Live Well. Laugh Triple. Love Without Measure.

The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.Tibetan Proverb

We’ve reached the last of our “Live-Laugh-Love” posts. I mentioned earlier this week that I would explain later why the theme is significant to me. “Live, Laugh, Love” was my sister Karlette’s mantra. If you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you know that we lost her to breast cancer in 2013. I still miss her terribly and think about her every single day. The theme of the latest Global Art Swap provided an opportunity to honor her memory.

It is significant that I’m posting what I sent for the swap today because today is Karlette’s birthday, and as I struggle to move past deep sadness, I find it necessary to revisit the words I shared with pen friends regarding the significance of the theme to me.

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Karlette lived as much as she could during her short sojourn on this earth; she loved to laugh and she loved so deeply that she was “everybody’s” best friend. Her middle school students and their parents adored her because she poured so much life, love, and laughter into her students. I learned so much from her and came to so many realizations because of how she handled her many rounds with cancer.

We were designed to LIVE abundantly—to fill life with all the good things we can hold. Yet many of us have trouble with “living” a good life because we allow worries, the past, unforgiveness, and so many annoying trifles to get in the way. Problems–struggles–are inevitable, but we don’t have to make such strife central in our lives. In spite of all the trauma and drama, we can choose joy and squeeze every ounce of the good stuff out of life. When we live in the fullness of joy, those “other things” don’t gain much of our attention and we can embrace the good life.

After my sister’s passing–like many who experience the death of a loved one–grief had me in a slow, tightening grip. Although I knew the process was necessary, I still needed to be present and functional. In an effort to shake myself out of the darkness, I called an aunt–a trained counselor–and she encouraged me to laugh. She told me to simply find some funny television shows or movies and LAUGH out loud.  That was the best advice she could have offered at the time. I had forgotten how to smile. I’d forgotten that the most basic thing that makes us feel alive is laughter. And—the bonus—I felt so connected to my sister because she loved to laugh. My aunt’s advice has come in handy quite frequently over the last four years as I found the grief of losing my sister intertwined with other losses.

Laughter also has a way of bridging gaps and mending broken fences, so take it into those relationships that are strained. Find the humor in what may have created a rift. Try not to take life so seriously and make it a point to laugh often—even at yourself. It is certainly medicine for the soul.

LOVE is the most complex part of the theme.  Love is easy when people are loving and loveable, but the journey to becoming a truly loving human is beautifully painful. We have to learn to love those who are mean, hateful, and abusive and those who don’t love us. It takes a tremendous amount of soul work to love in this way, but the beauty it creates in us and in the world is without measure. Please note that “love” does not equal acceptance or tolerance of abuse in any form.

I recently watched a video on the protests in Charlottesville, VA, filmed to capture the perspective of the white nationalists who organized the event. Though repulsed by the faulty reasoning, the language and attitudes against non-Whites, Jews, and homosexuals, I felt a huge wave of compassion for the protesters. How sad it is to live with such hatred and willingness to harm others! How inhumane to wish to annihilate others or strip them of human rights!

No matter our vast differences, true love knows no bounds. We must do the hard work and learn to love those who hate us. Kahlil Gibran’s “On Love” captures this far better than I can.

The card I originally created (above) is very pink because that was Karlette’s favorite color. I designed it in a few other colors to appeal to the tastes of family members who will be receiving the card soon.

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If you or someone you know is dealing with breast cancer, visit the Karle’s Wings link (above), and a bit of light and joy will wing its way soon…

Pink Orchids and Karle’s Wings

“March 11.”

“Pink orchids.”

These words played over and over in my mind as I awakened from my slumber this morning.  Today marks four years since we lost Karlette, my younger sister, to breast cancer.  And pink orchids were her favorite flowers.

I’ve been fighting with a photo of pink orchids I shot at the New Orleans Botanical Gardens in January. I want it to commemorate her life. I want it to be beautiful.  I want it to represent her.  I want it to be perfect. It’s far from perfect, but it’s what I have until I get back to New Orleans and capture them again.

Pink Orchid, New Orleans Botanical Gardens

I realize my fretting over the orchids has a lot to do with my trying to cope with March 11, a date that gives me anxiety, although I think about my sister every.single.day.

Before her death, Karlette and I had plans to write the stories of her brutal battles with breast cancer and what we’d hoped would be her victory.  I have the pictures, but without her voice,  I know it will not be the story she wanted told.

Some aspect of her story will be shared eventually, but for now, I’ve decided to honor her memory in another way.

