When I wrote my will, I had a complicated decision to make. Who would I leave my daughter to if Joe and I were to pass together. It could happen...we go on planes and in cars alone for getaways sometimes while Coralie stays with my in-laws. Our other children will go to their other parents...but who will Coralie be with? My parents and Joe’s parents are too old. If we die, it will be complicated to ensure the ability for our other children to see her and have an ongoing relationship as it isn’t just guaranteed. An answer came to me, and even Joe agreed. Rachel.
She was an odd choice...my ex-husband’s sister. She wasn’t even blood-related to Coralie. But they had a special bond from the beginning when Coralie would instantly go to her as a baby...so naturally comfortable. Most of all, I knew that Rachel was the kind of person that would fight to do the right thing, no matter how hard or how much it took. She would make sure that Coralie saw her siblings. Rachel would find a way. And as far as love, Rachel would give my daughter so much love, in the closest way to my own love as I could imagine. She was the kind of person that I could trust my own children to...who I could trust my heart to.
But here’s the thing about trusting someone with your heart. That kind of trust leaves you wide open to the worst pain imaginable. The kind where your chest physically hurts and you are sick to your stomach. It means that you may be left sitting on the floor of the porch, the wind knocked out of you, hugging and rocking yourself, trying not to throw up.
This morning, my dearest Rachel passed on to heaven. She went the way I had hoped and worked to ensure...at home, comfortable, with her family and her beloved dog. She didn’t suffer any extra. I thought that was all I could give her when there was no longer a way to save her. I took the call on the front porch, where there was nowhere to hide. I wanted to just get up and move on, away from the truth. Go right back inside, quickly, to claim back my regular morning fast enough to push the hurt off, to deny everything going on inside me. As I reached for the door handle, something inside me said, “Take the time. Sit with it. It’s ok to feel it.” I listened. I let the pain in.
As I sat sobbing, th
inking how she had been gone an hour already, of how she was already beyond reach, my head in my hands, crying and rocking, I started to be aware of the loudest call. So loud...it broke into the bubble-wrapped around me. Calling calling. It forced me to look up. I couldn’t ignore this loud call. It broke through my sobs. There, in the tree next to my porch, so close, was a movement. I got up, slowly going towards it to get a better look. There, looking right at me, was the brightest reddest cardinal. It stopped calling and just looked at me. It was so startling. It was her. I knew without a doubt. I stood, so close, witnessing. I called to
her, “I see you. I see you Rachel.” After a few moments of frozen staring at each other, a man came up the road walking his dog. He wasn’t looking at me and they passed right under the tree. I wanted to call to him, “Do you see that bird? That is my dearest friend. My chosen sister. The only woman in the world that I could imagine raising my child if I couldn’t. She’s come to say goodbye to me.” But I didn’t. I watched as he walked by and as I looked back up, she took flight, and flew away.
That man had no idea what was happening. He thinks it’s just another day, just another walk with the dog, just another bird calling. He doesn’t know that today is the day that Rachel left. The day she came to say a final farewell. That he was passing by a miracle. I know she came to check on me. To let me know where I will find her. In her beloved birds. The ones she would sit on her deck watching, taking pictures of babies in nests, filling her birdfeeder, telling me on the phone about each one she saw. I know it was her so deep down that the experience left me with goosebumps, shivering, shaking, with a huge smile and tears streaming down my face.
It’s an amazing thing to feel so
happy and so sad all at the same time. I am sad that she is really gone. I am thankful she passed in peace. I am sad imagini
ng my future without her. Imagining her family’s future without her. I am happy she came to say goodbye. My heart hurts knowing what I’ve lost and imagining my world without her, but I can’t imagine not having had her at all. I’m grateful for the time I had. I feel lucky for all the love and support and time she gave me.
When I think of what I lost, it feels like I lost my home. With divorced parents, no old family home to return to, Rachel was my home. She was there for me when my own marriage and family fell apart. She took me in whenever I needed a refuge. She was at every birthday, dance recital, holiday. She spoke at my wedding to my current husband. I feel like I’ve lost my big sister...for that is what she was. She gave me many cards over the years, calling me sister, telling me that family can be who we choose. She gave me a feeling of being home whenever she was near. Her hug felt like safety, her home like my own, her love like it had always been there for me.
my mind, when I made the decision to make Rachel Coralie’s guardian in my will, was there ever the possibility that instead, she would leave us too soon, and in a sick twist of fate, I would be in the position I meant to leave her in. As the hours have ticked by since this morning, I have come to see. I meant to leave her with my daughter, and instead, she has left me with hers.
Alex, I am here for you always, in the same way that your mom would have been here for Coralie if the circumstances had been reversed. I will fight for you, protect you, support you, and love you just as I know Rachel would have done for my children. There is no burden, no guilt, no obligation in demonstrating how much I owe your mother. Supporting you is the only way I know to honor her. Loving you and being there for you allows me to repay every kindness she ever bestowed upon me.
And to the rest of you, just know, that when life tells you to stop, to take the moment to feel, sometimes it is because a miracle is about to happen. And when it’s just another day, you’re out walking your
dog, and you notice a crazy lady standing on a porch, smile glowing, tears pouring down her cheeks, you might be witnessing something extraordinary. And as you plan out your life, deciding how it wil
l all go, every possibility, know that life has a crazy way of turning the tables, leaving you breathless with the shock of it, but that even when you’re sick with sadness, there is such poetic beauty in the way if all unfolds. And when you all see a bright red cardinal, remember my friend, Rachel. She was as special as they come.
Capturer of memories
Keeper of hearts
Supporter of many
Hater of none
Holder of anger
Children’s book character
Champion of underdogs
Marker of occasions
Always the bigger person
Surrogate mom to many
Real mom to two
On our hearts.