Friday, January 25, 2019

You’re Not A Mouser, Either.

My cat wasn’t exactly an “earn your keep” kind of feline. She didn’t do windows or laundry. And she certainly wasn’t ever on time with her half of the rent every month. 

But she was my cat. I didn’t own her, as you never really own a cat. They own you, as any car lover will be able to attest to. In so many ways. You’re their timed feeder. Their back scratcher. The thing they scratch. They remind you that you are, in essence, their puny human servant as often as possible. But she was still mine. 

Nissa saw me through college, breakups, makeups .....and learning how to actually use real makeup. She was there for my highest achievements and my lowest moments over the course of the 18+ years she lived with me. 

She’s seen me cry, been woken up (and annoyed) by my laughs, and definitely had to see me dancing in my underwear as I got ready for the day. Sorry, kitty. 

Her constant companionship was all I could have ever asked for. When I had a house fire in my early 20s, I left that place with the few items they could save: a laptop, my camera, and Nissa. We started over alone. And I remember thinking how much emptier that new place would have been if I hadn’t had her to come home to. 

Before the fire, she was more independent. After, she started sleeping next to me in bed on the other pillow. We always joked it was for her benefit. But, knowing her, it was actually for my sake. She knew I needed her. And even though that’s not the kind of cat she was - it was the kind of cat she became. For me. 

When I got Nissa it was because she was being abused by my best friend’s coworker’s husband. She left. Took her kids. Took the animals and didn’t know what to do. He made a snap judgement that I can never repay him for and brought her to me. 

She hated me. She hated the dog that lived there. She hated touching the ground. She was a pioneer in the “the floor is lava” game. 

The first six months of our relationship she lived on top of the dryer in my laundry room. I’ll never forget the first time she wandered into the living room and we all stopped and stared. She sauntered in like she owned the place. And that’s all she wrote. She was free. Finally felt safe. And decided picking on the dog was her favorite pastime. 

She ended up sick, about ten years ago and my dad met me at the vet. While they ran tests my dad attempted to comfort me. Until the vet told me it would take close to $1,000 to do an exploratory surgery to see if they could fix her. Then he said “eh, she’s not even a mouser. You should just put her down.” ....that wasn’t even an option the vet gave us. Just some unsolicited Dad advice. 

Joke’s on Dad though. She even outlived him. Sucker. Told you. She’s a tough cookie. 

She never became a mouser. But she did become the toughest cookie and best friend a girl could ask for. She lived for long enough to have been able to vote if she was human. And she probably would have made better choices than some of you did. She baffled the vets when she grew a weird lip growth and they sent us home 3 years ago with a shrug and a “just keep an eye on it.” And she just kept on going. 

The last few weeks she suddenly slowed down. She got thin. She was tired. She had trouble jumping up as easily. And in the last week or so, it became a round the clock job to watch her, care for her, and make decisions for her. 

To her credit, until the last night she could let you know she wanted something and she would wobble her way around. And she never seemed to experience pain or misery. 

We set her up a little studio apartment in the bathroom for when we weren’t there. Food, bathroom, water, warm heat vent. She was basically a Jefferson. She felt like she had moved on up. To the bathroom side. To a deluxe cat condo. In the hall. 

Yesterday, as I drove home to her from work I suddenly lost my shit in the car. I knew she could be gone when I got home. But that wasn’t even why I was so anxious. It was because - strangely enough - the last week to week and a half had been hard with the cat. But it also had teleported me back to a few years ago with my dad. 

How could a cat make me grieve my dead father? And how could it make me grieve for the moments I should have, but couldn’t grieve, when he was alive? 

The similarities are where it starts. My dad got thin. My cat was suddenly a breathing skeleton, it seemed. You wrestled with the idea if you were doing the right thing. You weigh out quality of life. You don’t sleep. You watch breaths. You celebrate the small bites of food they take. 

I hadn’t realized, until then, how being so busy and consumed by getting though the next moment with my dad hadn’t left me time to grieve what was happening. 

Being someone’s caretaker is hard and usually undervalued work - one of life’s less understood acts. The anxiety of leaving for work when they aren’t feeling well, the guilt of taking a few extra moments to get home, the decision of if you stop and get a drink on your way home or if you’ll miss something or be needed. No one can fully understand that until they experience it. And if you’re like us, you’re too busy to stop. To process. To appreciate the good moments as much as you’d like. 

