"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Love and Marriage

When it comes to relationships, I have no idea what I'm doing.  I'm no good at them.  And why would I be?  It's not like I had strong, healthy relationships to learn from when I was young.  My parent's marriage ended in a bitter, contentious divorce when I was thirteen.  The years leading up to their divorce were filled with the worst kind of fights imaginable.  Although I'm sure they sat down and constructively worked something out a few times during their marriage, I have no memory of such peaceful problem solving ever occurring.  

Their divorce was rapidly followed by my dad's remarriage to a much younger woman, the "other woman".    That didn't exactly lead to peaceful post-divorce family dynamics.  That marriage was also contentious and far from a shining example of a healthy, mutually supportive relationship.  I lived with my dad and stepmother, so I was a first-hand witness to their short-lived marriage and ugly divorce.  Naturally, I did what most teenage girls do when faced with such depressing home lives, I found a boyfriend!  

I stayed with my high school sweetheart, S, from the moment we met, all throughout high school and after.  We married when I was 19.  His family was my surrogate family, his mom the mother I lacked, not because I didn't have a mom, but because mine lived 600 miles away.  Without him and his family, I don't know where I would be today.  Their home was the shelter from the storm for me.  

When I married S I knew our marriage was ill-advised, but I did it anyway.  In Utah, getting married at such a young age isn't at all unusual, and after five years of dating it seemed the logical next step.  Except deep in my heart, I knew I was making a mistake.  Even then I understood I wasn't ready, didn't have the skills, was marrying for all the wrong reasons.  I forged ahead anyway, too scared to end our relationship and lose my best friend, and terrified to pursue my dreams alone.  

Within five years our marriage was over.  Despite all the outward appearances of having it all together, good jobs, well-funded retirement accounts, plenty of savings, college behind us and a brand-new home, we were miserable and destroying each other with our misery.  Mostly, I was destroying him and he deserved better.

Moving back into my dad's house and then into a dingy furnished basement apartment put me into a deep depression.  I'd had it all and thrown it away for this?  I was faced with the realization that being a single woman at 24 trying to make it on my own was really, really hard.  I struggled financially and couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel.  So what did I do?  I gave in to the older man who'd been pursuing me, begging me to start a life with him.  Again, I knew it was ill-advised, again I did it anyway.  I'm stubbornly stupid that way.

So, J and I married and I became a stepmother to his three teenage children.  Sound familiar?  Funny how history repeats itself isn't it?  We also endured two rounds of in-vitro fertilization because I'd decided it was time for me to have a baby.  Our second attempt at in-vitro was a success and our daughter Gillian was born.  Predictably, our marriage failed in the face of struggling with our 14-year age difference, blended family challenges, financial stress, verbal and emotional abuse and vast religious differences.  

When I divorced J and moved out on my own along with my daughter, it was honestly the first time I was seriously committed to making it on my own.  I realized it was time to get my shit together.  I couldn't afford to keep starting over, emotionally or financially.  I made sure my divorce settlement was fair so I could afford to give Gillian a stable home.  I bought a house not far from our previous home so that her surroundings would stay as familiar as possible and she'd be close to her dad.  For the first time, at age 34, I bought a house alone.  I'd handled the entire process myself.  It was just me who had done the negotiating, me alone at the closing table, and me, along with Gillian, setting up our new house just the way we wanted.  It felt good!  The sense of freedom and competence it gave me was thrilling.  

This time around I loved being single.  I was actively volunteering in my community and meeting new friends and discovering new things to do.  Life was good.  I was also seeing a guy I met at work, B.  Yep, you know where this is going, don't you?  

