Six

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.

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Lessons

It is my belief that the most significant events or periods in our lives continue to teach us lessons for as long as we live, if we let them.  As time goes by, and as we reflect and remember those past events, we see new things about ourselves, we glean new information about the way things were, and we notice more about why things happened the way they did.

When Sarge was gone for over a year, a world away in the Middle East doing his job, which just happened to be fighting in a war, I was here alone with three kids, a house, and a dog.  I learned to be strong.  I learned to be independent.  I learned that it was okay to ask for help sometimes.  I learned who my friends were.  I learned what was really important.

And then he came home…to children that were a year and a half older.  To a wife that was used to doing things her way.  To a country that forgot about the soldiers and their families.  To a life that didn’t include 60 pounds of body armor and a gun at the ready.  And again, I learned.  I learned to be patient.  I learned to let him in again.  I learned how to be a wife and a mom, and still keep my own identity…something I hadn’t been so good at before. 

And now, the deployment is well in the past.  Sarge has been home for two and a half years, safe and sound.  We are used to living together again.  I no longer jump every time I hear the doorbell ring, thinking it’s a stranger in uniform coming to tell me my husband has been wounded or worse.  I am back to complaining about his crazy out-of-town schedule and his snoring and his camouflage stuff all over my kitchen.  Life is, for the most part, back to normal.

Lately, though, my mind has been wandering back quite often to those days of when he was gone.  I’ve been remembering frequently the days of no phone calls and no sleep for worrying about him.  I’ve been looking back to the moments of panic as I’d hear about a bombing on the news, or waiting anxiously to see him on the webcam, or talking non-stop to one year old Goo about his daddy so he wouldn’t forget about him while he was gone.  It could be anything that brings me back there.  It could be a story I tell a friend about the time we thought Spike might have leukemia, and people were advising me not to tell Sarge, so he wouldn’t worry from a war zone.  That was something I went through alone.  It could be a song about a soldier and the letters he gets that mean so much.  It could be asking Sarge about something funny that happened only to remember that he wasn’t here then, and knew nothing about it.  It could be talk of Hurricane Katrina, something he heard about briefly but was amazed as I described the devastation to him over the phone.  It could be my kids hearing about a trip Sarge has to take for work, and asking if he’s going to Iraq.  It could be anything that reminds me.  Anything.

And as I think back, what amazes me most is our ability, as humans, to cope with what life throws our way.  I’m still learning from that time in my life.  Whenever I think I can’t do something, I remember deployment, and I know that I can get through anything.  If I see a friend in need and think I’m too busy or too tired or too far away to help, I remember the friends that helped me and I find the strength to do what I can.  When I see Army kids missing their parent, I remember to give them extra attention, because they’re missing some from the one who is away.  When I hear people arguing about the rightness or wrongness of this war, I remember that no matter the politics, it is the soldiers and their families who need our unwavering support.  I learn from it every day.  Every moment.

Sometimes I can hardly believe that it truly happened.  Some days I wonder if that time was all just a dream.  But then I look at the pictures of the day he came home.  Or I see the Muslim prayer beads that he brought home with him hanging on my wall.  I hear the doorbell ring and while it no longer scares me, I still remember.  That time in my life, a time I had hoped would never come, has proved so invaluable to me in so many ways.  It is a part of who I am and who my children are.  It is what makes Sarge the incredible man he is today.  It is in the life lessons I teach my children and the advice I give my friends.  It is in the way that I smile and the way that I cry.  When I see myself in the mirror, it is part of what is looking back at me.  It is a piece of the map that makes up my life.

I wonder sometimes what’s to come, and I worry about what’s in store for us.  But when I really think about it, I know that whatever it is…whatever hard times or happy times or scary times or amazing times we will go through, they will be the things I look back on someday.  They will be the things I remember as part of the map of my life.  Part of the journey that makes me who I am.  The things that taught me how to live as me.

I hope I never stop learning.