And then, a few years later, you’ll be driving home to check on your old decrepit ghoul of a cat and realize your palms are sweaty and your throat is tight. And it’s much like the feelings you’d have driving to the hospital after getting a call at work that your loved one isn’t doing well and you need to get there ASAP. And you’re driving home to an old cat. But it feels like you’re driving home to your loved one and scared. 

You’ll find the exhausted feelings after not sleeping for a few days and the anxiety and the fear of the unknown are no different than when it was the man who taught you how to spiral a football. Or who taught you how to drive. Or who, after he told you your cat wasn’t worth anything because she wasn’t a mouser, held your hand and told you you were stupid for spending $1,200 on a cat - which is your life savings in your early 20s -  but he understood. 

I write all this not just as a tribute to my cat - even though she was a real badass - but because I hope that anyone else who has been a caretaker and finds themselves crying in their car about a still live at the time cat but really about their dad - knows they aren’t alone. That it’s normal - for lack of a better term - and so they know there’s someone there that understands. And who respects what you’ve done. What you’ve been through. And the amount of love it takes to care for other beings. Human or not. 

Our grief knows no end. And sometimes doesn’t have a linear passage from start to “finish” - especially as a caretaker. 

When Nissa passed this morning she did so just like my dad did. With dramatic - oh no, this is it moments. Which weren’t. But then a calm peaceful ending when your guard was down. And all I could think was I hope wherever she ended up she ran across my dad and made a smart ass comment like “oh, you’re here. I guess you weren’t a mouser either.” 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Hopes

Today has been five years since my Dad left us. ....and not like the time he didn’t know my little sister was sleeping under their bed and left the house. ...while me and my mom were out an about. 

We passed his truck going somewhere and both parties seemed to realize there was no little kid with the other. Oops. Good thing no one had cell phones to call CPS on them. 

But he left us in the sense that he left a hole in our lives and hearts that will never be filled. Five long and short years ago. 

Today, people sent texts or brought flowers, or shared a Facebook post. And it reminds you that no matter how long ago the person you loved left this earth - their impact remains. 

I’ve had a great year. I’ve been nominated for awards. And won an Influential Woman of the Year award. I’ve done things at work that were important to me. I’ve made strides in my personal relationships. And I’ve done it all without him to call. Without anyone sending me a picture of the bathroom floor and saying: guess what I’m doing? 

No one (worthy) has made a dad joke that made me roll my eyes while I stifled a laugh. No one has helped me mock that my sister in the right way. Remind me to tell you the story about how, as a teenager, she wanted to be validated when she was funny so she could work on her humor. Only she could overthink that. Especially since she’s already hilarious. But we did spend that summer giving her checks or minuses when she attempted to keep up with us. ....don’t worry, it worked. She can make you laugh almost as much as me. Almost. Don’t get wild here, folks. 

No one will be here in a few days to make me go out in Christmas Eve and buy something totally unnecessary, just so we can see the people around us panicking as they try to finish (and some of them start) their shopping. Once I realized that this was part of why he enjoyed going out last minute - since we were always done before then - I was definitely sure that the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas shopping was maybe only half people who need things and half people like him who are just sadistic enough to want to see their people at their worst and most frantic moments. 

We did Christmas with the family yesterday, since we are leaving for vacation shortly. One of my gifts was a year membership to the Shed Aquarium. My dad would have loved that. And not just because once they asked him for help raising mudskippers. (True story.) But he also would have reminded everyone how my favorite gift as a kid was a pair of homemade stilts. Adjustable. And way too tall to be safe for a short child like me. But I spent hours stumbling, then walking, then running on those things up and down the driveway. be fair, that skill has never come in handy. But the determination it taught me and the lesson that homemade and thoughtful gifts are ones that stay with us forever has stuck with me my entire life. 

I know the holidays aren’t easy for people who have lost someone they love. And I know this from a family member, a child, and a friend standpoint. The empty chair will forever remind us of what we are missing. But sometimes, remembering what we are missing are the best holiday moments. 

