That Inevitable Question

When you lose someone you love, there are certain situations you just don't want to deal with. There are the obvious ones like anniversaries of the day it happened, birthdays, holidays, etc. It is harder to face those moments without them, but at least you have some preparation. It's the moments you're not prepared for, that happen when you least expect it, that stop you dead in your tracks, that hurt the most.

Today, I had one of those moments. I was at an appointment and the lady was making an innocent attempt at making small talk. "What are you doing this weekend?" "What are you studying in school?" "How's the weather?" But then, then she asked the question. The inevitable question that was bound to get asked at some point, especially when making small talk. "Do you have any siblings?"

It has been a year and 2 months since Anna passed away. It is certainly not the first time I've been asked that. But for some reason, I can't recall it happening before. Perhaps I knew it was coming and had time to prepare. Perhaps it has never happened. I don't really know.

What I do know is that today that question caught me off guard. I paused for a moment and felt awkward for pausing before answering. It's normally a simple question that requires an automatic answer. I've been answering it my whole life with "Yes, I have a sister who's 3 years younger than me." But it's no longer that simple. It takes a decision; do I tell this well-meaning complete stranger who I met 5 minutes ago that my one and only sister fought a long and hard battle with cancer and unfortunately didn't survive? Do I simply say I had a sister and leave at that?

I didn't say either one of those things. What I did say? "No." And I immediately felt guilty. I have a sister. And not only do I have a sister, I have a pretty amazing one. She's the strongest, most beautiful inside and out, amazing person I know. I am proud to call myself her sister. So why did I answer no? Why would I deny that I have an amazing sister?

I told myself that it was easier. That I didn't want to explain my life story to a complete, well-meaning stranger. But why not? I have so much to tell. Especially because my sad story about losing my one and only sister has a happy twist. She left an amazing legacy. She touched an unmeasurable amount of people. And she has an amazing foundation started in her memory that is doing great things and touching more peoples lives in her memory. Why couldn't I tell her that?

The answer is, I don't know. Lots of reasons, I suppose. Because I hate that look of pity you get after you tell someone. Because when I have to answer that question unexpectedly, I can't dive into my immediate "speech" I have developed to tell the story without having to feel the emotions associated with it.  Because it is awkward telling a complete stranger the most personal, raw thing about you.

But none of that matters as much as carrying on her legacy. As much as honoring her memory. She will always, always be a part of my life. She is never far from my mind and always in my heart.  It is something I am going to have to deal with the rest of my life, and it may never get easier to tell someone that my sister is in heaven now and not with us on Earth, but I owe it to her and her memory to do it.

Miss you, beautiful angel. I will love you always.... 

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For A Dancer

(First I feel the need to apologize for my long absence. The only excuse I have for my lack of posts is life got in the way. But I'm back and hoping to update more regularly. Hopefully some of you are still out there reading!) 

"I absolutely, completely, 100% despise Cancer and wish with all my being that it didn't exist." This was the only thing going through my mind this weekend as I sat at my third funeral in less than a year. The third funeral for someone close to me. The third funeral for someone who died way too young and way too soon. The third funeral that cancer caused.

My Aunt Heather was one of the greatest people I've ever known. She was full of life, she was so kind and caring, she had a contagious smile and laugh, and a contagious positive attitude. She was, to put it simply, amazing. We didn't see her too often growing up, but when we did, I always looked forward to it. Having 2 boys, she loved to take Anna and I to do "girly" things when we would come to visit. She was always planning a trip to go shopping, to get our nails done or even have a tea party. And of course, we didn't complain a bit! We loved being spoiled by our Aunt Heather.

When she got sick last year, it was right in the middle of when things started going downhill with Anna, so I already had a lot on my mind. It was hard to wrap my head around someone else in my family being sick. How is it possible that within 2 years, 2 of my family members were diagnosed with cancer? I couldn't even begin to understand it. I kept up with her journey through CaringBridge, and through updates from my mom. But at times, life got busy and I got behind with the CaringBridge updates and I just thought she was doing ok. I knew the initial diagnosis was not good; her surgeon told her she had, at best, a year to live. But Aunt Heather was determined and a fighter, so we all that she would beat the odds. Last I had heard, she was doing well. Until she wasn't. It was then I realized I was going to lose another family member to cancer and I couldn't begin to understand how in the world this was fair.

My first thought was for my cousins. Although I unfortunately understand the pain of losing someone you love to cancer, I can't even imagine it being your mom. The day I found out she wasn't going to live much longer, it was my cousins 18th birthday. How awful, I thought, to lose your mom at such an important time in your life. He's getting ready to graduate and go to college and now he has to do that without his mom. My heart breaks for him, my other cousin and my uncle.