After dating for close to a year, B and I were spending quite a bit of time together.  We were usually at my house since he lived in a small apartment.  Things were comfortable between us, but honestly, I had no desire to mess with the status quo.  That is until my ex-husband started threatening court action because occasionally B stayed at my house until the wee hours of the morning when Gillian was there.   Much fighting between the ex and I ensued.  I'd signed certain provisions in our divorce under duress and against my better judgement, assuming I could renegotiate them later.  There was no negotiating.  Rather than take a step back and re-evaluate my motivations, B and I decided to get married.  It was a marriage of convenience, not love, and we both knew it.  I never should have done it.  In fact, as we left the Justice of the Peace's house (ironically named Reverend Love!) I fought the urge to turn around and tell him I'd just made a horrible mistake and to please not file the paperwork.  

We were both miserable.  We toughed it out for a little over two years and then went our separate ways.  Splitting the sheets was easy because we'd never combined anything.  We were married in name only.  My attorney called me while I was vacationing in Colorado for the 4th of July to let me know my divorce was final on July 3.  It was a good Independence Day celebration that year!  We even had caviar during the fireworks at the park.  

After B, I swore I'd never humiliate myself by getting married again.  I was beginning to become a joke.  Comparisons to Elizabeth Taylor weren't uncommon.  I'm so humiliated by my three failed marriages that many acquaintances don't even know I've been married three times.  Since B, I give full disclosure to any man I meet within about the first 15 minutes, letting them know that despite outward appearances, I most definitely am not a good relationship risk.  Despite being in relationships since the age of 15, I know very little about how to make one succeed.  I know quite a bit about what not to do, but knowing and doing are two different things.  

When I look inward and think about my future, I picture myself alone.  I'm at least self-aware enough to know that I make a horrible partner and I end up hurting people, badly, despite my best intentions.  That's the really hard part.  I know what I need to fix, but overcoming a lifetime of bad examples and deep emotional wounds is very hard work.  It's harder still when you throw another person into the mix with complex emotional baggage of their own.  

So that's where I'm at right now.  Mike and I are almost two years into a relationship that we both started with no expectations and no desire to make it anything but what it was, right then, in the moment.  When I met Mike, I was truly, blissfully happy being alone.  I wasn't looking for a relationship.  I'd changed my mindset about dating and started going out with people I found interesting, nothing more. That was the only qualification.  Just because they might have expectations to the contrary didn't mean I had to meet those expectations.  I was becoming skilled at establishing boundaries so I could maintain my freedom.  

Mike was interesting, in spades.  I was, and still am fascinated by his mind.  He looks at and approaches the world in a completely unique and different way than I, which is both good and bad.  We are polar opposites in almost every way, but do share unique, quirky observations about the crazy world around us.  Our fast, easy friendship was quickly changed into something much more only ten days after our first date when my sister killed herself.  Even then, I trusted him so much that he was the second person I called to share the news with.  He responded in exactly the right way.  Our relationship has lived in the shadow of her suicide ever since, with both of us questioning the authenticity of our connection and desire to be together because of it.  It's all but impossible to separate the two.  

Now we're at a crossroads.  We're both unsure and terrified about which way to go.  We both know that it will require an enormous amount of work, strength and commitment to build a healthy relationship.  We both come from backgrounds that taught us almost everything to do wrong, but very little about what to do right.  We're both headstrong, stubborn and prideful--foolishly so.  Deep inside, we're also both hopeless romantics that want nothing more than to be loved and accepted by another person,  despite all of our bad traits.  We care deeply for each other, enough that we don't want to destroy each other.  The jury is still out on whether that means we'll end up together or go our separate ways.  Not knowing which way to go is agonizing, so right now we're giving each other space and taking it one day at a time.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Letting Go of Blame

When Julie died, besides being completely devastated, I was pissed.  That's right, along with all the usual emotions that follow a suicide, I was angry!  Angry at her, angry at myself, but most of all, angry at her so-called friend/sometimes boyfriend B.  I held him more than a little responsible for her death.  

