George and I are moving to a new house by October 1st. So now we have the huge task of cleaning out the house we live in now. It always amazes me how much stuff accumulates over the years. Even when moving out at the end of a semester of college…like where does all of this stuff actually come from? And why do I have so much of it?
We are having a yard sale tomorrow to try and get rid of a lot of our maybe once treasured belongings. I have my iPod on shuffle and am trying to clean my room. (George and I share a room of course, but there is an extra bedroom where I keep all of my clothes, photo albums, notebooks…random stuff) So of course, I start finding some sentimental things as I’m cleaning, making this task a bit more complicated than I had anticipated.
I found a little photo album/scrap book that George had given to me after about a year or so of dating. It’s so nice to think how different you were with someone in the first couple of years compared to how much closer you are just a few years later. Although I think about it everyday, it’s also a nice little reminder of how sweet George really is, and of the special love we share.
The next thing I came across was such a nice little card from my sister Ashleigh. (In my family have an older brother Josh, then me, then Becca, who passed away in 2002, then Ashleigh, Kaitlyn and Ryan). It was a congratulations card saying how happy she was for me that I was getting married. She was excited for my new life with George, and wished that Becca were here, because she would be happy and excited as well. It brought a tear to my eye, remembering how genuinely happy Becca would get for everyone in our family when good things would happen. And because it’s so wonderful to have family to share and enjoy happiness and good fortune with you.
Then I found a speech I wrote for a public speaking class I took in college. It’s about Becca and family, etc. I started reading it, then I figured I would just put it in my blog….so here it is.
Written in 2006
It was October 13, 1999, two days after my 16th birthday. I remember it like it was yesterday. The phone rang. My mom said the test results were back and my younger sister Becca has cancer. Cancer. I had barely ever heard the word. My grandfather died of cancer, but he was 81. Becca was only 14. My life was significantly changed in an instant.
My sister was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. The doctors said there was about a 20% chance of survival, and they would use chemotherapy and radiation to treat it. The next three years of my life are almost like a blur when I look back on it. I remember a lot of crying and disbelief in the first couple of months. I remember how heartbroken I was to see my little sister lose all of her hair and so much weight. I remember hearing good news that the cancer was getting smaller and almost gone. And I remember crying on the phone with Becca when she told me the cancer was growing again. And I will never forget the night of September 30, 2002, when Becca could not fight the disease anymore. The night I said goodbye to my sister, and my family left the hospital without her.
The grief you feel from losing someone so young, that you are so close to, can only be explained as unbearable. It was so hard to watch my parents lose a daughter; no one ever thinks they will have to bury their own child. Our once even numbered family of eight turned into seven, and we knew we could never feel completely whole again.
Becca’s death took a lot out of me, but it was her life that changed me into the person I am today. I watched my little sister grow up quickly into the most brave, fearless, beautiful, inspirational young woman that I will ever know. Right from the beginning, she knew her chances weren’t good, but she endured many horrible treatments, and fought the disease as hard as she could. Even though she was so sick, she never complained, or showed us how sick she really was. Instead she would try to make things easier for everyone else, and not worry about herself. When her and my mom received bad news from the doctors, she would want everyone to go out for dinner together, and enjoy. So we wouldn’t have to think about her sickness as much. It breaks my heart to think of someone so young being so thoughtful and having wisdom way beyond her years. She was so young, but she knew how important it is to spend time with the people you love. She lived a great and inspirational life, with high spirits and a smile. She was happy and full of life, even when she knew it would be cut short.
Through my experiences, I’ve learned that life can be really hard. Sometimes much harder than you ever expect it to be. Things happen that you can’t control, and it can seem very unfair. But I have also learned that even when things are hard; it is the people who love you that get you through it. This came clear to me one day about five years ago. My family has always been big on Sunday dinner. With such a large family, it’s hard to get everybody together during the week, so Sunday is the day to catch up with everyone, and spend time together as a family. On this particular Sunday, my sister was in the hospital and my mom was with her. Since they were not going to be able to come home, we decided to bring Sunday dinner to them. My mom is and always has been the cook in our house. My dad and brothers will grill in the summer, but other than that, it’s my mom who cooks all of our meals. So to say the least, this was a big task for us. My dad took us to the store to get everything we needed, then the six of us worked together to cook the meal. We made chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and dessert. (With 8 people in the family, we always needed a lot of food) Then we packed everything up and drove to Children’s Hospital in Boston. My mom and Becca were so happy to have a home cooked meal instead of take out or hospital food, and I was happy to have a quasi-normal Sunday dinner with my whole family.
So this is when everything came clear to me. We were in the hospital, one the seventh floor, in the cancer ward. The rooms were filled with children and teenagers fighting cancer, and my own sister was consumed with the disease herself, but we were all together. The eight of us were together, we were whole, and we were happy. This is when I realized that this is what it’s all about. If I could be sitting there in the hospital, in the face of my family’s own personal tragedy, but still find pleasure in life, then I knew I could get through anything. I knew Becca was going to die, we all did, and it killed us inside. But I found comfort, strength and support from my family. When you reach out to the people you love, you can get through anything. I’ve learned it is the people you love and the people who love you that are most important.
It’s been more than three years now since my sister passed away, and I still miss her and think about her everyday. Even though Becca is no longer with me in person, I have learned to keep her with me, and live a good life for both Becca and myself. She taught me the importance of life, and also the uncertainty of it. But most of all she taught me to love and appreciate my family and friends. I’ve always valued the people in my life, but Becca’s death made me realize just how important they really are.
People are so important; so value you family and friends and show your love and appreciation for them as much as you can. When times are hard look to your family for support, and when things are good, share you happiness with them. Don’t waste time agonizing and worrying about things, but instead try to find pleasure and happiness in all you do. Each day is a gift, so use it well and appreciate it.
It’s interesting looking over things you’ve written over the years. I better get back to going through stuff….who knows what else I’ll find..