It is December 27, 2015. Just 5 more days until we are in the New Year. 2016. Another new year. Another new beginning. The first New Year without my sister Charlotte. The first of many New Year’s without her. This is my new reality. This is my family’s new reality.
2015 did not begin well.
“You have weeks to live,” my sister’s doctor told her last year on New Year’s Eve. Two days before, it was a few months. Now, she has only weeks. She gets off the phone with him and looks at me. She’s crying. I’m crying. There are a zillion things running through both of our heads. All I can do right then and there is hold her hand, hug her, cry with her. Tomorrow, we have to figure out what comes next. Tonight, we need to eat and drink and ring in 2015. And we do.
The next day, January 1, 2015, I drive up to her house, and we take a walk up to the Avenue in Hampden. We sit on the steps outside the church on 36th street and talk. And cry. And laugh. We grab an ice cream from the Charmery. For an hour or so, we are just two sisters, hanging out, talking, eating ice cream. Five days later, she is at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In pain. So much pain that it hurts to walk down the hall. As I hold her in my arms and walk with her, I realize that the walk up the Avenue with her would be the last time she will able to walk that kind of distance again. One month later, Charlotte dies. And with her, a big part of me dies too.
I did not write one blog post about her in 2014. Nothing. I talked to my therapist about this. What does that mean, I wondered. Why did I not write? Perhaps it was because you felt that her cancer would now simply live there forever, she said. That there would simply be more chemo, more treatments. That you would all just live with it. And I think she was right. I just thought that one day, “normal” would be Charlotte with colon cancer. That she would not die from it, just live with it for awhile. I was wrong. Or rather, I just did not want to think about her dying. And I didn’t. I didn’t want to think about a world without my sister. Without her smile, her snarkiness, her kindness, her joy. I really thought she would just live with her cancer. So many do. Right? But so many don’t too.
I wrote a few posts about her during her time with her cancer between 2011 and 2013. She had so much life in her. Here is an excerpt from a post about us training for the triathlon we did in 2013.
“Charlotte shows me what it means to live your life every single day. Because of her, I can do anything. Because of her, I am a better person. Because of her, I cherish every single day of my life now. I take nothing for granted. I don’t worry about stupid things. I surround myself with good, honest, hard working people. I smile and laugh – ALOT. I get angry sometimes, but I let things go more easily than before. I know who I am because of my sister. And each day she gets stronger, I get stronger. Her fight is my fight. And we are in this together until the end.”
I still believe in these words. I still believe in her and who she was. She NEVER took her life for granted. She NEVER complained. She NEVER wanted pity from anyone. She ONLY wanted to live.
I think about her everyday. I dream about her. I talk about her. A LOT. I often speak about her as if she was still here. Because in reality, she IS still here. She is in me. I have her voice. I share a likeness to her. I hold grudges. Whenever I see my niece or nephew, I am reminded of her. She is everywhere. And I keep pushing because of her. Whenever I start to feel bad or get down about myself, I think of her. Charlotte would have kept going. Charlotte would have pushed herself. Like the little engine that could. “I think I can. I think I can.” That was her. That is me now.
I try not to think about any regrets I may have before she died. I told her I loved her each and every day. She knew. Sure, I think back and I say to myself, “You should have said this. You should not have said that.” This was new to me. I had never watched someone I love die in front of me. And she was dying. As I look back over various text messages she and I sent to each other during the month of January, she always stayed positive. If she was afraid of dying, she never, ever showed it. I don’t know how she did it. I still don’t know.
My life is different since my sister died.
Two years later, my life is STILL different. At times, I go along my merry way, emailing people, coaching my members at the gym, spending time with my husband and my parents, my brother. And at other times, I think about her and I just cry. I cry because I miss her so much. I cry because if she saw our situation right now with the kids, she would be so pissed. I cry because she is not here to tell my “Emmy, it’s going to be okay. Emmy, I love you.” I cry because she was my best friend and now she is gone. And it hurts. It really fucking hurts.
BUT…..life does go on. It does. It has to. We cannot control it. It just happens. But we can always remember. And we can take our stress and turn it to our advantage. I take NOTHING for granted these days. I don’t let anything or anyone control my life. I don’t worry about the shoulder pain or hip issue. It’s called life. I keep on living. I keep on remembering. I keep on keeping on. 😉