On Candace’s 22nd Birthday

Candace, 

Hey shorty. It’s your birthday!
Last year around this time Georgia and I were making cupcakes for your 21st birthday. We had dinner at La Casa and couldn’t get a good picture because it’s so dark in there. I thought it was trivial at the time. (Funny the things we take for granted. The inconveniences we don’t pay much attention to.) I’m really glad I didn’t miss your 21st. I’m glad I came home to celebrate with you. And I really enjoyed when you came to Portland the next weekend. We had so much fun, and soul-baring, that night. I will always cherish those memories. 
Somedays I get kind of mad at you for leaving. Not because it’s your fault, but because I don’t know who else to be mad at. 
And now I can’t believe I have to live the rest of my life without you. That realization hurts so much, every moment of every day that I come to it. It seems so unfair that your absence will be felt at every special occasion, every family dinner.The shadow of our loss will cling in the air at every Christmas. My heart will break a little more every time I send a group text message and have to remind myself not to include your number. I will be at a loss for how to explain the story anytime someone innocently asks me how many brothers and sisters I have. 
The immediate time following your death was such a fog. A blur so thick with confusion and grief and misery that I can still feel it. It seems now that I have entered a new conscious understanding of how our lives have changed, of what is different. But I still reel in disbelief that I will never see you again. 
I think of the last time we really talked. I brought you a pita and we just chatted while the girls played on the trampoline at Mom’s house. It was so innocent. So perfectly reflective of the ease, the subtlety with which we handled ourselves as sisters. We took for granted that we would both always be there. Always moving in and out of deep connection, assuming there would always be time. Not even thinking there wouldn’t be another day to eat pitas by the trampoline. Never imagining the last time I saw you in Mom’s kitchen with your new hair cut would be the last time I would see you well. Never beginning to comprehend that the last conversation we had on HeyTell would be the last time we ever talked. 
I’ve never had anything in my life truly end. I’ve never lost something I could never, ever have back. Except you. And you are one of the worst things to lose. I just can’t wrap my mind around this. 
Did you know the ancient Babylonians were the first to come up with the idea of zero? A way to mark the absence of something? Before that, humans didn’t have a way of defining negation, lack of existence. How could they have? And how can we bear it, now that we have a way of marking it? Some days I feel like I’ve just stumbled upon the concept of zero. All the realms of understanding it opens up. A whole new life in the shadow of death. Everything is different now. 
But nothing about this new reality makes me wish I hadn’t known you. In fact, it makes me realize over and over again how grateful I am that we had you for 21 years. Helen Keller said, “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”  And it is so true. The love we shared is a part of me and will remain with me forever. I will never cease to be grateful for the light you carried with you. The smile even in trying circumstances. The compassion and kindness you always showed to those around you. 
I am touched to see the many lives you affected, the friendships you made, the way you have encouraged others, even in your death, to make their lives better. To strive for something worth having. You met many struggles with great resilience. You loved deeply even when you were hurt. And even now your life prompts us to seek the beauty in all things. 
Your birthday will always be so important to me. It’s the day you came into our lives and changed them forever. 
Happy Birthday, beautiful. I miss you.
Love you always and forever. 

On Impermanence

“How are you doing?” Lots of people ask me this. How am I doing? I don’t know. How can you process losing something that has always been. Whose existence has shaped your current reality.

I keep having dreams where things that always were no longer are. Simple things really. My glasses breaking. Steve asking me not to call him “baby” anymore; saying he’s too grown up. Everyday things missing, being gone. Irreversibly and unchangeably wrong.

I guess that’s what it is like to lose a sister. Something that has always, always been a part of my life very suddenly is not. Besides my parents, Candace is the only person who has been a part of my existence for the entirety of it (as far as I can remember, at least. She was born when I was two). There is no part of my life she hasn’t been in. No major event complete without her presence. No small gathering without her mention. She even joined me at college for a semester and was planning on moving back to Portland to start a new job in the next few months.

And now she’s gone and my brain can’t wrap itself around this new reality. Especially because it’s something you can’t prepare yourself for – a young, unexpected death. It’s not like she was really sick for years and years or that she was old and you’d kind of just expect it at some point.

