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.