The Sun Shines through the Trees

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t been writing in my blog because I haven’t been feeling like I had anything important or wise to say in my grief.  In fact, my father’s death hit me like a ton of bricks, as the cliche goes and I haven’t felt quite the same since.

There was a day this past summer when I was riding in the car with my mom on the way to Lancaster when I noticed something was different.  I looked out the window at the beautiful scenery and I didn’t feel sad.

We were on our way to Green Dragon – a huge flea market – and were going to spend the day with many of my extended family members.  I brought all four kids, including the newbie that was just weeks old.

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Taking a break from the flea market shopping to take a picture with my children.  You can’t see it, but I’m wearing Finn too.

The last time I had gone to Green Dragon had been with BOTH of my parents, and I was already preparing for moments where my eyes would fill with tears and I’d have to hold it back.  Memories of laughing with my dad and eating with him and walking with him. Wishing he was still with us to buy big jugs of beet red pickled eggs and munch on sausages and pretzels.

But they didn’t come.

Well, the memories did, but the tears didn’t.  Not that I wasn’t sad that he wasn’t there to form NEW memories, but I wasn’t sad about the old memories.  I was actually happy about the old memories.  Happy to have them.  Joyful to share them with others.  Glad to remember him and those moments with  him.

My dad had been dead for over a year at that point and that was the first time I could feel like I was peeking over the mountain that is my grief. It’s almost like every time someone I loved died, the grief was piled higher and higher and it became more and more difficult to pull myself up to the summit so I could see the sun shining on the other side.

And for the past year, I think I’ve been stuck clinging to the edge of my grief by my very fingertips, getting more and more exhausted trying to hold on.

I’ve struggled with anxiety and insomnia.  I’ve worried and cried and worried some more about who was going to die next and what I would do if I lost someone else. What if the house catches on fire?  What if I drop this baby down the stairs?  What if that ache in my stomach is actually cancer?  As though being hyper-aware of every possible catastrophe would allow me to be better prepared.

I’ve struggled with depression.  I’ve carved a seat in the cushions of my couch that held me for days, wearing the same sweatpants and t-shirt the whole time. I’ve told myself that it doesn’t matter.  That I shouldn’t worry because as time goes on, more people are going to die. That’s just a fact of life.  People die.  I’ve chanted in my head a quote I heard when I was very young:  “From the moment we are born, we begin to die.”  As though being fatalistic would prevent me from having any hope and therefore keep me from feeling disappointed when someone died.

I was clutching my grief to my heart with all my strength.  Holding on so tightly that I couldn’t function in normal life.

But that day in Lancaster, I was lying on a picnic blanket staring up into the sky through the dark green leaves of a summer tree, listening to the tones of the voices of my family around me – not the words.  Just the tones. The bright tenor of my Uncle Joe and the warm altos of my aunts Chrissy, T and Mecky.  The sharp squeals of small children laughing and playing. The whispered sigh of a Nana holding a new baby while he sleeps.

And I realized my grief was beneath me.

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This is the exact view from that morning.  

It’s still there.  Ever present. Inescapable.  I am constantly standing on top of a mountain of grief.  But it’s not the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night.

Standing on the summit, I can see the sun.  The Son.

And feel hope.

Hope in knowing that life – no matter how hard or sad or complicated – is not about our brief time on this Earth.  And that hard times will keep coming, but I have hope that God will refine my heart through them.

That his purpose is greater than what I can see.  Maybe even greater than I will ever see.  Definitely greater than I am capable of seeing.

So, today, on the third anniversary of Luna’s stillborn delivery – the day we celebrate as her birthday, I ask you to have hope. To remember that God is calling us to lives of difficulty and trial.  But to lives that glorify Him.  To have hope that life is not actually about this time here.  Or about the death that ends this life here.

I went back and read some of the blog posts I wrote when I lost Luna and I wonder who the heck that woman was.  I want to meet her. Her words filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.  My grandmother quoted one of my blog posts recently, and I didn’t recognize those words as my own words.  Like I had lost a bit of myself in my struggle with grief.

But I slowly feel it coming back.

I just have to look up to see the Son through the trees.

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Luna Turns 2

This Sunday (November 23) marks the two year anniversary of the day we delivered our Luna Eugenia.  She was delivered stillborn after being diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome.  We still celebrate this day as her birthday.

In the hospital on Luna's birthday.

In the hospital on Luna’s birthday.

I also had the privilege of starting a new chapter in Biology class this week – Genetics.  I hadn’t anticipated really getting to talk about Luna so close to her birthday, but it just so happened that today we looked at karyotypes and I got to show them hers.

Luna's karyotype, showing the missing X chromosome in the bottom right.

Luna’s karyotype, showing the missing X chromosome in the bottom right.