Their relationship was rocky from the word go.  They met at work, where they both worked in the same office for a while.  He lied to her almost from the very beginning.  She wasted two years of her life on him, something I repeatedly reminded her of.  She knew it was an unhealthy relationship, but held onto it because she was terrified of having no one.  In her mind, something was better than nothing, and she gratefully accepted whatever crumbs he tossed her way.  

We would spend hours on the phone together discussing their relationship.  There were many late night and early morning phone calls where I tried to console a weeping, devastated Julie after she'd confirmed the latest lie from B, driving by his ex-girlfriend's place to see his car there after he'd made up an elaborate lie as to why he couldn't spend the weekend with her.  He was a master at building up her expectations and then disappointing her at the last minute.  

She knew exactly what he was doing to her, but seemed powerless to resist his manipulations.  She would tell me she knew she was acting "crazy" but she couldn't help it.  Many, many times she broke it off, which always made him redouble his efforts.  He's that guy.  The type that thrives on drama and love triangles--manipulative, arrogant, deceitful and narcissistic, but to the outside world the perfect gentleman.  In Julie he found the perfect match, a person desperate for love and acceptance who was in a difficult place in her life, struggling with mental illness, not eating or taking care of herself, and self-medicating with alcohol.  It was the perfect storm and had devastating consequences.

Something went down between Julie and B that last week before she died.  I'll never know exactly what, but I know they talked more than once that week, and had lunch or dinner together just a few days before her death.  It was always easy to tell when she'd "fallen off the wagon" and had contact with B, because she'd become uncommunicative with me and the rest of the family.  She so badly wanted to believe whatever line of bullshit B was feeding her, and didn't want me or anyone else to confront her with the fact she was being manipulated by him. Again.  

I'm convinced her fatal cocktail of booze and pills was a desperate attempt to get his attention, to make him realize how much he was hurting her.  He was dating some new younger girl who lived in the same apartment complex as Julie.  The long Memorial Day weekend was approaching and she dreaded spending it alone.  B didn't have the good grace to just end things completely with her and stay out of her life.  He messed with her like a cat messes with a mouse.  His position in IT at work meant he knew how to get into her email accounts, and he did.  He'd reference things that she'd talked about with others only in emails.  He invaded her privacy, he tormented her, making even work a place where she couldn't be free from his games.  

Even before her death, I fantasized about sending thugs to take B out in a dark alleyway.  I'd always disliked him and the way he treated my sister, and all women for that matter.  He needed to be taught a lesson.  After her death, my dislike of him turned into full-on rage.  When he showed up at her apartment shortly after the police did (Hmmm, weird that he felt compelled to go check in on her, and weirder still that he refused to tell the police why he'd gone there) I freaked out from 600 miles away and insisted the police make him leave.  He was told that he wasn't welcome at her funeral.  If I'd seen him I was afraid of what I would do.

For months afterwards I fought back the urge to call and ask him for a full, truthful accounting of what had gone down between the two of them that last week, and especially the last 24 hours before Julie died.  I poured through the police and coroner's reports, looking for clues. They only left me with more unanswered questions. I know he could shed light on her state of mind. I also know he won't tell the truth.  He's incapable of it.  I desperately wanted to confront him with everything I knew about how he'd treated her and make sure he understood that his treatment of her wasn't without consequence.  I needed him to know in no uncertain terms that he'd contributed to her final breakdown, and that I held him partially responsible for her suicide.  I longed to know he felt the same depth of pain and loss that I did.  I wanted him to understand that his callous behavior had caused mortal pain to an already very wounded spirit.  I wanted him to hurt as deeply as Julie had.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago while reading this blog post, Ravi and Clementi about the recent case where a college roommate was on trial for his actions that contributed to his roommate's suicide, that I realized I no longer cared about B.  Where before there had been such strong feelings, now I can barely muster a whimper of caring.  It simply doesn't matter anymore.  Placing blame is futile.  Do I think B's treatment of Julie contributed to her state of mind that led to her suicide? Absolutely. But so what? I'm not the judge and jury.  How he's dealt with her death and whether he's acknowledged his role in it is his problem.  If I passed him on the street today, I'd probably look right through him.  He isn't a person I want to waste one second of my time or energy on.  