When I first learned that I was coming to this funeral this weekend and shared that with a friend, the first question I was asked was "were you close to her?" This question made me stop in my tracks for a minute because how do you really answer that? Did we keep in touch on a regular basis? No. Did I see her often? Not really. But I felt a special bond with her that makes us close. The advice she gave me and the talks we had were really special to me. I remember at Thanksgiving, which seems like yesterday, she took me to get my nails done. It was just the two of us and we got to talk about anything and everything and I absolutely loved the one on one time we had. She had a way of making you feel so special and so loved. So, were we close? I don't know. But I do know that I will always miss her smile, her laugh and especially her hugs. I felt as if I was going back to see her this weekend and catch her up on my life, when in fact, I was going to her memorial. How I wish that wasn't the case...

To further prove what a big heart and how generous Aunt Heather was here is one of my favorite stories. A few months ago, I jokingly posted on Facebook that I needed a generous fan to fund my blog redesign. I was bored with the way it looked and wanted something more grown up. "Any takers!?" I posted. "Me! Me! Me!", my Aunt Heather immediately wrote back. "Seriously, I do," she told me, "I would love to." So this blog design? Is a tribute to my Aunt Heather. How appropriate that is purple, which was her favorite color.

Although this weekend just reaffirmed my absolute hatred for cancer, it also taught me a lot. Listening to all the wonderful things people had to say about my Aunt made me reevaluate the way I live my life. It made me view all my relationships and think about if I am appreciating them enough. My cousin Patrick spoke at the memorial and described what he and my cousin Steven coined "the Heather Redford Effect." He pointed out that it seemed as though every person my Aunt came into contact with left feeling as though they had just made a new best friend. She truly touched everyone she ever met and that is beyond inspiring. He challenged us all to pass it on. It is up to us, he told us, to pass on the Heather Redford effect. Be kind to others. Appreciate those that you have in your life, and don't take them for granted. And live life to the fullest. We don't know what tomorrow will bring. As one of her friends who spoke at the memorial said, if we wait until we have the right money or the right body or everything to be perfect to do the things we want to do, we will never do it. I think we all walked away from that memorial feeling, of course, very sad, but also inspired. Aunt Heather was amazing and changed a lot of people. We can all learn a lesson from the way she lived her life.

There was a poster up in their house this weekend with a picture of her and a quote that I think is absolutely perfect for my Aunt Heather: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather by skidding in sideways, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, 'WOO-HOO What a Ride!!!'" This is exactly how she lived her life; to the fullest. And I am now reminded to do the same. 

It is true what "they" (whoever "they" are) say... only the good die young. My Aunt Heather and Anna were two of the most amazing, fun, free-spirited, inspirational people I know. I could go on and on about how amazing they are. I will never understand why they had to be taken from us so soon, but I am sure they are having on heck of a time together up in heaven complete with tea parties, mani/pedis and lots of dancing! :) I am grateful for the lessons that losing them has taught me, although I would trade those for having them back any day. 

Rest in peace, Aunt Heather. You are truly loved and missed. Give Anna one of your awesome hugs for me... 

My Aunt Heather requested that this song be played at her memorial, and I think it truly sums up how so many of us feel about death and dying, and it reminds me so much of the way Aunt Heather lived her life. The title of this post was obviously inspired by this song. 

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Good News Will Work Its Way to All Them Plans

When Anna passed away, I was given a lot of advice, told a lot of inspirational things and supported to the max. However, out of all of those words of advice and inspirational quotes, etc. one thing stuck in my head all these months, and until now I didn't really know why.

One of Anna's favorite songs was Float On by Modest Mouse. She liked it so much and found it inspirational through her battle with cancer that she had it tattooed on her wrist. Today, the simple words "Float on", not to mention the song itself are almost synonymous with Anna; if you knew her or at least knew of her you most likely associate "Float On" with her. At the time of her passing, I'd heard the song a few times and knew it was a favorite of Anna's but wasn't overly familiar with the lyrics. That night, after everyone left and it finally hit me that I was going to have to live the rest of my life without my sister (a feeling I will never, ever forget) I was doing what any normal person would do doing what a social media freak would do using the internet to express my feelings and tweeting about it. One of Anna's friends wrote me back with the lyrics from Float On "Bad news comes, don't you worry even when it lands. Good news will work its way to all them plans." At the time, I didn't think much of it other than that I liked it a lot. It gave me hope that maybe something good can come out of this.

Today, on the 8 month anniversary of her passing, I can say with absolute certainty that good news worked its way to all them plans. So many amazing things have happened in Anna's memory. First, we got to visit with her favorite band and hear how much she changed them. We participated in Red Balloon Race for the hospital she was treated at. And, most amazing of all, we started a foundation in her memory to help other families that have been affected by the same type of cancer, to start a scholarship fund and to help research efforts to try to prevent anyone from ever feeling that emptiness of losing someone they love to cancer.

