A few days ago, I dropped my iPhone and smashed the cover sending pieces of glass all over my kitchen. So now when I use my phone I can actually see the electronic components inside. Needless to say, I have ordered a new one and I should have it in a just a few weeks. Like anyone who prepares for a getting a new phone, I now have to spend time transferring my old pictures, text messages, etc. for safekeeping. But, deep in my gut I also knew that one of the realities that I now had to face was preserving the voice mail messages from Kass that I have kept over the past year or so. I knew they were there; I just couldn’t face listening to them. Until now.
It is funny. I cannot explain how many times over the past four months I have reached for my phone and thought, “I cannot wait to tell Kass about that….” or “I wonder what Kass is doing today…”. I still have her number in the number one spot on my ‘favorites’ list on my phone. Even before she got sick, we would talk each and every day. Sometimes, a few times a day. We talked about a lot of things. Many of our conversations were about Josie, yet much was simply about sharing the stories that day-to-day life brings. It was just like that…two sisters trying to help each other to live a happy life. Every day our lives were intertwined. And then in July, there was only silence.
Two weeks after Kass passed away, I was telling Josie how much her Momma loved her and how her Mommy was wishing for happiness for her and I was telling her that her Mommy was so proud of her baby girl. This continued for several minutes, and as I told her about Heaven and how her Mommy was happy there, I reminded her that she also wanted Josie to know how much she loved her. Suddenly as I was talking, Josie looked up at me with her innocent eyes and said, “But, why can’t I hear Mommy, WaWa?” (Wa Wa comes from a decade of nieces / nephews calling me La La, which is also a long story…)
In that moment, I was jettisoned into another dimension. As adrenalin shot through me, I went to this place in my head where I wanted to break down into tears, but just knew that I had to stay strong. I kneeled down beside my beautiful niece and touched her shoulders with my hands and stared into her big eyes and I said, “You have to listen carefully. She is here. She is right here with you. All of the time. You won’t hear her here (gesturing to her ears), but you will hear her here (gesturing to her heart).” I stood up, unable to hold back the tears. We continued to walk and she looked up at me again and said, “I want to hear her, Wa Wa.” “You will, sweet Josie. You will,” was all that I could muster.
I share this deeply personal moment because in many ways, this exchange was a reminder to me as much as it was for Josie. As much as the silence had left me sad, I came to realize that Kass’s voice and her essence were still running through my heart. I could hear her. And every day, I still hear her. But since that last time in July when I heard her in person, I had not allowed myself to listen to her voice. I could not play the videos; I could not play the voice mails. I could not bring myself to hear her voice.
But, that day I broke my phone, I played those voice mails. I heard that sweet voice calling me. At first, I cried. I cried so hard I did not think I would ever stop. But then, I began to smile. I smiled for the treasure of having these messages. I smiled for the upbeat and positive energy that Kass put behind each and every message. I smiled because I remembered those messages and I was happy for every one of those moments that I shared with Kass. I smiled because she would have wanted me to smile. A few of the messages actually made me actually laugh. My sister was a very funny young woman. Even in the most trying times, she always made us laugh.
After this incident, I picked up the phone and called my Mom. I told her about the messages. We cried for a bit together. Then, we started sharing stories about all of the funny things that Kass said during her year of fighting cancer. It was this conversation with my Mom that provided the impetus for this blog. It is important to note that from the moment my Dad had called me in late June 2011 to tell me that Kass was sick, I started keeping a journal. I kept a journal of everything. I wrote and wrote and wrote every day and I took pictures and I made videos on a regular basis. Looking back, I am so happy that I did this. There is so much there. I consider all that I have collected as a treasure box for Josie that will be opened and shared over time.
As part of a series of blog entries to come, I will be writing in Top 12 format, to exemplify the year-long battle that Kass faced. Today, I share Kass’s Top 12 Funny Quotes.
Quote 1: “If I met a drug dealer, he’d want my business!” – August 2011
Quote 2: “My nightstand looks like Grandma’s….minus the cigarettes.” – August 2011
Quote 3: “I feel like I should order a cheeseburger and some fries!” – Waiting at the ER check-in counter – August 2011
Quote 4: “If I’m still laughing, I’m still living!” – To the ER nurse – August 2011
Quote 5: “If they come for me, pull me back Momma!” – Talking to Mom about her mystical visions – August 2011
Quote 6: “I’m going to start leaking soon I have so many holes in me!” – August 2011
Quote 7: “I feel like Billy Graham in the bathroom when I have to pee. I grab the rail and say, ‘Lord help me Jesus’.” – August 2011
Quote 8: “I’m like a traveling junkie. I have more medicine in my bag than clothes.” – February 2012
Quote 9: “Maybe if Santorum wins we can say Merry Christmas again.” – Talking to Mom and me in the car on our way to the hospital following Santorum’s 3 state victory in the primaries. – February 2012
Quote 10: “I feel like I am 104 years old: ‘How many dulcolax can I take? How many gas-x can I take in one day’? What time is my next nap?” – February 2012
Quote 11: “Did I just buy a car?” – After signing her numerous consent forms for anesthesia. – April 2012
Quote 12: “You need a holster for that thing.” – About Mom’s cane always being in the way. – April 2012
I will tell you that I still laugh when I read these quotes. I remember each experience so vividly. I will also share with you that these quotes only represent the clean ones. Kass’s sense of humor has always been enhanced by her endearing ability to swear. Let’s just leave it at that. I will keep the funniest of the funny quotes for our family and to share with Josie someday.
Let me close by saying that I believe there truly is nothing funny about cancer. Nothing. In fact, I have grown to develop a healthy dose of respect for cancer over the past 16 months. Cancer has taken so much from our family. Cancer took my best friend and baby sister from me. But, this blog is about hope. I share these funny moments to illustrate what it must take for a 39-year old woman with a 3-year old baby girl at home to be able to laugh in the midst of such a powerful and profound diagnosis for her future. If faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, how would you respond? How would I respond? I know there are no true answers to this question, only conjecture. But, what I witnessed over that magical year that I spent with my Mom and my sister as she fought this devastating disease was nothing short of inspiring and amazing. Surrounded by a constant dose of reality and what always seemed like more bad news, my beautiful sister always found a way to laugh and to make us laugh.
I know for sure that Kass was scared of what she faced. I know because she told me so. Lately, I have come to believe – thanks to the wonderful intercession of my Dad in the final months of her life – that before she died, she had peace in her heart and that she was no longer afraid. Kass and my Dad spent many beautiful moments together in those final months. He took her on many occasions to see Father Manno and afterwards, they would talk about life, love, faith, hope and death…just the two of them. They would talk openly about these things because they needed to and because Kass needed them to. Dad was the perfect one to do this, the only one capable of it in my mind. I will forever be grateful to him for giving Kass this gift. Looking back, I believe those moments they shared have provided a sense of peace to me and to everyone in our family.
I know that when I think about how funny Kass was, it makes smile. I know that she lived 40 beautiful years filled with happiness, the love of family, and the unimaginable joy of having her baby girl. I know that during the last year of her amazing life, she laughed when most people would have cried, she laughed to help to make us feel better, and she laughed because – as she used to say – she really had no other choice. “If I am still laughing, I am still living” she once said. And now she lives in Heaven and her laughter still lingers. I know for sure that if I close my eyes and listen very carefully, the sound of her laughter still sings through my heart.