Blame, guilt, rage, and anger are all natural responses after a suicide.  So is forgiveness.  Two years ago forgiveness seemed unimaginable to me.  How would I forgive such an unforgiveable act?  Today, not only have I forgiven B, I've forgiven myself and most importantly, I've forgiven Julie.  Holding onto my rage and blame was holding me back.  Now I'm free to move forward with understanding, acceptance and forgiveness.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wait a Minute Mr. Postman

I miss letters. There's nothing like getting a card, note or letter written especially for you from someone you care about.  Today I was looking at some scrapbooks I kept during high school.  They're not the fancy kind of scrapbooks that are popular now with patterned paper and die-cut embellishments.  Everything in them is glued directly to the pages and would be ruined if I tried to remove them. The papers and mementos are already getting yellowed.  But none of that bothers me.  I'm just glad I saved almost all the written correspondence I received during that period of my life.  Whether they're quick notes just saying thank you or that someone was thinking of me, a brief postcard from someone on vacation, or a long, detailed letter, I treasure them all.  Reading them reminds me of things that were important to the teenage me.  

Letters from my cousin Michelle in Colorado still make me laugh out loud.  Even the way she addressed her envelopes was funny and always had me smiling before I'd even opened her notes to me.  My Grandpa French was a dedicated letter writer and corresponded regularly with many family members and friends.  Reading his letters today made me miss him in a way I hadn't for years.  I was struck by his sincere interest in what was going on in my life and the simple way he'd ask me questions so that I'd write him back.  Back then I loved hearing from him, but now I'm almost tearful with gratitude that I have such tangible remnants and reminders of our relationship.   

Nowadays it seems hardly anyone writes and mails letters anymore, including me.  We text, email, and instant message. The communication and gratification is instant, but the history of the communication is almost as instantly gone, and that makes me sad.  In my scrapbooks are notes and letters from my high-school sweetheart who became my first husband and my summertime boyfriend in Colorado.  They're such sweet reminders of our courtship and the early days of our relationship.  Mike and I communicate almost constantly via text, but I'll never have our texts and instant messages to look back on and be reminded of the thousands of small memories and moments from our early days of dating.  Luckily, I do at least have this, a screen capture of Mike's Facebook status the morning after our first date.  

I've kept a newspaper clipping written by George Will in 1999 addressed to his daughter upon her high school graduation.  It's a wistful piece written by a father realizing how fast his little girl has grown up and how much of her life will now happen away from him.  Here are the last paragraphs of his column:

"There is in life a lot of taking leave, of letting go.  But to assuage our pain, when you are at college, studying what college students study, from the causes of wars to the cures for hangovers, write us letters.  You look puzzled. Ah: You do not know what letters are.  The description will astonish you.  

Once upon a time, before cell phones and e-mail, primitive people who wished to communicate with people far away produced-by hand, no less-artifacts called letters that recipients could hold in their hands, and cherish, as we, your parents, have held and cherished you.  We will bind your letters with red ribbons like those with which we adorned you, just a few flown years ago."

Ah, yes, letters-how I miss them.  

Envelopes with letters from my cousin and my summer boyfriend
A note from high school days between me and my dear friend Todd Cisowski.
A note from my Grandma after my engagement. 
Letters from my mom were usually handwritten in her beautiful writing.
A note from a next-door neighbor from my childhood and a letter from Grandpa French
Another letter from my former neighbor.  She had such pretty cursive.  
Dad's writing was always harder to read than mom's. 
A letter from my dad while he was in Denmark

Living apart from my siblings meant we stayed connected with letters.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Learning and Leading by Example