But last week, we received the best news of all that we were given an amazing donation of $75,000!!!! My family and I are huge Dallas Mavericks fans, and we keep up with them regularly. We heard that their own, Mark Cuban, had been fined by the NBA for some not-so-nice comments he made about the refs after a game. We also heard that he always matched his fines (he gets fined a lot because he doesn't like to keep his opinion to himself and the NBA doesn't always agree with what he says) with a donation to charity. My mom thought why not e-mail him about our foundation and ask him to consider donating to us? Later that night, I got a text message with this in it. 

It was official; Mark Cuban was donating $75,000 to us!!!! Words can not describe the feeling I had when I found out. Later, a friend of Anna's posted on facebook "Good news definitely worked its way into the foundation's plans. 1million4anna is gonna do some incredible things." I couldn't have said it better myself. It is more clear than ever, now, that good news is working its way to our plans. I have always believed that God had a reason for taking Anna from this Earth. I knew that her purpose was to touch lives and it is clear that she is continuing to do that from heaven, maybe even more so. Which is why God needed her up there, so she can help orchestrate all the amazing things that are happening. It doesn't make it not hurt, but like I said last week, it sure does it make it easier. 

Another one of her best friends posted on Facebook today (they seem to be good with their words or maybe I'm just lacking my own material) "Eight months ago we started counting Wednesdays. Then the weeks turned to months, and we started counting those instead. Today's the first Wednesday the 8th since June, and I can honestly say that I love you and miss you just as much today as I did those first couple of weeks, if not more."This pretty much sums up my feelings today, on the 8 month anniversary of her death. It still hurts. It still sucks. I still wake up every day wishing I could text or call her. I still miss her beautiful smile and her contagious laugh. I would give anything just to hear her say "I love you, Iss" one more time. But I am so proud of what is happening in her honor and I know she is too. I know she's up there making it all happen so we can help other people. I know this is exactly what she would want her legacy to be, and I am honored to be a part of it, no matter how small or big. 

I am linking up with Shell at Things I Can't Say for Pour Your Heart Out

Float on, beautiful Angel <3

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PYHO: Carrying on Anna's Legacy

Nothing can ever take away the pain of losing someone you love. That is obvious. Nothing can take away the pain of missing Anna and wishing she were still here. I used to wonder how in the world I would ever survive without her. Some days I still don't know the answer to that, but what makes it easier is knowing that she would be proud of what is being accomplished in her honor and knowing that I am a part of that.

Shortly after she passed away, my parents and I decided we needed to do something in her memory. We wanted to carry on the amazing legacy she left and give all the people supporting her something to get behind. After planning and brainstorming and some tears, the idea for the 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation was born. Since then, we* have done more planning and taken lots of steps to get the foundation up and running. We put together a board of directors, held meetings to do more planning, even scheduled our first fundraising event.

A couple weeks ago (it took me a long time to write this post... I'm a little busy these days) the day came that we have been waiting for for months now; we recieved our official notice from the IRS that we are an official 501(c)(3) organization! We can now officially say the 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation is a real, live, non-profit organization in Anna's memory.

Official logo! Website coming soon!

When we got the news, my mom updated Anna's Caring Bridge and I think she explained what the foundation will do perfectly, so I am sharing her words:

"Beginning TODAY — here’s our mission – - we plan to wrap our arms around Ewing’s families.  We will support them and pray for them.  If the parents have a need or the child has a special wish, we will be there to help.  Tomorrow, when that Ewing’s warrior has completed their battle and is ready for the future – we will be there when that future includes college – with scholarship opportunities.  And every day – we will be aware and learn about Ewing’s research being conducted – and our foundation will support promising research, with the guidance of our medical advisory team."

Almost a month ago, shortly before I came back to school, I had the opportunity to meet and spend the day with 3 amazing Ewing's Sarcoma warriors. It happened to be the 7 month anniversary of Anna going to heaven, and I can't think of a better way to have spent it. Meeting these girls and talking to them and hearing their experiences fighting the same cancer as Anna made me even more grateful to have the opportunity to help other warriors like Anna. I know Anna would be proud and that she would do the same thing. In fact, one of the girls shared that she and Anna had talked on Facebook when she was first diagnosed and Anna helped her with what to expect and everything. She was always willing to help others. 

It was clear that Anna's legacy was to change lives. She changed so many peoples lives without even having ever met them or having a conversation with them. So many people are better for knowing her, including me. She changed my life and still continues to. I can't think of a better way to carry on her legacy than working with this foundation. It brings so much comfort and joy to know that Anna would be proud of what is happening in her memory and that I am a part of it. It doesn't make me not miss her, but it definitely eases the pain. 

I am linking up at Things I Can't Say for Pour Your Heart Out.

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