Today it has been six months since my big sister Donna lost her long fight with breast cancer.  It has been an emotional day for me, and a day that has been full of many different thoughts.  Thoughts of disbelief, as I still don’t completely “get it” that my sister is gone.  Thoughts of anger, as I just don’t understand why God took her.  And underneath it all, always a deep, deep sadness.

But Donna, while she would understand my questioning and anger and sadness, because she had it all at times, she would also want me to just remember our closeness, and our friendship, and our sisterhood.  So today, I’m just going to remember six of the many, many things that I learned from my big sister.  In no particular order:

1.  Donna taught me how to be generous.  More than anyone I’ve ever known, Donna was always giving of herself.  She was giving her time, her talents, her energy, her advice, her gifts, her smile.  Whatever she had to give, she would give it.  I will always remember her generosity.

2.  Donna taught me how to make some of my favorite foods.  Her cream scones are to die for, and her pecan sticky cake is unbeatable.  The one that sticks out, though, is her chicken chili.  Not only is it easy and really delicious, but I still make it from the printed copy of  the email she sent me when I asked her for the recipe.  This way, whenever I make it, I will be able to read her words at the bottom of the page: “Love You, Donna.”

3.  Donna taught me how to really listen to people.  When you spoke to her, she gave you her full attention.  She made eye contact, and paid attention, and you knew that she was totally invested in you at that moment.  As someone who sometimes tends to talk more than I listen, I hope to get better at this.

4.  She taught me to entertain.  When Donna had people over for a party or a holiday, everything was always beautiful.  Even if it was simple–just some fruit and cookies–it was obvious that she had gone to some effort and that she wanted you to feel welcome and special.  And if you were blessed enough to ever be invited to her home, you did feel welcome and special and comfortable and full of yummy food!  Every time.

5.  Donna taught me to take care of my body.  I’m not there yet.  I still have quite a few pounds to lose and lots of changes to make.  But I’m making the effort.  Donna took such good care of herself and of her family.  They ate organic, they ate balanced meals, they watched the amount of artificial “stuff” that they put into their bodies.  She studied and learned what was best for all of them.  She did what she could to take care of her body.  It still betrayed her.  It still fought her until the bitter end.  But she did her part.  And here I am, blessed with a healthy body, and I haven’t done my best.  I’m trying to change that, slowly but surely.

6.  Perhaps more than anything else, Donna taught me how to keep going.  Through the diagnoses and medications and surgeries and exhaustion, she always kept going.  She was still kind.  She was still generous.  She was still fighting.  She had faith and trust and joy.  Up until the very last day, she was teaching her daughters.  She was teaching me.  She kept going.

I miss her so much.  I mean, really….I miss her so, so much.  But I will keep going.  Because she did.  And she wants us to.  I can’t wait to see her again.

The Gift

One thing I’ve been contemplating a lot lately is how much unhappiness and anger is in the world.  I’m constantly amazed at how many people are so quick to flip me the bird as I “get in their way” on the road, or give me a dirty look if I’m taking too long at the checkout counter, or look the other way if I smile as I pass a stranger on the street.  Just this morning I read an article about a television show, and the number of people who took the time to read the article and then badmouth the tv show was staggering!  The negative comments about the show far outnumbered the positive comments.  I just don’t understand this.  Why would you even bother to read the article, if it was a show that you hated?  I don’t get it.

Two weeks ago today I was standing vigil at the bedside of my big sister in the ICU of a nearby hospital.  I had been there all night and, as it would turn out, would stay all day.  She had been fighting breast cancer off and on for ten years, and it was finally winning.  My sister wasn’t giving up…she was still fighting despite the pain, the exhaustion, and the news from the doctor that she only had a couple of days left to live.  She had hugged her little girls, aged 12 and 9, and held the hand of her amazing husband who she loved so much.  She had said the words we all needed to hear from her, and we had said the words we needed to say.  But she still didn’t give up.  She was still fighting.

In the midst of that fight, during the last two days of my sweet sister’s life, she was smiling.  She was bald and thin and her body was covered in rashes that meant her blood was betraying her, but still she was smiling.  The nurses (they were wonderful nurses!!) came to gently give her medication or change her bedding or check her wounds, and she smiled at them and said thank you.  She was too weak to reach out for her own cup of water or ice chips and would ask me for some, and she would say please.  She was dying, and she was leaving behind a wonderful husband and two amazing little girls, but she was still smiling. 

We all do our share of complaining.  I whine that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete things at work or at home.  I get frustrated when my kids don’t help out enough or when they fight with each other constantly.  Let’s face it:  life is rarely easy and it’s so easy to complain about the little stuff as well as the big stuff.  And I understand…I really do.  Just because one person is dying from breast cancer doesn’t mean that it hurts less when you stub your toe. 

And yet.  Today I will smile at strangers more.  Today I will not complain about my work load or my messy house or my children fighting.  Today I will say thank you to even the smallest acts of kindness and I will try my best to perform a few acts of kindness myself.  I will hug my children, I will tell my friends and family how much they mean to me, I will work hard, I will play hard, I will live my life, and I will be happy.

I miss my sister more than I can say.  And the fact that she’s no longer here leaves a chunk of my heart missing that nothing else can fill.  But I am so blessed.  I had a sister that was an example to me of who I want to be.  I spent my sister’s last full night with her, smiling with her, and talking with her, and holding her hand, and watching the way she still moved in the world, even though she could barely move at all.  I will never forget those last days, or the thirty-five years of days I had with my sister leading up to that point.  They were a gift.

I will treasure that gift for the rest of my life, and even though it will sometimes be with tears in my eyes, still I will smile.