I do not think that I noticed it at first. There was no way it was possible after the beautiful sunshine had playfully followed us all day long. I could not believe my eyes. But, as I looked toward the sky during the ride home, there it was: a bold, shimmering, and perfect rainbow. And, as I gazed out the window of his Jeep, I felt his hand grab mine and then I heard the words, “It is okay. I want you to know that I understand.” And, then he squeezed my hand. With tears in my eyes, “I know, thank you” was all that I could say in reply. As I continued to look through my sadness, I knew that he had come into my life for a reason and the rainbow was a sign from sweet Kass that just maybe she had something to do with it. And, with him. But, this was only our first date…..
The past 15 months had taken its toll on our family and on me. Losing Kass after battling side-by-side with her in the trenches, fending off this cancer foe, and believing we would persevere and then having to say goodbye was a devastating blow to our family. And, my feelings were no different than what we all felt about losing Kass: sadness, sorrow, grief, pain, and a whole host of other emotions that words could never adequately describe. But, I guess in a way, it was a little bit different for me. Looking back, I guess the most had changed for me personally during this time. Shortly after Kass was diagnosed, I relocated back to Williamsport and took a new job that would allow me to work from home and to spend time with Kass on the road. I was blessed to have been offered this new job right before Kass’s diagnosis. I had thought about moving home for some time. I had six adorable nieces and nephews that were growing up right before my eyes. And, of course, missing out on seeing my entire family had taken its toll over the 11 years I had been living away from home.
I could have never known what a gift from God that job offer turned out to be. Life is funny that way. Looking back at it now, it makes perfect sense. When my Dad called with the new of Kass’s diagnosis, everything moved quickly and there was never any doubt. I was able to resign from my current job and transition into this new position that allowed me to work virtually. So, I could work while spending time with Kass. She needed me. Or so I thought. But, what I came to realize over the next year was that it was me who needed Kass. Watching her fight so hard to live; seeing the genuine, uncomplicated love in her eyes for our family and for Josie; listening to the words of wisdom she shared as her time on Earth drew to a peaceful end…..all of it made me realize that I wanted to live a different life than the life I had been living.
This is not to imply that I had been living an unhappy life. To the contrary, my life was great. My job had me learning, growing, traveling, and actively building a professional resume that I was proud of. I was working on my master’s degree, working out on a regular basis, and I had a circle of friends that were constantly helping me to become a better person. Life was good. But, I had spent the better part of a decade building my resume at the expense of working on my personal relationships. I have come to know that no matter what the resume says, or what car you drive, or who your friends are, no matter what degrees you hold, without love….you might as well have nothing. Unfortunately, nothing really matters beyond it. And, every single sentiment in my heart seemed to change during that year of magical love with Kass.
As I watched my sister fight a valiant fight against God’s perfect timing, no amount of money, no advanced degree, no material possessions, not even the best-of-the-best doctors could save her life. And, she never once mentioned wanting more things when she was dying…all that she ever wanted was more time to love her baby girl. Just as simple as that: she just wanted to love. I believe that bearing witness to this selflessness has filled my heart with gratitude for the little moments that life has to offer and to the love that we all possess that connects us to each other. All of this has changed me for the better and allowed me to shift my thinking about my own life and to put myself in a position to live it better and more fully with Kass’s lessons about love as my guide. And that is where the story continues.
Jamie and I went on our first date on a Saturday in September 2012. It was a beautiful day. I had started out with a quick run and then he was picking me up at 11:00 a.m. We were headed to Ricketts Glen for a long hike and perhaps dinner afterwards. Strangely enough, I was not nervous. Running into him that previous Saturday at the Lycoming College football game had given us a chance to reconnect after not seeing one another for many years. (I swear to this day that we were friends during my time at the Chamber. But, he still says no; we were not friends, we were simply acquaintances. Ha!) Either way, I cannot put the right words together that capture how I knew from this first date that he was different, but I just knew. After 42 years of trying, I finally understood the phrase, “when you know, you just know”.
Something truly special is happening between us right before my eyes. And, every day just keeps getting better. Since our first date, we have been truly inseparable. He makes me happy. He makes me smile. He makes me laugh. He makes me want to be a better person. He accepts me for who I am, where I am. He respects me and he loves me, just as I love and respect him.
A few months ago, I was having a particularly hard day thinking about Kass and I began to cry in front of Jamie. I had tried to hide these emotions from him during those early days so as not to overwhelm him with my grieving process. That night, as I told him that I cry every day and that sometimes I cannot stop myself from crying, he lifted my chin looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “You do not have to cry alone”. I looked back at him perplexed, “What do you mean? Who should I cry with?” I said. “You can cry with me,” he said. “I am here with you. You can cry with me.” And, he pulled me in. To this day, I have yet to let him go.
When we saw that rainbow on the ride back home after our first date, I could not help but think that Kass somehow approved, too. Looking back now, I think it was more than that. It was almost as if she was looking down on me saying “Thank you for all that you did, and now you go and be happy!”
So, I am left with two great loves: the first that helped to pave the road to now, forever entwined in the moments of my life with too many stories left untold, layered in a kind of sweetness and care that can only exist between sisters who have seen both the darkness and the light. The reserve is wide and deep and overflows in my heart, but will never dry up. For with each moment of laughter, with every thought and giggle and story from the past, the reserve is replenished and love abounds once more.
The second love preparing for what lies ahead, filled with excitement and joy for the path forward. Bound and strengthened by this deep understanding of the past and wrapped tight around a genuine appreciation for life and its fragility. This love is replenished by creating amazing, new memories of our future together. Like the most unexpected gift, this love is to be cherished, appreciated, and returned with even greater splendor.
Despite all that God has taken from me, He brought me love. And now, I have two great loves. These loves coexist in my heart….one to keep me present with the past; the other to show me that I am okay and worthy of a blessed future.