DISCLAIMER: I’ve had anxiety over writing this post since I started this blog because I knew I wanted to write about my sister Ashlee this week but wasn’t sure if I could ever find the words to do our relationship justice. This one’s for you piglet…
: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
: a person who is greatly admired
The first time I ever remember processing the word hero in my head was back in the early 90’s when Mariah Carey was belting it out on every radio station. I remember my mom and aunts crying (imagine that, we are a bunch of emotional chicks that’s for sure), listening to the tape on repeat in their vans. That’s when I realized that the word hero had some clout. Isn’t it ironic? My mom and her sisters were belting out the words “there’s a herooooo, if you look inside your heart…” and here I am suddenly realizing that my two “little” sisters are more than my friends, they are my heroes.
Being a big sister is like being a super hero, only better. It’s a job that comes with serious responsibilities often times at such a young age. As an older sister you are teaching your siblings, whether you realize it or not, the kind of person they want to be. They are either going to want to emulate your every move or if you are a dick to them growing up they are going to want to become the exact opposite of you. If you are lucky, you’ll fall somewhere in the middle like I did.
Sisters can be annoying; mine will tell you that I wasn’t always the nicest or most patient sister on the block, but they know I loved them and when push comes to shove, I always have their back. It’s natural to look up to people older than you, me, not having an older sister to look up to found a good substitute in my babysitters (shout outs to my cousin Allison, Kim & Kristin, and Ms. Sherri).
Once I went to college my relationships with my sisters changed, they started to mature and were no longer based on who had the best beanie baby collection but on who was better at flip cup and when they could visit me at college. After I graduated we grew even closer and before I knew it those sneaky chicks had become my best friends.
One afternoon in July 2012 I was working some “overtime” for a project at work and got a phone call from my sister Ashlee. She was crying and told me that she had been diagnosed with ocular melanoma. I remember telling her that everything would be ok and she shouldn’t worry because everything will work out, she’ll talk to a doctor, give her a plan of attack and she’ll beat it. Simple as that.
I was wrong. I’ll spare you the details but essentially it was 11 months of pain and suffering and I lost my sister to cancer on June 5, 2013; 3 days after her 23rd birthday. When I was growing up (and I mean until I was 28) I was invincible and the world was my oyster. My whole life I had been told that I could have whatever I want if I work hard enough for it. Being an optimist I honestly never thought she would die. I thought we would get a miracle and one day Ashlee would start to feel better. Let me tell you, nothing gives you a reality check like losing your little sister to cancer, or to anything for that matter. There was no amount of money I could raise or number of care packages I could send that would make this better. It was the first time in my entire life that the circumstances were out of my control and it was the worst feeling in the world.
I wallowed for a few months in my grief, not sure where my path would lead me. All of my future plans and memories I was counting on in my future included Ashlee in them. After a few months of throwing myself pity parties (which were totally justified) I started to change my tune a little bit when I remembered a text message that I received from Ashlee a few months before:
I made myself a promise that I would work the rest of my life to personify that text. To become an inspiration, a better role model, better best friend, and better sister. I knew that if I were able to personify those words I would become a better person and positive influence in other people’s lives, which was motivation enough for me!
You’ve heard me say it before; I believe that everything happens for a reason but I’m still searching for the reason that God chose to take my sister Ashlee away from the world so soon. She had so much to offer and was right on the cusp the Phoenix Process which my favorite guru Elizabeth Lesser describes as “our lives ask[ing] us to die and to be reborn every time we confront change—[to] change within our self and change in our world.”
So in her honor, I picked up where Ashlee left off. Lesser says, “When we descend all the way down to the bottom of a loss, and dwell patiently, with an open heart, in the darkness and pain, we can bring back up with us the sweetness of life and the exhilaration of inner growth. When there is nothing left to lose, we find the true self—the self that is whole, the self that is enough, the self that no longer looks to others for definition, or completion, or anything but companionship on the journey.”
According to Rick Warren, God doesn’t waste a hurt. The question you have to ask yourself is “what will you do with what you’ve been through? Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.” Whoa, what a concept, my pain could help people? No way.
I’ve always been independent but finding happiness in the gravity of that loss changed my life. It made me whole first the first time in my life (although until then I never realized I was broken) and I finally realized what Novelist Aldous Huxley meant when he said, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”
I choose to respond by being happy. By seeing the good in people. By practicing random acts of kindness. By keeping in touch with the people that mean the most to me and FaceTiming them over calling them whenever possible. By living deeper in the moment so that my memories are brighter than any picture I could ever take with my iPhone. By remaining open and a shoulder to cry on for others. By shoveling sunshine all over the world.