It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve attempted to write this letter at least 20 times. Each time I felt an internal resistance and wondered how I could deliver a highlight reel of the year when my sister, Rachel, passed away just 30 days into 2019. The cancer that began as a tumor in her right breast in October of 2016 spread to her bones and lungs and no treatment, tradition or holistic, could stop it. When you lose someone close to you, grief becomes a new companion and the journey it takes you on has no calendar or no roadmap to find your way on. You question if you’re doing it right, if your grief is making the grief of others greater. I seriously considered simply sending our family picture, but if I’ve learned anything in 2019 it’s that hiding from something doesn’t make it disappear.
Plus, I love sending and receiving holiday cards. If you send me one, I keep them unopened in a stack until Christmas Day. Then like presents, I slowly open them, sip my coffee, and read your letter or short note, smiling at the pictures of your family and your updates from the year. If you’ve sent a New Year’s card, like this one, I follow the same ritual on January 1st. The cards from 2018 are still on display and it feels like a BIG hug. It’s the best gift and I want to stay on your list!
As I write this letter, I imagine being with you, sipping our favorite hot beverages and losing track of time. In the past I’ve loved sending a holiday letter as a way to recap my year and share what’s been happening with my family. Only this year, I couldn’t find the energy or the words to give you just rainbows and butterflies; I’m crying right now too. Which relates to another lesson I’ve learned recently, that to really connect with someone you have to be willing to be vulnerable and authentic. Rainbows come from rain storms and butterflies from somewhat slimy caterpillars. My gift to you is both the rain and the rainbows, the butterflies, and the struggle from its cocoon.
When Rachel passed away, my healing wasn’t just in grieving her loss, but in accepting the responsibility for my own health. I hadn’t been to any type of doctor in almost five years. Moving was my excuse but I was just scared. There’s a difference between knowing better and doing better, and that was hard. I wanted to do better for my family and my goal to live to 102+ needed to be in alignment with my actions. Plus, a few people I really respect told me I was acting stupid, even though they knew I wasn’t stupid. I jumped all in and built relationships with a new dentist, chiropractor, thermogram clinic, massage therapist, oils alchemist, and functional medicine doctor. The massages were great and the heavy metal detox that took 12 weeks was exhausting but if I had known how much stronger and whole I could feel, I would have sprinted to their offices.
How do you treat each day? My motto became “today is a gift” and I accessorized everything in my life with bows to remind me! Regret was an emotion I could no longer entertain and when the door to adventure cracked open, I went rushing through. There was the experience of taking the platform in three weightlifting meets and enjoying the surge of nerves and adrenaline that competition creates. Florida is easy to travel to and from and this year I went to San Diego, LA, Asheville, Dallas and five times to Wisconsin. My car has 262K+ miles and we added to it with road trips to Savannah, Miami, Daytona, Tampa and Athens, GA. Bill says I can’t get a new car until this one has 300K miles so more trips are coming in 2020 for sure!
In the last year, I’ve had more hugs and love than any other season of my life. Friends, family and loved ones gave me hugs and healing, space and forgiveness, joy and so many fun times. From my sadness can come love and connection and it’s around me all the time. In April, Jacob called to tell me about a new person in his life, Katie. I knew she was special when he called and described her to me. Easy to be with and talk to, curious about others. She’s a runner and Jacob asked for running socks for his birthday. We met her in August and I saw how Jacob smiled at her. The first week in November Jacob proposed! It’s Say Yes to the Dress season with a June 20th wedding on our calendar.
The other loves of my life, Hannah and Isabelle, surround me, as well. Hannah flew to visit in February and even though I cried most of the weekend (she looks like Rachel in many ways), we enjoyed the beach, shopping, and pedicures. She’s become a partner with the streaming platform Twitch, a great photographer, and a social media specialist. Tony has learned to dodge falling chunks of silage, all part of his work on the farm.
Isabelle and Antoine relocated from the Midwest to San Diego in late August. Antione took a new position at San Diego State and Isabelle declared that she was going to live life 30% less intensely. She’s balancing three jobs, has made saving money a competitive sport, and is considering getting a dog. They are a happy couple too.
This holiday message will also be posted as my sixth blog entry of 2019. It lives on my new website which I visualized being completed in January of 2019 and finally launched in September. Its content was inspired by Rachel the last time I was with her. She gifted to me the most beautiful strand of black pearls from her 40th birthday trip to Bora Bora. That night we had a steak dinner and watched the men’s Duke Basketball team dominate Pitt, of course. When she passed the pearls to me it was with the words, so you don’t forget me. How could that even be possible? We’re just 15 months apart in age and grew up doing everything together, including dating some of the same boys and playing hours of softball and basketball. The truth is that when you lose someone it hurts so badly that you think the sky should turn pink or gravity should stop existing.
As the year has passed I’ve found peace in her loss, but I never wanted to forget the impact she had on my world. She was a blogger and writer and had a wicked sense of humor. She loved spoiling her nieces and nephews; she threw herself a birthday party every year and inspired me to find my adult athletic beast-mode in her triathlon races and burpee challenges.
Rachel’s Legacy. It became so important to me that I took on the task, with the help of Gabe and Courtney at Soaring Communications, to relaunch version 2.0 of my family cookbook, The Family Dough. While I’m sure pictures of the crumpled recipes would have worked to share within our family, remembrances of growing up on a 1970’s local source dairy farm, the origin and special love that each recipe holds are only known if I tell their story. I’m telling that story for myself and my entire family. Food is love and that’s a worthy legacy to pass on.
When can you enjoy your copy of the book, which includes 15 bread and 3 pancake recipes in electronic or softcover form? Big goals happen in community, so I’m sharing mine here. January 30, 2020 and I know Rachel will be serving Turtle Cake-check out that story too.
Eat the CAKE!