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  Throughout the day I read a number of articles about women and their accomplishments and struggles to gain equal recognition and rights alongside men.  All of it made me think about my personal journey as a young girl from a conservative, patriarchal religious background and my long, slow awakening to the power and possibilities available to me and so many other women.   
I was raised Mormon, so from a young age I was conditioned to expect a pretty traditional future for myself—marriage, babies, preferably with a husband who was the sole provider while I stayed home raising children. Not that any of this was ever really ever explicitly communicated to me by my parents, but it was the model presented in church and was also the way my own parent’s marriage functioned for close to 15 years. 
Luckily my parents encouraged all of their children to read, learn, be curious about the world, think critically, and ask questions.  They both valued education, not just for the sake of having a degree, but for the act of learning and understanding the world around us.  Again, most of this was communicated more by example than by words. 
By my early teens my parents were divorced and I was beginning to question the supposed pre-ordained plan for my life.  Of course, then I was still young and very much influenced by peer pressure and the need for acceptance.  For the most part I still lived the conservative lifestyle I always had, but deep inside I struggled to reconcile what even then I recognized as my authentic self with the person those around me thought I was, and the future they assumed I would embrace.  It wasn’t until decades later, in my early thirties with two failed marriages behind me, that I really started to live life as the person I was, growing and stretching beyond my own assumptions about how my life should be lived.  Around this time, one of my “other duties as assigned” at work was to serve on the board of trustees for a fledgling Boys & Girls Club in the area. I look back at that assignment with much gratitude and thankfulness because it introduced me to a world I love, ignited my passion for volunteering, connected me to a community of people I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and led me to other great volunteering experiences where I’ve met women who have become my friends, teachers, mentors and examples of strong female leaders. 
I started what turned into a 6 ½ year stint on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Weber-Davis board with absolutely no experience in non-profit leadership. I’ve learned most of what I now know the hard way as I was gradually, subtly challenged and pushed by women, and also men, who saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.  Before too long I was asked to join the executive committee of the board.  The few years I spent on the executive committee were full of many stressful situations and hard decisions. I watched and learned as the two other women on the executive committee with me led with wisdom, graciousness and finesse.  I don’t know if they realized how green I was, but by first giving me a seat at the table, and then treating me as someone who’s opinions and knowledge mattered, they taught me many valuable lessons about mentoring and leadership.   
Not too long after joining the Boys & Girls Club, I was invited to a recruitment night for the Junior League of Ogden.  The Junior League of Ogden's reputation goes back over 60 years, and many former Junior Leaguers are some of the smartest, most influential women in my community.  Being asked to join their ranks was an honor and a dream come true!  Being in the Junior League taught me what it really means to push your sleeves up and work hard--for free! The great thing was the work was always done among friends, women who started out as strangers, but many of whom are now good friends and strong allies and supporters of causes I care about. 
Three years of Junior League fundraiser fun
My first full year in the League was during the celebration of the Junior League of Ogden’s 50th Anniversary.  The League President that year was Kym Buttschardt, a woman with boundless energy, optimism and charisma who can motivate volunteers like no other.  Here again was an example of a woman doing good things, and encouraging other women to do the same.  Under her leadership I learned the value of being a cheerleader for a cause you believe in, no matter how chaotic and stressful things are behind the scenes.  She taught by example that there isn’t a place for cattiness, competition and trying to one-up each other as women.  I learned from her that it’s important for women to encourage and support each other, not tear each other down, and that the seemingly impossible task is possible, especially when you rally a bunch of motivated women! 
Entrance to the Junior League of Ogden's
Oasis Community Garden
Not just white gloves & pearls. 
Junior League ladies working at Oasis Community Garden

There were many other amazing woman leaders in the League.  During my 10 years as an active member I learned many valuable lessons, and can honestly say the League stayed true to their mission of being an “organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.”  Being able to say I was a Junior League of Ogden member has opened many doors for me and connected me to many great causes and people in the community.  
Junior League Sustainers