We looked at the missing space where an X chromosome should have been, and I told them about how grateful I was for the technology to allow us to know what was going on with our baby girl.  I asked them to imagine being pregnant and thinking that everything was going well until one day you go in to the OB and they can’t find a heartbeat.  That would have been more difficult to bear than what we had. I am grateful for the six weeks between diagnosis and death that I had to value and savor every single moment with Luna.

There was also a rare chance where I got to speak to my students about why we named her Luna.  I explained that the moon has no light of its own and only reflects the light of the sun.  In the same way, as a Christian, I know that I have no light of my own and I only reflect the light of Christ to the world.  Luna’s name and Luna’s story remind me to shine brightly for Christ no matter what the circumstances are.

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I anticipated these holidays being difficult without my dad, Jen, Luna and Jake, but I have found that my mood has been better recently.  Perhaps the constant reminders of those I’ve lost have actually served to keep my focus in the right place.  Maybe I’m just happy that I get to see the rest of my family more during the holidays.  Regardless, I’m thankful that I get a little break from the grumpiness and anxiety of my grief.

I came up the stairs in MACA to go to my lab and there was a slanted rectangle of light on the floor where the sun was streaming in a glass door.  You know the kind.  The kind where the light hits all the particles in the air and it looks like a snow globe and the whole world seems to glow.  I stood in that doorway and felt the warmth of that sun and it really felt like a hug.  I don’t usually say cheesy things like that, but it really did feel like a warm hug. And it made me think about what I have to be thankful for.

1)  I am thankful for Luna.  For the experience of having her.  For the reminder of how to live because of her.  For the warmth of knowing her. For my children who still talk about her and make things for her.

The ornaments I made this week at MOPS.  My children reminded me to include Luna on everything.

The ornaments I made this week at MOPS. My children reminded me to include Luna on everything.

2)  I am thankful for losing Luna.  Without losing Luna when I did, I would not have been able to be in the hospital when Jen died.  She died two days after my due date with Luna and I would have had a hard time being there with a newborn (or being so enormously pregnant).  Also, if I had not lost Luna, I would not have Joe.  And Joe lights up my world. He hugs like my dad, bosses me around like Jen and makes goofy smiles like Jake.

My Joe and the smile that makes me smile.

My Joe and the smile that makes me smile.

3)  I am thankful for my family.  Both living and dead.  I have learned so much from all of them and I value each and every one of them.  They shape me.  They support me.  They make me who I am.  They are funny and smart and attractive.  They are kind and generous and patient.  They are everything I am not and everything that I am.  They fill all my gaps and make me into someone whole.

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Even though my struggle through grief hasn’t been easy and I have so much to work on, I am thankful for the life that God has given me.  It has given me a platform that I wouldn’t otherwise have. It has taught me to rely on Christ when I have nothing left.  It had made me compassionate and patient.  It has created in me a grateful, joyful heart.

My parents with us on Luna's birthday.  I am so thankful my dad could be there to hold my hand.

My parents with us on Luna’s birthday. I am so thankful my dad could be there to hold my hand.

That God really knows what he’s doing, doesn’t he?

So when Sunday rolls around, we encourage you to think for a moment about the light you are reflecting and we hope that Luna reminds you to reflect the Son as brightly as a full moon.

Camera Shy

When I was a child, I remember smiling big for every picture – posing and innocently smiling and carefree.  I never worried about how I looked or thought about how the picture will turn out.  Who cared? Someone loved me enough to take my picture.

So cute and showing no signs of insecurities...

So cute and showing no signs of insecurities…

Then I was in kindergarten, and all of a sudden my school picture was a big deal to me. I practiced smiling in front of the mirror in my room so that I would look good in it. Teeth?  no teeth?  Hair up?  Hair down?  All of a sudden, the final product mattered.  I remember agonizing over what shirt to wear (I settled on a red shirt with a picture of Mary the mother of Jesus on it) and how I was going to wear my hair.  I tucked it behind only one ear and when the photographer tried to tuck it behind the other ear, I pouted and pushed her hand away. Then I tried hard to smile, but thought my teeth might look funny, so I ended up with a tight lipped grimace that conveyed more of a get-me-out-of-here attitude than the sweet little girl I was trying to show the world.

What are you doing with that camera? (At least my kid seems happy to get his picture taken...)

What are you doing with that camera? (At least my kid seems happy to get his picture taken…)

Thus began a lifelong struggle with cameras. While I love seeing pictures of me with my loved ones, I had a hard time posing for said pictures with any kind of confidence. Even when I tried to look normal, my face just somehow took the presence of a camera as an invitation to twist into a variety of monstrous expressions that should never be recorded on film. My junior prom picture is evidence of that, where I stand snarling at the camera while my “just a friend” date (now my husband) looks debonair and confident. No, I will not show you that picture. Or my face becomes an angry stare that promises retaliation when the camera is put away.

Get that camera away from me.

Get that camera away from me.

And so began the habit of making purposefully hideous facial expressions in photos. So now when people say to me, “what are you making that face for?” I can pull a Jim Hansbrough and say, “For free.

