At the end of each Inside the Actors Studio interview with James Lipton, he always asks the same 10 questions of the actor he is interviewing. As I listened to this process just the other day, I was intrigued by the final question, which I obviously had never paid attention to before. He said: “What would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”
The answer on that particular day was the same as I imagine he hears a lot, something to the effect of “You did a first-rate job!” But, for me the words that came to mind were instantaneous and powerful: “Kass is here and she has been waiting for you.” Just that thought on that random day, in that unexpected moment, brought tears of overwhelming sadness to my eyes.
This type of emotion has been a daily occurrence since Kass passed away. I still find it difficult to watch commercials about cancer on television or to hear about yet another person who has been diagnosed with cancer. I guess it is because I understand what that pronouncement means to families. I understand the unimaginable emotions. I understand the fight. And, I understand the consequences.
It has been exactly 365 days since I lovingly and humbly witnessed my beautiful sister Kass leave this world for Heaven. Exactly one year since her sweet voice has spoken to me about her hopes and dreams for little Josie. Exactly 12 months since we somehow survived the most difficult day of our lives.
But, over the past 12 months there have been many unexpected moments, too, moments that have taken my breath away. I have shared some of these moments in other writings over the past year. But, one that happened just last month is still fresh and needs to be shared.
I was visiting with my parents a few weeks ago when my Dad asked me to go upstairs to Kass’s old room with him. He said he had found some more of her personal notes, cards, etc. He showed me one of Kass’s unfinished paintings that he had found. We talked for a moment about what a talented artist she was. Then, he handed me her old order pad that she had used while she was working at Penn College at the Le Jeune Chef Restaurant. The pad was filled with cards that apeared to be from her 28th birthday, which she celebrated in May of 2000. As expected, there was a card from each of us there that she had saved: one from Mom & Dad, one from me, one from Tim’s family, and one from Tom’s family. They were all there. There were also a few other random notes. And, as I was flipping through, I saw it. Written on St. Patrick’s Day in 2000 on the backside of one of the restaurant order cards:
It reads: “I watched a lady with cancer try to eat breakfast today. God help her and God bless those with this disease.” The tears welled up immediately. I looked at my Dad and said, “Did you see this?” gesturing the card. “What is it?” he asked. I showed him and he read it and shook his head. “Amazing.” We both stood there in disbelief. He said, “Your mother and I looked through this before you came over, and we never saw it.” We went downstairs and showed my Mom. “How could I have missed that?” she said.
I still have not quite figured out why things happen the way they do. And, what the message is truly supposed to be….
Until cancer hit our family, we never really understood it and I do not recall talking about it a lot growing up. Obviously, I do not recall Kass mentioning this particular moment from so many years ago. But, the fact that we found this note so many years later and the sadly prophetic nature of the message haunts me.
Yet, I do find peace in witnessing this amazingly beautiful and loving side of my sister in full display. I have written many stories over the past year about our life together…stories of love, sisters, siblings, family, children, memories, strength, grace, courage, kindness. And, here is the living proof of the contents of her heart….more importantly, her heart when no one was looking.
Think about it: most people in the same situation might have just kept going on with their day on that morning, perhaps too wrapped up in what was happening in their own life to truly notice someone else. And even if they did notice, it is likely that most people would not have taken the time to actually write down what they were thinking in that situation. But, not Kass. Kass was a genuinely compassionate, kind, loving, sweet, and amazingly grounded person. We all need more of Kass’s sentiment and more people like her in this world!
So where does that leave us today? Well, life will never be the same without my beautiful sister. Even in the happiest of moments, there is still sadness. Sadness for the moments not yet lived. Sadness and longing for what was. Sadness for what could have been. I still find that at least once a day, I am overcome with this amazingly powerful feeling a grief when I am reminded at the core of my being that Kass is really gone. It is sometimes too much to accept. I know that I am not the only one. I would never speak for anyone else in my family, but I know that they all suffer their own grief. I know that they all hurt. I know that they all long for just one more moment when we are all together: Group photo! Group hug! Or a “hang out by the fire” session. I miss those days. I miss my sweet sister.
But, I have come to accept and to know for sure that she is still right here with us. I feel her presence with me all of the time. [For those who have lost someone special, I know that you understand these words. For those who have not, you may be thinking exactly what I would have thought before we lost Kass: “You feel her presence…..what does that really mean?” I understand this completely and know that someday you will understand.] I see her in the stars and in the moon, I sense her in the birds and the butterflies that now share my spaces, and I feel her in my heart every day.
And, sometimes her presence is much more visible. I had an experience like this recently. A few weeks ago, we had our first Team Kass Memorial Blood Drive for Kass. My Mom organized everything and I am so glad that she did. The day was filled with love and happy stories about Kass. And on that day, I gave blood for the very first time. It’s true. I had never given blood before then. It really was an easy process. But, as they wrapped the gauze around my arm when it was all over, I was overcome with emotion. I could not help but recall the hundreds of times I had witnessed the nurses doing the same exact thing to Kass. Covering her PICC line. Covering her bandage. The same red gauze and the same white tape.
The next day, I took everything off of my arm, showered, and continued with my day. I was at lunch with Jamie when I looked down at my arm. I could not believe what the remnants of the tape had left behind. A simple heart. Silently telling me and our family, “Thank you. I am here. I love you so much.”
I read this quote just the other day and I could not believe how true it is:
“When you lose a parent, you lose a part of your past.
When you lose a child, you lose part of your future.
When you lose a sibling….you lose both.”
There are no words to truly capture how it feels to lose a sibling that you cherished and adored. As this quote implies, it is almost like losing a piece of you. I had always thought that Kass and I would grow old together, sharing stories, laughter, and love. I could never have known that life would turn out this way. The future will always be a little bit heavier without her by my side. And, our past can now only be told through the stories behind the pictures we all cherish. But, despite all of this….hope remains. Hope that the beautiful moments will outshine the sad; hope that with time our hearts will heal from this sadness; and hope in the knowledge that the love we share will never die.