I hope all of you who are missing a person at the table have loving and supportive people like mine around them. I hope you remember all the good moments this year. I hope you hang their ornaments on the tree. That you hug their little ones tight and for just a moment longer. I hope that the tears also bring moments of laughter. And sometimes I know the laughter can bring the tears. In those cases, I hope you have someone there to share it with. I hope Christmas is a time you still love. That you make new memories and don’t feel bad about the happiness that will also creep up on you the same way the sadness does. 

On the bright side - I am going on vacation with my family. And I know my mom won’t leave me at home accidentally. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

When Words Aren’t Enough.

There are few things you can say when some people pass away. The obligatory: they led a great life and the cliche: everything happens for a reason. They’re in a better place. 

Those are standard. And sometimes they make sense. Sometimes they’re all you have to say. 

When someone who has been a part of your life in a way that Kate was, for me, dies - words aren’t enough. 

If I was as excellent of a dancer as she was I would grace you all with a wonderful and emotional interpretive dance. It would be fierce and bold as she was. It would have its ups and downs like her life - but mainly all ups - because she lived her life to the fullest. Every second of it. It would be filled with emotions and caring for everything and everyone around me - as she had the biggest heart. But it would be comical. And not just because I’m a terrible dancer so you’d be cringing and laughing uncomfortably at my attempts to be half as talented and filled with passion for dance as she was - but simply because she was hilarious. 

Kate died too soon. I won’t beat around the bush. The world needs people like her. I’m not going to say she lived a long and full life. Because it wasn’t long enough. She had things to do. She had ways to make the world even brighter. Just one of those ways was with the family she leaves behind. 

She has two small girls who will forever be avalanched with stories about how talented and amazing their mother was. And I know that our group of friends, who have been part of a unique friendship for 23 years or so, will remind them as often as we are allowed how much she loved them. How glad she was when she found out she was having each of them. They’ll hear about how much she loved their father. From the moment they met. How proud she was of her sister and thankful for all of her help the last few months of her life. They’ll know how she’s the only person I’ve ever met who can wrangle a large group of 30 somethings from around the country to show up and say: we are here, what can we do? And those people - most of which have no children - had to chase a three year old around with a pull-up begging her to put it on. Just another way she made us laugh. 

There are few people who have this much charisma. There’s none who had her heart and we are just one group of her universe. 

Her family loved her. Her dance family loved her. Her students. Her neighbors. She had so much love in her life. Because of who she was. And I am so assured that no one else, no one but Kate - who told us to call her Willow a million years ago and we never stopped - could incite that from so many people. In so many ways. 

For now I’ll be living through the good moments. Because selfishly I want to remember her laughing. And telling a good joke. And I’ll cherish that the last text she ever sent me a week ago was nothing but a laughing face. How fitting, after 23 plus years of making me laugh every single day of my life that that’s what she left me with. 

She left the world a better place for having been here. And a void that will never be replaced. But I know there are so many friends and family that will try. For her sake. To fill half the shoes that girl did. 

Lucky for all of you, I won’t be wearing the ballet shoes. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

He Was an Inspiration to Many.

Facebook reminded me of this post, this morning: How Do You Measure a Year? Which reminded me that - holy crap, tomorrow is the 19th of December. Tomorrow is the day that my world stopped spinning. It's the day that made me realize that, surprisingly, the world keeps turning - even when we don't think it can or should.

Tomorrow will be four years since my Dad took his last breath. The last time I held his hand, but not the last picture I took with him. The selfie I mortified my sister by taking at his funeral with him can confirm that. The day they had to, literally, drag me away from my seat next to him in the emergency room. I was not comfortable leaving him alone. Or, looking at it now, I wasn't ready for him to leave me alone.

For all intents and purposes, tomorrow is just another day. Just like today is just another day. In fact, the strangest part is that - the thing that made my world stop turning for a brief moment is, more than likely, happening to someone else - right this very second. And I can't stop it for them. What I can do is hope that they, like me, have an amazing support system - filled with family, friends, and even people you don't know that well (but you will learn to know and love them). People who will help them realize that their world will continue. They'll have those daylights, sunsets, and cups of coffee. And there will always be love.

I took a moment to re-read my father's obituary, right now. Our obituary is another way we measure the life of a woman or a man. (You're really missing out on my "Rent" jokes if you haven't watched it, so - go read my blog link up there and school yourself.) It's words on a piece of paper - or posted online for those of you who are younger and don't know why we still have newspapers anyway. These words are meant to sum up who you are - who you were - and what you meant to people. How can we use these words to summarize someone who means so much to us?

