(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.
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.