And so what strikes me most, in all this, is impermanence. The impermanence of everything. Even things that you think will never go away, never change. They do. We take so many things for granted. We take relationships for granted, assuming they’ll always be there for us to come back to when we have time, when we’re not busy attending to more pressing matters. I neglect doing little things, writing letters or sending notes or even just texting someone I should because I assume there will always be time to do that later. I don’t do little things for holidays because I assume there is always next year. I put things off because there is tomorrow, next week, the rest of time.

I’m not saying I don’t seize opportunities. I don’t think that’s a big fault of mine. It’s a little fault of mine. A little fault in which I don’t seize little opportunities because it has never really occurred to me before now that I may not get another chance. There was a book I had wanted to send Candace with a letter about what I had learned from it and what I hope she would learn, too. Just a little thing. A small way that I could have reached out and shared something with her. And I put it off for whatever non-existent reason. Mostly I just kept forgetting to order it for her.  And I kept putting off writing the letter about a subject that is difficult to broach. And then there’s the whole task of getting all the way to the post office to mail it.  And any other excuse I made because I figured I could do it later. Later. Later. Later. When things are still the same as they always have been and time hasn’t played it’s cruel trick of causing things to disappear.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to wait for some magical perfect moment to tell someone that I love them. Or to ask forgiveness. Or to say an encouraging word. I don’t want to put off writing an important letter because I imagine there will always be some other time. There may not be.

It reminds me of a quote from Donald Miller, “Right before you die, you’ll realize this whole life was about loving people. And you watched too much television.” I shudder to think of how true this is for me. Maybe it’s not TV. Maybe it’s checking facebook or online shopping or any manner of things I do that slowly wastes away my day, my life, when instead I could be reaching out and loving people. And doing small things to show that love and appreciation. But I have always taken it for granted that they are there and will still be there, waiting to be loved, whenever I find it most convenient to get around to it. I don’t want to look back in five years and only have really up-to-date facebook information to show for it. I don’t want to miss any more opportunities to love, to talk, to embrace.

I don’t feel like I am good with words, or that I really know how to express the things in my heart. So I have a hard time writing meaningful cards or expressing gratitude or sharing an idea. But I want to stop letting that keep me from trying. I may not be great, but I can try. And I will try.

I’ll begin by publishing this post.

On Losing Candace

One week ago today was the worst day of my entire life. One week ago today I lost my sister, my friend. Candace was only 21 when she died very suddenly from multiple organ failure as a result of septicemia. It still doesn’t feel real. I don’t think it ever will.

We’ve always been the Fabulous Filler Five. We’ve been close, even from far away. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve fought with and for each other. We’ve been through thick and thin. We’ve loved and we’ve forgiven and we’ve struggled and we’ve survived together. Together.

It’s hard to believe it was only 8 days ago, my life was normal and happy and I had just gotten home from brunch with Steve and the girls. My mom called to tell me she had taken Candace to the emergency room and that she was weak and incoherent. I asked her to keep me updated and got to work on our remodeling project. A few hours later my step-dad called to tell me I needed to come as soon as possible. I packed up myself and the girls and got on the road within an hour. They were telling me she had pneumonia and septicemia (a blood infection) and that her kidneys weren’t functioning. Through all of this I heard that she was sick, but that she was going to make it. Young people can always beat this kind of stuff. I drove seven hours in the pitch black that seldom-traveled winter roads provide, still unable to think of anything but her making it, her surviving. She is, after all, a survivor. If you know Candace, you wouldn’t believe she could ever die. She just wouldn’t let it happen. She’s a fighter like you can’t imagine. She has been in dark places before, and she has always, always pushed through. I just couldn’t think this wouldn’t be another one of those times. She’s tough. Really tough. Nothing defeats her.

I arrived in my hometown around midnight, put the girls down to sleep in the guestroom at my mom’s house and went to the hospital. It was a while before I could see her, but when I finally did, I knew things were bad. Just walking into the room I could tell she was very, very sick. A sick that is hard to describe in words. She was sedated and pumped full of fluids as they were trying to get her kidneys to start doing their job. “If she survives the night,” the doctors told us, “we’ll consider transfering her for dialysis in the morning.” I had no idea how big of an if that was. I took her hand and told her she could beat this. I felt sure it would be like one of those romantic scenes in a movie when someone swoops in and saves the day with their brave declarations.