It's mainly factual words we put in an obituary, right? My dad owned a fish store, he was a lifetime resident of Portage, he worked for all cancer survivors and sufferers, he inspired the Jim G Carpenter Foundation, he was married to my mother, he had two (pretty amazing, if you ask me) children, he took our team to the World Series (more than once, I may add), and he was an inspiration to many. 

Here's the thing: obituaries are just words on a screen or a folded newspaper you pick up off the break room table to read. But they're filled with facts, tidbits, and insights about who we are as people. And it's simply a fact that my father was an inspiration to many people. 

He was a father figure to many girls throughout the years, in his softball coaching. He mentored employees in his business. He helped create the Sarah Paulsen Park at the softball field in Portage, after her death. He inspired people with his fight against cancer. He spoke with people at his church. He raised funds for Relay for Life. During his life, he inspired so many people in so many different ways that you can't argue with the fact that this is the line that is most important, most factual, and most prominent in his obituary. 

His death prompted inspiration in people as well. He had lived his life to the fullest, every day. There weren't many wasted seconds for our family. My mother is still not good at sitting still and not accomplishing anything. Both of them inspired me to do something with my life. But there was a trigger that got pulled the second they disconnected the machine no longer reading a heartbeat from my father. I wanted to be able to have a line like this in my obituary. I wanted to be able to say that, in my life, I accomplished something that was so spectacular - those around me wouldn't be able to leave it out of those few words on a piece of paper announcing to the world that I had moved on to somewhere else. Hopefully somewhere I can watch you all from and giggle when you do something stupid. 

My dad's death was the catalyst to many changes in my life. I have never been quiet, or held my opinion. But I felt validated in expressing it in a way I couldn't explain, after his death. I felt like, no matter how much time I had left in my life, it needed to be spent fighting for things that are good. And enjoying every second of it. I changed my job, my outlook on life, the people I surrounded myself (there are those very few precious people who remained after, however, and I cherish every one of you).

It sounds silly, but the other day, thinking about how my father's date of death (that's a creepy phrase, eh?) inspired me to buy 8 cheeses at once. He had always loved a good cheese plate. And when he could no longer make them for himself - he would throw things at me to wake me up at 2 a.m. and request I get him some cheese and crackers. Don't forget the mustard, D-Bug. 

Standing in the cheese section, at the grocery store the other day, I knew we wanted to have cheese and crackers and fruit for dinner. But which ones? So many options. I wanted to try them all. So....I did. I purchased 8 strange kinds of cheeses. Because you know what? Life is short. It's meant to be enjoyed. I intended on trying two or three that night and saving the others for the next time we had a cheese and fruit night. But instead, I requested we open all of them and try all of them right then and there. I have no regrets. Well, except for the fact that I bought the edam cheese. It wasn't anything to write home about. But now I have no what ifs about that. So, I suppose it was worth it. 

The people around us, our experiences, they inspire us to be who we are. I won't deny that tomorrow will be hard. For me and my sister, and especially my mother. But it will also be a day that I remember what an inspiration my father was. A day I do something that will hopefully, one day (and not TOO soon), lead to a line in my obituary that makes someone stop, take notice, and change their life. 

Christmas is coming. And it's a hard time. I'd imagine it's my father's death that inspired us, as a family, to decide to go away for Christmas. We've never not been home, inside the same house that my father and  mother bought before me and my sister were even thought of, the house my sister and I both moved out of and left our parents alone in, the house he died in, the house he built onto (with a lot of help from my mom - don't let him fool you. It wasn't ALL him.) and it will be different. It will be strange. But it will be an adventure. And that's the other thing my father inspired me to do: not wait for the perfect moment. They're all perfect moments to make your own. And we never know how many we have left. So make the most of every single one of them.

Thanks for being an inspiration, Dad.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure

The other day, I had a discussion about how life was like a choose your own adventure book. I used to think, back when I was a young and carefree little lass - that you wrote your own story. The pen was in your hand, and you wrote it from start to finish. 

I was, of course, the main star of my story. Who else could play such a character? And everyone else was just a cameo I allowed them to have. That's how the world works, that's how  my life was going to shake out. 