A few months ago I attended a Women In Business committee luncheon for my local Chamber of Commerce.  The speaker was an author, M. Bridget Cook.  She mentioned the importance of women supporting each other and talked about how women so often “harpoon themselves daily with the darts of comparison”.  She introduced me to the Hindi word gnshai which means you should never treat yourself or another person in a manner that makes one feel small.  Gnshai pretty much sums up for me how the influential women in my life treat others.  They’re leaders, mentors and friends because they understand the importance of women supporting each other and never making others feel small. 
About six weeks ago I attended the annual Women in Business Athena Awards luncheon.  The 2011 Athena winner gave a moving, emotional talk that I’m still thinking about almost two months later.  In it she highlighted the Athena leadership model and the eight attributes that reflect women’s contributions to leadership:  Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy.  Then she called up several women in her life who characterized each of these attributes to her.  Her personal story and examples of women who embody these characteristics really hit home with me.  It dawned on me that all the women who have been such positive, powerful influences in my life have embodied some, if not all of these eight characteristics.  I listened that day and decided right then and there that I need to pay it forward.  I need to focus on the Athena model and learn to lead using these characteristics.  I owe it to all the Athena’s in my life to become a supporting, nurturing mentor to other women.  Somehow through luck, fate, karma, or whatever, I’ve been blessed with many women who have helped me along my path in life and introduced me to things that have become my passion.  I’ll know I’ve succeeded in some small way in life if someday someone can say the same about me. 
Junior Leaguers Sue & Aimee enjoying the calm before the storm
Children's Health Connection 2009
Children's Health Connection patrons in the Medical Vitals room
A Children's Health Connection patron receiving free immunizations


Monday, March 5, 2012

Thirty-eight Years of Amy

Me & Amy, 1976
Today is my sister Amy's birthday. By the time she came along, our four year age difference meant that I was already firmly established in the world and my place in the family, so my early memories of her are vague. In my mind I remember a chubby-cheeked toddler with a head full of golden curls who often had her thumb in her mouth. From an early age Amy spent a great deal of time following me around trying to get me to play with her. Much of our childhood was spent with her pursuing my attention and me trying to ditch her. 

Avoiding her was difficult since we shared a room, which was an almost constant source of annoyance to me. I was tidy, orderly, regimented and used to controlling my space. Dirty clothes on the floor and piled in the closet didn't bother Amy at all. When I tried to fall asleep at night, she was in the bed across from me chewing crackers. Loudly. Slowly. Infuriatingly. I honestly think she did it just to annoy me! She also had to sleep with the door cracked open and the hall light on. Because she was younger, I lost that battle repeatedly with my parents always siding with her. I got even by refusing to allow her into my world, no matter how desperately she tried to hang with me and my friends. 

By the time I was 14 we lived in different states and only saw each other during holiday breaks and summer vacations. When she came to Utah to visit for the summer she slept in the basement while I kept my room to myself. It never occurred to me until years later how painful that must have been to her. I still lived in our childhood home, sleeping in the same room we once shared. As a selfish teenager I never bothered to think about how it must have felt for her to show up to her home and have to sleep in the basement like a temporary visitor. 

Somehow through all the ups and downs of our lives (and believe me there were many) we managed to maintain some kind of a connection. I was married and out on my own at the age of 19. Amy wasn't far behind me, moving out on her own at the tender age of 18 rather than moving to Pueblo, Colorado when my mom remarried. Those early years on her own were a struggle, although I was barely aware of it then since I was busy with married life, work and college. We still saw each other on holidays at mom's, or sometimes I'd stay for a night or two at her latest apartment. Our lives were very different then, but also similar as we were both doing our best to face adulthood and create futures for ourselves.  
My henna tattoo - Summer 2010
Eventually, our lives were on more parallel paths. We were both married and expecting our first babies. Our due dates were just ten days or so apart in October, and we shared all the experiences of a first pregnancy together. We talked  frequently on the phone comparing notes about hormonal mood swings, cravings, baby names, bodily changes and so much more. On October 4 Amy gave birth to her son, Mason. The next day I went into the hospital for a scheduled induction. On October 6, thirty-six hours after Mason's birth, I welcomed Gillian into the world. 