A few hours later, her kidneys still weren’t functioning. She coded and they brought her back. The doctor came in to level with us. He kept saying she was very sick. They had cultured her blood a few hours ago and it was already growing bacteria (which meant the level of infection was extremely high – this kind of thing is pretty unheard of in bacteria culturing). Eventually he said what we couldn’t bear to think ourselves, “If anyone needs to be here, you need to call them right now.” My aunt was there with my brother, me, my mom and my step-dad, Dennis. We called my other sisters, Jaci and Georgia and my dad. They arrived just in time.

The scene that ensued is purely horrible to remember. And the words I could use to recount it would never tell the whole story. The infection spread to her heart and it ceased to be able to function. They tried reviving her several times. I had to watch from outside the ICU, where all I could see was the reflection of the heart monitor. I had figured out during the first code that a blinking red light was her heartbeat, and if it was accompanied by a steady blue light, she was breathing. But as we stood there, my brother and sisters and I, clinging to each other and crying and hoping and praying, I could see that the red light was steady and the blue light was gone. I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell myself. My brother, Chad, led us all in singing “Amazing Grace,” barely utterable through the tears.

At some point they must have decided to stop trying to revive her, and a nurse came to let us into the room. Her room collapsed into wails of disbelief and deep pain. We hugged her. We held each other. We tried to remember every little thing we would soon want to forget, her face in her last moments, our cries of anguish, her green nail polish. Before long my sisters and brother and I were collapsed in a trembling heap. And right there, on the floor of the ICU, amongst a quivering mass of limbs and broken sobs and unutterable disbelief, five became four. An angel with broken wings got new ones. One pain ended and many more began.

It was many surreal hours later that I came into the room my daughters were sleeping in to try and get some sleep myself. Their breathing echoed through the room as soft as a purr and as loud as a freight train. And my heart broke anew. My mother’s voice resounding in my mind as I could hear her desperate cry, “My baby is dying.” The sobs that broke from a depth of pain previously unknown. The utter devasastation. Being a mother myself, I could imagine that cry coming from my own being, over a child who had come from my own body. And my soul ached anew, for me, who lost a sister, for my mother who lost a child. For the breathing that pounded on, and for the breaths that were no more.

She was finally at peace, and we were left with our questions. With our lack of understanding. With our hopes shattered. And our dreams changing shape.

***

One of the many difficult parts of the week that followed was the task of packing up her life. It was almost unbearable to clean out her apartment and box up her things. It was nearly impossible to find the words to so quickly sum up her too-short life for the obituary. And sorting through the pictures for the slideshow at her memorial seemed so awfully insignificant in comparison to the vibrant life they were meant to encapsulate. How could some boxes contain all that was left? How could a few words describe the life she had? How could mere pictures demonstrate what she meant to us.

It seems too cruel to have her life concluded this way. In boxes, in words. But I force myself to remember that this is not the conclusion. I look around and see the many hearts and lives she touched and I am moved to see that she lives on in some way in each of us. Her legacy is her kindness, her grace and the beauty that made a lasting and immeasurable impact on our lives.

She lives on because of the many people throughout our community who have reached out in compassion, just as she would have. She lives on in every smile at every happy memory. And every tear shed in sadness because she left us too soon.

We have been overwhelmed by the kindness expressed by everyone around us, and we are grateful. Grateful for the thoughts and prayers and phone calls and text messages and food and flowers. But mostly grateful for those who remember with us. That you will not let our sweet sister, daughter, friend be forgotten. Grateful you add to the meaning and significance of her life by telling your stories of how she touched you. How she moved you.

Candace was a wonderful friend, who also happened to be my sister. We may have had our sisterly moments of disagreement, but I always admired her tenacity and the vivacious way in which she went around and conquered anything she set her mind to. She was fearless. And she never gave up. Even when it seemed ridiculous not to give up. She pressed on.

And she was always so cool. The life of the party. Everyone’s friend. She provided shelter for strays and friends and anyone who needed her. I had to learn from her how to be cool, because it came so naturally to her. But she was also smart and diligent and persistent, if not pretty stubborn. She was constantly working towards her goals, yet she never hesitated to stop what she was doing to lend a helping hand. She never blinked when she was needed, but extended herself in grace and kindness. She was very thoughtful, and even taught me to open my eyes beyond my own circumstances to see how I could love and bless others around me.

