A Perfect Gift

Today began with grace. For the first time in six years, I woke up without the significance of the date weighing heavily on my heart. Though, this time last year, I could not imagine that I’d be mourning the the loss of another sister, I also did not imagine that we would welcome my sister Karlette’s first grandchild into the world.

Our Little Angel

And it is her beautiful presence that brightens today and gives a bit more of Karlette back to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. –James 1:17a

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 9

My Love Notes friend Andrea F stitched this pretty in pink pocket card in honor of my sister, Lori, but I received it in honor of both my sisters–Karlette and Lori–whom we lost to breast cancer. When I opened the envelope I thought of them immediately: Karlette’s love for pink and their mutual love for Christmas and pretty things.

If you’re used to seeing Christmas in only traditional ways, you might think the gently falling snowflakes that dominate the card are simply asterisks on a pink background. It is not until you open the card that you see…

…Christmas joy, a home overflowing with warmth and love, and a golden star-topped tree.

Add a bit of pink to your Christmas joy!

They Lived “Their Brightest Lives”

“The Brightest Sunflower.” Photograph by Eileen V.

despite knowing
they won’t be here for long
they still choose to live
their brightest lives

rupi kaur, “sunflowers,” the sun and her flowers

Today’s sunflower love features the photography of my Love Notes friend, Eileen V. She captured the sunny bloom while out and about with a friend and sent the card with hugs, strength, and hope in light of Lori’s passing.

Eileen wrote that whenever she sees a sunflower she thinks of me and her daughter, Alanna, who also loved sunflowers.I did not miss the “past tense” in Eileen’s mention of her daughter, and I learned shortly afterwards that she lost her daughter some years ago to a tragic accident. It’s bittersweet to share a precious connection via sunflowers, and when I see them, I will think of Eileen and Alanna.

My heart breaks. It breaks for all of us who have lost someone dear to us. But it comforts me to know Alanna, Lori, and Karlette lived “their brightest lives” and touched so many hearts during their brief sojourn in this world.

See You “in the Morning,” Sister-Girl

Lori Ann by Tapman Media

My guys and I traveled to New Orleans the weekend before last–to lay eyes on and touch my sister Lori, to love on her and pray over her. Even though she could not verbally communicate with us, she was responsive. She even opened her eyes briefly. In our prayers for a mighty miracle, we also submitted to Divine Wisdom. There was so much light in her, still so much fight that we walked away, hopeful that we’d see her again the following weekend.

That was not to be.

My sister, Lori, took her last breath a few days after our return, Wednesday night, September 12, just before midnight. And now, I feel like I’m holding my own breath…again.

I am angry. Disappointed. Hurt. Grieving miserably. I wish I could sit this one out and not go through it at all. I draw parallels between Grendel, the monster of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and cancer, a horrible night-crawler that catches us unaware and snuffs out lives. Jealous over our happiness, our relationships. Our very humanity. And that horrible beast took Lori from us, like it took Karlette five and a half years ago.

One of my nieces texted me yesterday expressing her utter disappointment and anger about Lori’s passing. We were all praying that her desperate situation could become an incredible story of Divine intervention. I assured her that I share her feelings, and encouraged her to give full vent of her anger to God. He can handle it. Furthermore, He’s well acquainted with our grief and He’s just as hurt and angry as we are that we are going through this…AGAIN.

I read and reread the following quote almost daily for several weeks and finally shared it with my mom and sister:

God didn’t set this journey in motion. He’s just as angry as you are that you have to walk this road. But He promises you this: He will walk this road with you. And He will be there for you when you reach the end of it. God loves you.  –from the television series Touched by an Angel

God is a compassionate, loving Father, cradling us and weeping with us. His amazing grace, the blessed hope of Christ’s return to take us Home, preparation for the biggest family reunion ever, and a heavenly future without the suffering and pain of illness and death rescue me from the darkest depths of despair.

I already miss Lori like crazy. She was a good person, who welcomed all into her life and loved them deeply. She loved giving gifts, finding just the right thing. Like Karlette, she loved beautifying her spaces. She spent so much time babysitting many of the nieces and nephews that we can claim she “half raised” them. Her guys and two little girls (her granddaughters) were her heart, but there was so much room for many more.

Though I grieve over the loss of her, I do so with an unshakeable hope, rooted in Christ:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18

“Lavender Tulips for Lori,” by Tapman Media

Earth Has No Sorrow…

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy-seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Today marks five years since we lost my little sister, and I miss her every single day. I can’t see the color pink without thinking about her. Certain cadences in my speech and the intoning of particular expressions make my words catch in my throat because I think I hear her voice coming from my body. As I think about her life, our conversations about dreams and goals, I realize we sang the same song but to a different tune.

I tried to keep myself busy today because I know where my thoughts “live” on March 11. I tried to stuff the grief into a neat box inside my heart, when what I wanted to do and what I needed to do was to pull away from the rest of the world and cry myself tearless.

Just last night, I finished a letter to a dear friend regarding the recent brutal loss of her own sister, administering medicine that I must take. Grief doesn’t come in a neat package with step-by-step, day-by-day instructions. Grief is a process that can’t be staged, coached, cultivated, or rushed.

And we must allow ourselves to go through it–no matter how long it takes–with apologies to no one, not even ourselves.

The “Other” Sister: “I didn’t have to fight…”

Although I’ve written about my younger sister Karlette who succumbed to breast cancer a few years ago, I have not mentioned Lori, my other sister, who danced with the devil. Lori’s diagnosis came a few years before Karlette’s first. I asked her to write a blog post about her experience, but she feels that she has little to add to the conversation. However, what she shared with me during the “trying-to convince-her” discussion says a lot about the feelings of some breast cancer survivors whose battles may not have been as “dramatic” as others’.

It has been hard for me to think of myself as a survivor. I really didn’t have to fight cancer. Karlette fought cancer. It kept coming for her and she fought with everything she had. I just went through treatments and it was gone. I’m not sure if I’ve ever celebrated survival. I know that there’s always the possibility of its coming back, but my plan would be the same[…]. I never thought of it as a fight. I thank God for His mercy and for blessing me when so many others had to fight and many even lost.

When I pointed out to her that her status as “survivor” is a matter of perspective, that every year she “holds her breath until given the ‘cancer free’ news,” she responded:

I do. [But] I give it all to God. I thank Him daily for every breath I take. Don’t get me wrong. I know I, too, could have lost, but I know that it was God who fought and won. Not me–not without giving it to Him.

It has been difficult for Lori being the older sister survivor when one of her baby sisters didn’t survive. She lives with profound sadness because of this reality. I watched her go through treatment, and it wasn’t pretty. Cancer changed her life. It changed her body’s chemistry and even impacted the way she processed our younger sister’s passing. 

A cancer diagnosis–no matter how positive the prognosis–is a sucker punch that a person feels deep in his or her being. Every cancer survivor lives with the possibility that “it” may return.

That is what makes survivors survivors–not “beating” the disease or coming through unscathed but the daunting reality of the disease; they’re survivors because they can stand up in the world and move and contribute and be [whole and well] with the looming possibility of such crippling news.

We lost Karlette. That’s an awful reality that hurts like hell. But losing her makes us celebrate Lori even more. Though we may never have the answer to why not Karlette too, Lori’s survival is important. It rescues us from despair. It gives us hope. And that is certainly a reason to celebrate.

The closing lines of my favorite Lucille Clifton poem comes to mind:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
[from “won’t you celebrate with me“]

*Photos in this post are from Pixabay.

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.

Live-Laugh-Love

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…