I have been avoiding this. For a few weeks. I knew it was going to come, but I really didn't want to have to do it. Even if I needed to. I do need to. The problem is, I am having such a hard time formulating how I want this to go, and even now, I only have a vague image in my mind of what will be said. Raising three girls has been interesting to me, primarily because I was the only girl in my family, so watching sister relationships form is not as terrifying as I am sure some people would presume it to be. Most days. In my mind, having brothers was quite unfortunate, but by the grace of God, my cousin, who was only three months older than me, was also unfortunate enough to have a brother. And so we adopted each other as "sister-cousins", which, as a teen, sounded totally dorky to say, but in all honesty was the best way to describe our relationship. It was all the best parts of sisterhood - secrets, sleepovers, sharing make up (against my aunt's advice - I just had to try her blue mascara!), and most importantly, an ally and immediate friend - without all of the sisterly drama. Usually. When we were little, we lived farther away, so summers were spent trading houses for a week at a time, and any family gathering that would have otherwise been soooo boring became an opportunity to reunite with a treasured friend. In high school, her family moved literally one neighborhood away, and their house was the first place I drove to when I got my driver's license. We have always been very different, different enough that I wonder if we would have chosen to be friends had we not been related. It doesn't matter. Our differences made our relationship even more like sisters - we shared a deep history, and although there were times as we got older things like college, marriage, jobs, and babies made it hard to see each other often, or even call sometimes, any time I knew I'd see her, I felt just as giddy as I did when I was seven. Having a sister-cousin was awesome. Two Februarys ago, our family's heart broke. She was diagnosed with Leukemia. And I moved away. She started chemo three weeks before my husband's job took us 1900 miles away, and it hurt me to the very core to be absent at a time I knew she really needed a sister with her. Phone calls, texts, emails, became more regular, and I realized that although we were so far apart, I was feeling closer to her than I had before. Most of our conversations were how you'd imagine two twenty-something gal's conversations to go, but sometimes they were hard, and sometimes they were just quiet. Being on the phone together and not saying anything was enough. I have to stop here before I go on and say that I played a very small role in a vast support system she had. Our family is amazing, her community is amazing, and there were so many people that rallied around this person so precious to so many, that my own impact, although significant to me, was small among the great net of hands that vigilantly held her up. I feel selfish only telling my own part, but it's the part I know best, the part I can share honestly. Any time we traveled back to Colorado, I always made sure some bit of time was set aside just for her. There were good visits, where we went to the movies and she dragged me all around the mall for an iPad charger, and there were quieter visits, when she was too tired to do much more than just sit together, which was fine with me. Her journey with cancer was a roller coaster. Things would look great, and then back track, and then look great again, and then another set back, but through all of it, I saw this person I had known my whole life transform before my very eyes - she became a vision of faith and quiet fortitude, even in her own struggle, reaching out a hand to lift those struggling around her. It was humbling to see God working so clearly through someone I loved so dearly. Her illness took a turn this past October, and I made the trip home I had hoped so much I wouldn't have to. I held her hand, kissed her head, and felt privileged to stand alongside her sweet husband and my precious Aunt and Uncle and her dear brother as we gathered to love one who had loved so many. My Aunt put it beautifully when she said that she found her miracle in Heaven. I just loved her so much, and wanted to be able to put into words what she meant to me, but it has eluded me. And then I was reminded, with Thanksgiving coming this week, of something special our family shared that would be just the way to say what I need to. When we were maybe nine years old, my cousin and I decided to jazz up the Thanksgiving table with fancy name cards for each family member, but of course, we had to make it more interesting, so we gathered the name cards and each person randomly drew a name and anonymously wrote inside the card why they were thankful for that person. When we sat down to eat, everyone would read their card aloud and try to guess who wrote it. Some were simple ("you make good mashed potatoes"), some were hilarious ("you're such a bad-ass"), and all were genuine and sincere. The tradition stuck, and every year, she and I wrote and passed out name cards, and we all looked forward to guessing who had made each of us feel valuable for being ourselves. Ironically, over all of those years, I don't think I ever once drew her name. So this year, I cheated.
I am thankful for Jenny because she humors me and lets me lead. She is intelligent, but also spacey enough to be entertaining. She rarely giggles, and only really laughs if something is very funny, so I'm thankful that she laughs at me. I am thankful that she doesn't mind when my kids are noisy on the phone, or in person, and I am thankful that she loves them. I am thankful that Jenny likes mint chocolate like me. I am thankful that our husbands don't mind when we tease them. I am thankful that she confides in me. I am thankful that she always sends me a birthday gift, even though I never remember to send one to her until it's a Christmas gift anyways. I am thankful that she never lets me mess up her beautiful hair. I am thankful for the one time that she did. I am thankful that we never not liked each other. I am thankful for Jenny's beautiful voice. I am thankful for Gunther Toody's birthday breakfast. Any breakfast together, really. I am thankful that she taught me how to play rummy in the camper while it was raining outside. I am thankful that I did not ruin Logan's proposal, but that I got to be the first to congratulate them. I am thankful that we tried that soup. It was delicious. I am thankful that she keeps track of things. Better than I do, anyways. I am thankful for Caboodle cases full of tiny nail polishes. I am thankful for sleepovers. I am thankful we stopped to get candy. I am thankful for blips. I am thankful Jenny's dorky Santa purse. I both anticipate and enjoy it. I am thankful we remember the same things - basement skating, leaf houses, losing the neighbor kid, the Nutcracker - and we remember them the same way. I am thankful I was unfortunate enough to have brothers. If I had a real sister, I might have missed out on a sister-cousin. I am thankful for every family function she came to. I am thankful she is honest, both in word and in action. I am thankful we changed other plans to get a few hours here and there when I visited. I am thankful you waited for me. I am thankful you will be waiting for me.