Recently, I had the privilege of writing postcards to breast cancer patients with whom my only acquaintance is that someone they know is in one of the same Facebook groups to which I belong.   I prayed and used my sister’s experience to guide me as I wrote.  I thought about what she would say and how she would encourage women.  It dawned on me that sometimes a small thing such as a postcard or note goes a long way to cheer someone who is struggling with this disease, and honoring Karlette does not require a monumental gesture.

So today, instead of suffering silently this awful loss, I’m reclaiming March 11.  Today, I am launching Karle’s Wings, a postcard ministry aimed at sharing with breast cancer sufferers and survivors beauty, light, and joy–characteristics Karlette embodied.

If you or someone you know would benefit from a postcard from Karle’s Wings, please complete the contact form below. The  information will remain private and will not be shared with anyone beyond the purpose of addressing a postcard, note, or letter. Within days of receiving the request, you, your family member or friend will receive a handwritten, personalized postcard from Karle’s Wings.

Love and light…

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Photo by Tapman Media, New Orleans

To My Colleague with Breast Cancer: You Have This Moment

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I read a little of your story today and it broke my heart. I see you wearing courage and faith openly, but I know you’re hurting, suffering, and perhaps afraid. I want to talk to you, but I don’t know what to say.  That I’m praying for you? I am.  But how many times a day do you hear that?

Whenever I see you, I think of Karlette, my little sister. The loss of her. The grief that still challenges every waking minute.  The sorrow that changed me. That changed all who really knew her in unspeakable ways.  Knowing this very real loss of her, I cannot offer you empty platitudes and mere words. I will not ever say to you what many cancer patients often hear:  “You’re a fighter. You will make it.  You will come through this.”

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I don’t know that. Neither of us do. Unless we are speaking of a future in the heavenly realms, earth offers no guarantees. Faith that can move mountains assures us that God is faithful. But. Faithful God allows grief, disappointment, and sorrow.  No matter how unfair or mean or downright unacceptable it seems to us—faithful God says, “some sicknesses are unto death, some for testimony.”  This can be a hard, hard pill to swallow.  But it is truth.

I wouldn’t say any of that to you either. You already know it.  You began this difficult line of thinking when you first heard the diagnosis or when the treatments did not bring desired results.

Then, I remember a conversation with Karlette on one of my visits.  In 2011 or 2012.  She had so many battles, so I’m not sure of the year.  She was weary of people seeing her as a cancer patient, as a cancer victim.  When people saw her, she felt, they saw cancer and not her.  She wanted to talk about MORE than that.  She was so much more than that, but when cancer takes over your body and your life and you can barely lift your head most days, even you begin to wonder.  I remember saying to her—you are not your cancer.  Or maybe, she said to me–I am not my cancer.

I say it to you–you are not your cancer.  You are more than this disease that disrupted your happiness and altered your life so completely that you are no longer who you were. I say to you–embrace the uncertainty.  Live and dance and love in beauty and in the sacredness of your being, and be everything you are in this moment.  Only this moment is sure.

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“Breast Cancer Has No Face”

Today marks two years since my younger sister’s passing due to cancer.  It’s not easier, as some assured me it would be.  Every day I think about her. Every day I fight tears and nail-spitting anger.  Every day I remind myself that this life is not all, that I have a “hope burning in my heart” to be reunited with my sister and other loved ones some day.

Last weekend, I did a bit of organizing and finally emptied some boxes of “nonessentials” from our move two and a half years ago.  As I emptied a box, here and there, I stumbled across something connected to my sister: an essay she wrote and sent for my review before submitting; a recipe for a smoothie she shared because I don’t like eating breakfast; an old journal with the plans we made for the book we were going to write together about her experiences; a prayer written in tears, pleading for her healing.

I found wrapped in lots of tissue the extras of the beautiful sun catchers she made for a women’s group I coordinated.  She’d made a similar one for all of us sisters for Christmas one year and since I liked it so much, she volunteered to make some for the group.

There is always something in a box or in a book or even on my cellphone or saved to my hard drive…these beautiful reminders of her life on earth.

There’s this precious angel saved in a text message.

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She sent this to me the night after she read my blog post that championed her “fighting like a girl” against the cancer monster.  She made the angel for a bulletin board in her middle school classroom, probably for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  In the 10-25-12 text message she wrote, “My angel is missing her halo.” For me the missing halo has become a metaphor for Karlette as she walked this earth.  She was indeed an angel without a halo to many through her many selfless acts.

In her message she also wrote the title of this piece, “Breast Cancer Has No Face”–her socio-political statement about a disease that has no boundaries, no consideration for a person’s name, income, or status, and certainly no cure.

For me, its face is very real and it bears the eyes of my sister.