Personally, one of the times I have felt most loved in my entire life was when she planned a surprise birthday party for me the year I turned fifteen. Everything from the guestlist to the menu was perfectly thought of as something she knew I would like. She was only 13 when she noticed and cared for these many details about me that I was barely conscious of myself. Her generous heart of love floored me then, and it continued to amaze me. I still strive to be as thoughtful, caring and unselfish as she was as a young girl, and throughout her  life.

Candace, I love you. I admire you. I am thankful for the 21 years I had with you as my sister and for the innumberable ways you have taught me to love and to care and to keep persevering through the most difficult and seemingly insurmountable situations. You will live on in my heart as I try to become more thoughtful and kind as you were. I will tell my daughters about you every time they sing, “My Girl.” I will be thankful for the gift you were to me and to our family and your many, many friends. I will be strong because you were strong and I won’t let anything stand in my way, just as you have shown me a thousand times. I will always hold you close in my heart and look forward to being with you again before too long. I love you always.

The Lord looks down on the fields of the earth, and he picks a rose.
Often this rose seems the most beautiful and important here on earth.
But the Lord picks only what He needs, and the beautiful rose adorns his altar in heaven.

On Building a Home

I think often about how to build the perfect home for my daughters to grow in. I want it to be a mixture of beautiful and baby friendly. Beautiful, because I love to be surrounded by pretty things. And I think everyone enjoys that. And baby friendly, because (a) I don’t want to rip my hair out with worry that someone or something is going to get hurt and (b) I want my children to know that they were cherished and of primary importance. In other words, I never want my children to think I cared about something more than I cared about them.

What does this mean? It means we do not have white couches. Even though I think they look cool, I wanted to have couches that could be spilled on occasionally (and they have been). It means all our bookshelves and dressers are securely bolted to the walls (earthquake-proof style) to prevent them from toppling over on babies. And it means all our built-in shelves are filled with things they can mess with. Nothing is going to break or really hurt them in any way. This allows me to let them play, read, explore and adventure without constantly worrying. It lets them have control of their environment, instead of the other way around.

Gabrielle of Design Mom said in an interview about how she designs her home for her children:

“Where your babies begin is where their dreams do, too. A well-designed and carefully-edited space is the fresh piece of paper on which big dreams can be drawn.”

As my children grow I hope to incorporate this idea even more. I want to provide them with a clean, beautiful place to call home. One that encourages them to dream and become whoever they are going to be.

And speaking of fresh slates for building dreams on, Regina Sirois said in an interview about her home:

“I tell my children that the more things we have, the less we love our things.”

I like this idea of living clutter-free. I can’t stand clutter, as you may know from my banishment projects. I’d like to keep it from accumulating over time by keeping this in mind. More things = less things to love. (Plus, you have to spend so much extra time cleaning up the things you don’t even like that much.)

And in the meantime, I need to get better about putting art on the walls. That would be a good thing to do.

What about you? Why do you think is the most important aspect of building a home?

Prairie Home by Katie Daisy.

On Being Remembered

Design Mom posts a lot of interesting discussions that I enjoy reading and thinking about. One such discussion a few weeks ago was about being remembered. She asked:

If you could be remembered for just one thing, what would you hope that one thing would be?

The thing I would most like to be remembered for is being generous. Not generous in the sense of money or possessions, but in the sense of being very thoughtful and considerate in order to give someone what they need at the moment. Maybe that’s dropping off dinner or just listening to someone talk about something that’s bothering them. Perhaps it’s rearranging my schedule to accommodate someone else’s. Doing the dishes for whoever cooked the meal. Sending a gift or a card when someone is having a bad day. Generosity isn’t just about physical things, but it is also about time, friendship, service.

I want to be generous because I feel so blessed to have had many generous people in my own life. Even now, I regularly benefit from my friends accommodating the fact that I have kids – and so we do things that are kid friendly, even if non-kid friendly activities might be more fun. Or recently a friend vaccumed out my car (which I’ve been complaining about forever) when she borrowed it. Little things like this mean the world to me, and I want to be the person who is able to give those kinds of things back.

The main skill necessary for this life goal is listening.  So I’m practicing my listening. And then taking the opportunity to give when it arises.

