Legacy of Love

My house is quiet at this moment. Utter stillness. Fittingly, a moment of silence. It would have been my sister’s birthday today and there is so much emptiness surrounding me. Yet, she fills the space still. She never knew it but she provided a moment that shapes my life still.

She was diagnosed with leukemia and separated from her children for treatment when they were very young. We all were. Her baby was only months old when we took him for the first hospital visit, when she had been away for weeks, maybe a month. It felt like forever. As she reached out for him, he smiled and reached back. He remembers me! The joy that flooded her face told me that this is all a mother needs. All a child needs. Each other. Sharing a love that can never go away even when we do.

Last night on the brink of sleep, I was suddenly awake with grief. The crushing remembrance that she was gone. In that dark room all I wanted was to have her back and I could feel her right there. Right next to my bed. So close. But I couldn’t touch her. I couldn’t hold her. All I wanted was to feel her kissing my forehead, brushing my hair out of my eyes. Again. Again.

Ordinary gestures. Not grand ones. Not impressive ones. Not accomplished ones.

Not like the dreams and schemes I have, these full-time projects that are brewing, conspiring to lead me out of my full-time life. The imaginary stack of achievements I’ll be able to point to beyond the stacks of folded towels, clean plates and grocery bags. The promise of my true potential and higher purpose that I must heed to be fulfilled, “radically authentic”, leaving my mark. Or so they all say.

Everywhere I turn these days the message is to be anything but ordinary. Be Epic! Be badass. Be daring and wild. If it isn’t hurting, you aren’t living. Platitudes and the anti-platitudes. Add a filter to make the picture hipper and cooler because the way it really is isn’t hip or cool enough. Make it larger than life and maybe then we can be friends. Go big or go home.

In last night’s late hour, I felt the value of ordinary. I didn’t want my sister back so she could do amazing, inspiring things with her life. I didn’t want her back so I could join her on epic, wild adventures. I wanted her back so she could love me. So I could love her.

She never tried to be unforgettable and yet I can’t forget her.

I don’t miss her because of what she never made. I miss her because I want more of what she gave.

I’m not sad because she didn’t have more time to be someone. I’m sad because I didn’t get to experience more of who she was.

I don’t cry because her life was cut short. I cry because there’s never enough time. No matter how much we try to fill our lives, how wisely we try to spend our time, how many checklists we check to feel accomplished, there will never be enough time.

We can never fill a hole that is un-fillable. The motivational gurus like to say we’re all given the same 24 hours. As in, look at all I’m doing with mine; what do you have to show for yours? That’s not honorable, though, because not all hours are created equally and we’re not all given the same number of days. They are indeed numbered to what will be our lifetime. Our life time. The time in our life is numbered. We don’t have all the time in the world. So are we going to chase it down like a balloon that has escaped our grasp? Or do we sink into it and drop anchor knowing that when the tide finally pulls us away, we’ll leave a wake in our path?

My sister planted herself in my world. She made taco nights so exciting because each ingredient had its own colorful bowl. She invited me to snuggle in her bed with her even when she had friends sleeping over. She brought me pencils and erasers from the school store where the big kids shopped. She listened to me when I was scared about being the flower girl in her wedding. She shared her favorite music with me and let me turn it up loudly when we danced in her living room. She brushed my hair and tied my shoes and gave me a horrible nickname. She wrote me little notes and I wonder if she knew how much they would mean someday when I was all grown up. Little, ordinary things. Not epic yet everything.

It’s this simple way of being in the world that is the most powerful. She never tried to be unforgettable and yet I can’t forget her. As a mother this is my biggest and most important lesson. Nothing can inform my mothering more than the deep knowing that the care and attention I give will be what’s everlasting. There’s no prize waiting on the other side- no fat paycheck, no cover of Time magazine- and yet I give the most prized gift of time, the limits of which make it my most precious commodity. My life time. She was not famous like the Mona Lisa, she was just Lisa; one of thousands of Lisas in the world, but she was my Lisa because she gave of herself to me in love. It was the kind of love that made me desperate. Desperate for more. For any way to keep her here always.

When I woke this morning, I was still sad. As I began to cry, incredibly it began to rain. It felt like the tears of my sister’s understanding saying she misses me, too. I heard between raindrops and silent sobs, can’t you see that I’m in the rain? I’m right here. Can’t you feel my legacy of love?

And then I knew. She is still here. She can’t kiss my forehead and I can’t hold her hand but I carry her everywhere. She’s always with me because when she was with me, she loved me. For every ordinary way and in a way that will never die, I loved her back.

When she died I made Lisa a lot of promises and I’d like to add one more: the next time I doubt my choice to build meaning over monuments, I will remember you.

  • Cassia

    Beautiful… I had a connection with my brother via random unknown photo post of him today… 11 years and it feels like yesterday… Love to you!

  • Thank you for sharing this Flo. Lisa sounds like she was a great big sister. Today is my birthday too and I feel special to share a birthday with someone who gave you so much love and treated her little sister so respectfully. What perfect lessons you learned from her life and loss.

  • Flo, this is beautiful beyond words. Just yesterday in a conversation about love it was asked could the missing part simply be love. That was healing for me to read. And a reminder to live in away that leaves behind these love traces that will forever be in the hearts of those who miss you. Thank you

  • So beautiful and a very important message. Thank you.

  • Thank you Flo. A sad but also very sweet reality check!!

  • Nikki

    Absolutely beautiful… I can understand every word that you have written..xoxox

  • Becky

    Beautiful and so so true. I spoke at my Grandmother’s funeral 2 years ago about the same theme. Thank you for sharing and reminding me, again, of the importance of simplicity, being there, the little things. xoxo

  • Kelly Alexander

    Beautiful Flo. It’s so true that one never dies as long as we are remembered in others’ hearts. You are so blessed to have had a sister who kissed your heart so deeply. Loving blessings, Kelly

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