Love this picture of my daddy.  Look at the muscular abilities of his face to morph into such an expression!  That is one talented man.

Love this picture of my daddy. Look at the muscular abilities of his face to morph into such an expression! That is one talented man.

In fact, I think we all inherited that method of camera avoidance from my father. Make a silly face on purpose and people will stop taking pictures of you.  And it works! Like a charm!

My sister, father and brother demonstrating that inherited method for making cameras go away:  stupid faces.

My sister, father and brother demonstrating that inherited method for making cameras go away: stupid faces.

Except now the problem is that I wish I had more pictures of me with the loved ones I’ve lost.  Didn’t I love them in real life? Weren’t we with each other a crazy proportion of the time?  Why aren’t there more pictures of us together?  Why don’t we have record of these amazing relationships in my life?

Even as babies, we learned to make faces to keep cameras away.

Even as babies, we learned to make faces to keep cameras away.

So here is my request to those of you who are apt to take photos of me. Please do it. Do it despite my protesting. Do it despite the fact that my face will by impulse contort itself into an expression that would frighten small children. Do it as often as you can. Do it as annoyingly as you can. Your chances of success will probably be greater if you capture some candid moments so my face doesn’t know a camera is around, but make me pose for them too.  Make me pose with the people I love.  Point a camera at me and make me stand next to my mom or my siblings or my cousins and put my arm around them like I love them and tell me to smile even though we all know that could end poorly.

My students get me.

My students get me.

And those of you who are professional photographers?  Try your hardest to make me look at least a little normal.  It’s a challenge, I know.  But try.

Especially the extra weird ones that like to dress me up with props and pose with me.

Sometimes I let them dress me up in costumes first…but at least she posed with me.

Record these moments that we all want to look back on because having them recorded will help us remember. And even if that means I have to be uncomfortable for all of five seconds while you snap a picture, at least my children will have it on record that I love them because I am willing to get my picture taken with them.

I do really love these kids.

I do really love these kids.

And while I know this means we will have to tolerate the likes of you, oh family photographers, I am willing to do it because I wish I had more pictures of those who are gone now. I don’t want my silly selfish insecurities about how the picture will turn out to keep us from recording family history.  It makes me so sad that I don’t have more pictures of me and Jake or me and Dad or me and Jen. So forget my silliness and take more pictures of me. Please.

In the same vein, don’t get mad when I take pictures of you. So there. More photos. More happy memories. More memories we can share. More opportunities for laughter.

The whole family can get in on this silly face thing.  Even the in-laws are adept at these skills.

The whole family can get in on this silly face thing. Even the in-laws are adept at these skills.

Maybe it's not genetic, because it seems to have spread to my husband's side of the family...

Maybe it’s not genetic, because it seems to have spread to my husband’s side of the family…

Dear Luna

Dear Luna,

You would be 16 months old this month.

You would be cruising all over the place and eating everything in sight.

You would be laughing and smiling and playing with your siblings.

You would be doing crazy things that defy explanation and logic while also making it impossible for me to scold you without laughing.

You would be wearing cute little bathing suits with ruffles and bows and sunscreen.

Or you could be wheelchair bound due to your Turner Syndrome. You could be a 24-hour concern, requiring my every ounce of energy but worth every exhausted moment.

I would be anxious about your every breath instead of mine. I would be worried about every cough and cold and rash and scrape and ache. I would hover and over-protect and flip out. I would yell at people staring at you and threaten kids who weren’t polite.

I miss you. And I mourn the fact that I don’t have you. The fact that there was this little piece of me living in this world who I didn’t get to nurture and hug.

I mourn that Maggie has missed out on having a baby sister and partner in crime.  She misses you too. And is often sad about it, but I learn so much from her. When she says she is sad about you, the very next thing she says is that she will see you in heaven when she dies.

You are such a part of this family. I have four children – not three. I delivered you just as painfully and joyfully as I delivered Bo, Maggie and Joe. I did hold you for a moment. I did kiss your tiny hand. I did get to say goodbye.

I owe you some thanks. Thank you for teaching me that every soul means something. Thank you for teaching me that I can be brave in the face of loss. Thank you for teaching me not to take things for granted.

Thank you for Joe. I would not have Joe if I had not lost you first. I would not appreciate Joe or be as patient with Joe if I had not lost you first.

I would not understand my mother’s love for me – the child born after loss – without first losing you.

I know for sure that having you and losing you was all part of God’s plan. I know without a doubt that this all happened the way it was supposed to. But it still hurts and I am still sad. I still wish things could be different. But different in a way that would allow me to have Joe too.

Mostly, Luna, I love you. I love you without knowing you. I love you without meeting you. I love you completely. I love you in a way that I can’t explain.

Give my daddy, my sister and my brothers big hugs and kisses for me. You are a lucky little girl to be there with such a crowd of amazing people.

Love,
Your Momma

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

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.