Life

Happy Birthday

Dear Aunt Sandy,

Today is your 61st birthday. Yes, you went up to Heaven just six days after your 60th birthday, but there’s not going to be a point when we stop acknowledging and celebrating the day of your birth so happy 61st!

my beautiful Aunt Sandy, December 19, 1953-December 25 ,2013

A lot has happened since your last birthday, but I’m sure you already know that.

There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of you and miss you terribly, especially being in the thick of the Christmas season. I know Halloween was your favorite holiday, but I’m fairly positive that Christmas was tied for that honor, or at least a close second.

So many of my favorite Christmas memories and our family traditions have your spirit woven within them. Making red and green Rice Krispie treats and cookies for Santa at the Trenton Street house just hours before you gave me a glimpse of “Santa” for the first time. Anxiously awaiting the package from the mailman that held your Christmas gifts and the inevitable See’s Candies box(es) and saving them especially for opening on Christmas Eve while everything else had to wait for Christmas Day. And of course hanging the beautiful stockings each year that you made for Sarah and I.

Some of my favorite memories, though, aren’t necessarily Christmas related, however. Some of the most precious memories I have with you are pretty recent. I was able to spend a lot of time with you on my last visit with you in July 2013 while Sarah and Auntie Margaret took care of Uncle Louie.

I made you tea with lemonade and fixed you tostadas but all I really wanted to do was to magically whip up a cure for the cancer that had invaded your (and Uncle Louie’s) body.

I can’t help but smile when I see Long Island Medium marathons and when we fix tostadas. You’re still with us in so many ways.

Aunt Sandy, you have no idea how much we miss you. Our family is not the same but I stand by the words I wrote to you in the birthday card I had Dad read to you last year.

I wish you a lifetime of pain-free birthdays.

I love you. I miss you,

Ashley

Note: I’ve lost my Grandpa, Aunt, and Uncle to three different types of cancer and one of my cousins is currently battling a fourth kind. My dad has lost his father, older brother, and younger sister. Cancer is a terrible disease and it seems fitting to recognize and donate to the American Cancer Society, who is the “official sponsor of birthdays”. I donated in memory of my Aunt Sandy, Uncle Louie, and Grandpa Luis, please consider donating to this great cause as well. Visit cancer.org for more information.

A Sweet Reunion

On August 20, 2014 my cousin Matthew returned to the United States after a 13 month stay in Bolivia. He did some amazing work with the youth population in La Paz during his time there and I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of him. Matthew and I have always had a connection because we have the same birthday and it was actually a little strange not having him around for our birthday on Mother’s Day weekend! 🙂

Last weekend, on Labor Day, my mom, my sister and I met up with Matthew and a few other family members at Cracker Barrel in Mebane. I honestly half expected him to be a completely different person but he is still the same sweet, country cousin I know and love but it’s clear to see that his time in South America changed him. Maybe he can help me with my Spanish now! 😉

Bienvenido a casa, Matthew!

One Year Later

One year.

It might seem like a long time for some, but for me, one year ago still seems to feel like it was yesterday.

I’ve written about what my family has endured during the last year for a friend’s campaign page here, so I’ll share the abbreviated version here now.

In April 2013, my dad’s older brother, Louie, was told by doctors that his liver cancer had spread and that he had six more months to live. In June 2013, my dad’s younger sister, Sandy, and caregiver for my Uncle Louie, wasn’t feeling well and went to the ER where she was told she had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. They both fought hard. On December 25, 2013 my Aunt Sandy passed away and ten days later on January 3, 2014, my Uncle Louie passed away as well.

One year ago this week, my sister and I traveled to California, which ended up being the last time that I would see either of them. It feels just like yesterday. I still think back to that short trip and remember those days fondly, rather than view them in sadness. While we were there, my sister and Auntie Margaret were busy taking care of my Uncle Louie, who ended up being admitted to the hospital during the trip. Because the rental car was in my sister’s name and with me being under 25 years old, I wasn’t able to drive anywhere due to insurance related things. So my days were spent at my Aunt’s house helping to make her breakfast, bring her her medicines, fix lunch, make her tea, sit with her while she watched Long Island Medium, and anything else she needed. Maybe that sounds boring to some, but those are some precious memories that I will always carry with me for the rest of my life.

To this day, when we make tostadas here, I am whisked back to my Aunt’s kitchen where I made her tostadas for lunch during our stay.

Christmas 1997 in California

My Uncle Louie was a one of a kind person. Most often, he was a loose cannon and we were never quite sure what would come out of his mouth next. He and my Dad didn’t have the best relationship growing up, but it was truly overwhelming to watch them reconnect during the last eight months of his life and to see them as brothers. My uncle was truly a caring person, who bravely served in Vietnam twice during the Vietnam War. Though the majority of my visit was spent with my Aunt at her house, I don’t think I could ever forget the last moments I spent with my Uncle.

He had been admitted to the VA because of his elevated ammonia levels, related to his liver, and mentally he was confused and a little disoriented. I remember getting a call from my mom and stepping out into the hallway and suddenly becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings and the reality of everything going on around me. But what sticks out to me, is the moment just before we walked out of the room to leave and I told my Uncle not to run off on us (he had wandered out into the hallway, confused, not long after we arrived) and although he was in pain, my uncle cracked a smile.

My mom has always told me that since I was a child, if there was ever a serious moment going on, I was always the one to crack a joke or do something silly to lighten the mood. I love to laugh and especially to make others laugh so I love that this was my last vision/memory of my Uncle.

It doesn’t even seem right that it’s been a whole year since I’ve seen them, but I’m surrounded constantly by their presence and our memories. I carry them with me every day.

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)
I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear)”

– e.e cummings

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