Sharing the experience of pregnancy and new motherhood together changed our relationship. Our bond was deeper and we were closer than we'd ever been before. Talking to my sister became part of the rhythm of my life. She was often the person I called before anyone else to share my life's frustrations, challenges, joys, and simple, silly pleasures with. We could talk for hours on the phone, and often did. 

The years since then have been full of many shared moments, holidays and celebrations, many of them at Amy's house. I wrote about many of the memories made there in this earlier post: Taking Only My Memories. It's hard now to imagine that I used to go to such great lengths to keep her out of my life.

Showing off our footwear to mom.
L to R: Amy, Julie, Keicha
Along with everything else that bonds us we're also bound now by our shared loss and sorrow. Amy is the only person in the world who understands my loss in almost exactly the same way. Only she knows the horror of the phone call asking me if I'd talked to Julie, knowing even as she said the words that something was horribly wrong. It was just the two of us on the line together that day, waiting with sick feelings of dread in our stomachs as Jason and Grant drove to Julie's apartment with her spare key. Who besides my sister understands what it's like to lose my sister - our sister - the only other person in our exclusive sisterhood club of three? 

Only Amy understood the necessity of ditching the family for a few hours the week after Julie's death, getting in the car, blasting corny country music as loudly as we could and screaming at the top of our lungs. She knew why it was imperative that we go together to an old favorite hangout spot and have shots of tequila to toast Julie before we went shopping for a small urn for Amy to keep some of Julie's ashes in and a guest book for her funeral. Together we wandered the aisles of Hobby Lobby drunken and grief-stricken, making inappropriate, morbid jokes and laughing at the brutal irony of having to look on the wedding decor aisle to find a guest book for our sister's funeral. Together we conferred about who to ask to style Julie's trademark curls for the last time. The difficult task of shopping for clothes to bury our sister in fell to me alone because Amy couldn't bear to be part of that shopping excursion. That was one time when I really wished I wasn't the big sister. She made it up to me by speaking at the funeral, something I just couldn't face doing. A few months later, we got each through the difficult job of sorting through all of Julie's clothes, deciding what to keep, donate and give away. It was an almost sacred task, and such a personal one that it was agreed it should only be done by her sisters. Since that time there have been many tearful, anguished phone calls to each other as we both work through our grief, guilt, and confusion, trying to accept what is now the new normal of our lives.    

We've both dealt with our grief differently, and Amy has also been dealing with a separation and then divorce. Often I've felt abandoned and bereft, sometimes feeling as if I lost not one, but two sisters in May 2010. I've struggled alone, discovering that the sister that used to call me just to talk about nothing was very caught up in her own life and struggles. It's been painful and hard not having the two people I used to confide in the most suddenly unavailable, one forever. Thankfully, we seem to be finding our way back together, adjusting to the new dynamic of just the two of us. I think we're both coming to terms with the fact that we're each the sister the other one was left with, understanding that neither of us can ever be what Julie was to the other one. We're left with only each other, warts, disappointments and all. 
Hopping Trains with Amy - Memorial Day 2010
Although at the time Amy's entrance into my life barely cause a blip on my radar screen, I can't imagine my life without her. I know that no matter what, we love each other. We haven't always been a perfect example of sisterly love and supportiveness, but that doesn't matter. We're sisters, plain and simple. We will always love and support each other. Today I'm so grateful and happy to be able to celebrate my sister and the joy, silliness, support and comfort she brings to my life. 

Happy Birthday Sis!  I love you. Here's to many more. 
Hugging Amy at the finish line of the 2011 Ogden 1/2 Marathon
Celebrating our finish -Ogden 1/2 Marathon
May 2011