors shine through. She would encourage me to let people have a glimpse of the real Katie because she was convinced that once people knew that part of me, they would love me the way she did. She would always call me on it when I was trying too hard to behave a certain way. “I know you want people to think you’re tough as nails, but you do have a heart, Katie,” she would say.

Jen died almost seven months ago, but it know she is still pulling the best parts of me out into the open. She is more beautiful than ever and she is still fiercely proud of her boys. If there is yarn in heaven, I also know she’s working on that DNA pattern scarf she always promised me.

And every morning I step out and shiver in the fall air, I remember that fall morning she sat next to me as my infant daughter Luna was lowered into the ground, with her soft, graceful hand in mine. Thank you, Father, for allowing her to be there with me that morning and for every moment I got to spend with her. I look forward to an eternity with her in heaven.

Reminders

When I first found out that Luna was sick and probably would not make it, I read everything I could find about losing a loved one. I read one blog written by a mother who had lost a baby and she commented more than a year later that she was reminded of her loss because the number on her ticket at the bakery was her baby’s due date. I remember thinking that it was a little ridiculous and excessive and I would totally not be guilty of remembering Luna because of something so silly as a series of numbers.

But the truth is, when you have lost someone, you don’t need help remembering them. Yes, even something as mundane as a series of numbers – or even something like the way the wind blows or the feeling you get when you wake up can make you think of them.

It has been hard for me to really accept that Jen is really dead. My sister’s personality was so much bigger than anyone I have ever known and the idea that she wasn’t physically around anymore was (and sometimes still is) so hard to believe. I was feeling guilty because I haven’t done the same sorts of things to remember her that I did with Jake. For Jake, there were T-shirts, necklaces, photos and symbols like bonsai trees and samurai swords, brown flip flops and Batman. For Luna, there were moons. For Jen, there’s Wonder Woman, but the memories I have of her are not linked to an object or symbol like they were with Jake or even with Luna – not even Wonder Woman.

I had a dream recently where I was sitting with her on a dock, our feet in the water. I leaned over and said to her, “This last time was really close, wasn’t it?” She leaned over and said, “It wasn’t close, Kate. I didn’t make it.” The conversation continued, and I ignored her statement. We talked about all the normal stuff – made fun of our brothers, bragged about our kids and all that and then I said again, “I really did think I almost lost you that last time.” And she smiled at me and said, “Katie, you will never lose me, but I am not alive anymore.”

When you have lost someone you love, it’s not like you need help remembering them. They are present in a million ways in your mind and heart already. I think of Jen when I eat a good cannoli or when I see the color purple. I think of Jen when I read a good book because she would have asked to borrow it. Or when I take a nap because she would always visit me when the kids were napping and I would be annoyed I couldn’t get a nap in too. Or when I clean under the bed because when we shared a room, I “cleaned” up her stuff by sticking it under her bed. When I smell tea or hear 80′s music. Little Orphan Annie or all you can eat crabs.

There is not a single hour or even minute that goes by when I am not reminded of someone I have lost. This is true for everyone who has lost someone. Yes, even mundane things like a series of numbers or the color purple can remind someone of a person they love and miss. Yes, even nothing in particular can bring that person to mind. Mothers who have miscarried can tell you this – they lost someone they never met and someone they had no chance to make memories with. And yet, they still remember.

In this way, we don’t lose them completely. They are not here with us anymore and we can’t physically touch them, but the things they taught us and the way they made us feel will never be gone. Praise God for blessings like that.