What about you? What would you want to be remembered for?

On Inspiration

You know something? Sometimes I feel incredibly shallow writing this blog. Like I’m just another girl out there striving to have something of mine be repinned 1,000 times on Pinterest. Or set a world record for comments on a blog post. (Have no qualms, I’m not anywhere close to any of these things.) And then I come the parenthetical realization and worry that I’m not important at all and so, why bother? (Getting a little cynical… hang tight! I’m going somewhere here!)

So I sit back and think for a bit about why I’m writing this blog at all. It started as a fun way to categorize projects. It has morphed into mostly a recipe compiler and a (partial) journal of our lives. It keeps me busy, and looking for newness. New recipes to try, new photo techniques to experiment with, new things to teach and learn. And this is perhaps why I stick with it. I like to be challenged. I want to feel like I’ve done something at the end of the day. I’d like to look back in five years and have a small memento of my time as a stay-at-home-mommy and feel somewhat accomplished. Watching kids grow is a slow process, and I like to have a little daily thing I can set goals toward and accomplish.

But more than that, I’d like to have something to give my children. Maybe for graduation I could have this printed and bound and say, “Here are all the recipes we made when you were growing up. I know you’ll want some of them. And here are my memories and thoughts of your childhood and how much you meant to me.” I’d like to say that I worked on something a little bit everyday in hopes that I would have something to pass on.

And then I think that these aren’t the only things I want to pass on. I don’t just want my girls to think I was a great cook or maker of desserts. (Because, let’s face it, I’m probably only fair at either of those things. Well, I do make some pretty awesome desserts. But that’s just because I’ve stumbled upon great recipes. And they usually involve chocolate. You just can’t go wrong with chocolate.) I do want them to look back and think that I loved them almost to the point of bursting. That I enjoyed every little quirk and silly thing they did. That we had good days and bad days and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. That I thought long and hard about how to mother them. About how to love them. About how to demonstrate my love. About how to teach them. And how to let them be whoever they were going to be. About how to instill for them a love for life, in it’s newness, it’s mundaneness, it’s everything. (No, mundaneness is not a word. I’m channeling a little GWB here.)

These thoughts lead me to think of the amazing women I have had the great fortune of knowing throughout my life. Women who have inspired me. Who have taught me. Who have laughed and cried with me. Who have vented with me and advised me and listened to me. I want to be like them. I want to be a good friend. A good listener. Someone who opens others up to all the possibillities of this life.

Until now, I have shied away from writing anything beyond recipes and personal memories because I don’t want to sound preachy. I don’t want to sound like I have it all figured out and you should take everything I say to be pure genius. So, I’m not going to write about things like that. I know I’m opinionated and I can get over-zealous about certain things. But I also believe that everyone has a story. And the best way we can live is with a respect for that story. It’s similarities. It’s differences. It’s flaws and perfections, hopes and dreams.

This is just my way of saying that I’m introducing a new category here. I think I’ll call it Musings. Because that’s all it is. Musings on life. Thoughts for myself and how I want to live. Thoughts for my children and my hopes for them. Quotes from great books. Thoughts from other people who inspire me to be a better woman, a better wife, a better friend, a better mother. A better human being.

To end this first musing, I’d like to share a quote from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s a beautiful book. You should read it.

“I probably fell asleep, but I don’t remember. I cried so much that everything blurred into everything else. At some point she was carrying me to my room. Then I was in bed. She was looking over me. I don’t believe in God, but I believe that things are extremely complicated, and her looking over me was as complicated as anything could ever be. But it was also incredibly simple. In my only life, she was my mom, and I was her son.
I told her, ‘It’s OK if you fall in love again.'”

I do believe in God, and I believe that’s part of the beauty of the complication. But what struck me about this quote is the almost last part, “… it was also incredibly simple. In my only life, she was my mom, and I was her son.”

In the end, that’s what it boils down to. I’ve got only this one life. There are things I can change and things I can’t. But if this is my only life, I want to live well. I want to be well.  (I’m talking ser not estar, for any of you Spanish speakers out there. English doesn’t always have enough words.)

Steve and I are always having the conversation, “How do we want to live? Are we living that way? If not, why not? What’s stopping us?”

This is just a little musing on those questions. And a few thoughts on how to be the person I want to be.

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