As I got older, I encountered things like car accidents, suicides, bad choices, and I started to think maybe I wasn't completely in charge. Recent events have led me to believe that life is like a choose your own adventure, for sure. You think you're on one track and you have to make a choice and then life reminds you - you aren't totally in charge. 

You have choices, yes. But life is (at least partly) luck and chance. You can work hard, you can make up your mind to do what you want. But your exact timing for when you leave for work - it can determine your life or death. It can be the few minutes that spares you from a life altering accident. That's not you being the master of your own destiny. That's a little bit of luck. 

So what determines who has the good luck - who has a hand of 20 and is about to be dealt an ace? And which ones of us are holding a hand of 10? With no chance to even win? It isn't about who is good, it isn't about who is bad. It's a little bit of luck. 

Lately I have been reminded that I have not invited cancer to have a reoccurring and starring role in my life. But here it is. Over and over again. I'm pretty sure it has gone off script. That it's just ad-libbing at this point. But the audience seems to respond so well to it that it keeps getting invited back. 

It isn't fair. It isn't right. But some of the people I care about the most seem to be the ones who suffer from this Newman in the sitcom I call life. Most recently it's someone I have called a friend and considered one of my best friends for more than half my life. She's done everything right. She's a beautiful person. She's taken the right steps that they lay out for you: she's fallen in love, gotten married, had two beautiful children, been a wonderful wife, an adoring mother. She should be holding a hand of 20 and the rest of her life should be an ace. Instead she's been dealt this crappy hand. 

Selfishly, I'm so tired of dealing with this cancer shit. I'm so frustrated and angry at the idea that those around me have to deal with it. Whether it be because they know someone or they have been afflicted themselves. When she sent a message this weekend saying the cancer was in her spine - I was sad. I was upset. Wait, I was livid. When the message this morning said the cancer was in numerous bones - I almost called off work. I haven't used a sick day ....ever. Not once in my adult life. But I was sick. Because there's nothing you can do. You can't fight it for her. You can't throw money at it. You can't wish it away with prayers and well wishes. And you don't cure it just by posting on Facebook. Contrary to popular - like this picture of a kid with cancer or else memes. 

It's there. It's made itself the star of this chapter of her life. And I can't do a damn thing about it. Except say I understand how much it sucks to be involved in cancer taking over the starring role in your life story. You become an understudy, for the time being. 

She's been there through so many issues in my life. She was one of the first people I contacted when my dad's battle with cancer ended. So what now? She's part of the group I turn to the most when things are shit. You can't turn to her now. Well, you could. But guess what? That's shitty. You don't complain IN about issues. You complain out. She's always been my out. Now she's my in. You don't realize how important those people are to you until you want to reach out and say: man, fuck cancer. It's really being an asshole to my friend. Wait. That's you.

I scraped myself together. Went to work. Decided I was going to be an adult and I would figure out whatever it was I and those around me could do to help in any way. I refuse to let cancer be the star of this story. She's more deserving of that role than cancer can ever be. 

I went to an event for work and made it through that. On my way back to the office, I was feeling a bit numb. I silently wished my Dad was here to talk to her. My mom has been the person I turned to here. But my Dad - he would know what else to say to her. He's been there. In her exact position. Fighting this silent but tenacious disease. He'd have the perfect words. Also he would give me some bullshit line like: suck it up, buttercup - this isn't about you. Stop being a whiner. My mom's just been giving me hugs and trying to make me find a positive outlook. You may say one or the other is better. I prefer both. I like to have my cake and eat it too. 

I turned my radio up and the next song was this: 

And suddenly I had made my mind up. Cancer is the flashing lights. They can catch you up for a few minutes. But make your mind up, keep it moving or turn the lights out. I'm not ready to accept the darkness. 

That's when I witnessed one of the worst car accidents I have ever seen. When they say you can wrap your car around a tree - they aren't lying. That man choose his own adventure. Luck or bad choice to turn to page 8 instead of 14. And all you can do is make the choices you think are best for you. 

Suddenly I wasn't nearly as mad at cancer as I wanted to be. The fact that it's been such a prevalent force in my life since I was a child is why I live my life the way I do. People often are shocked when I say what's on my mind. People weren't entirely understanding when I changed my major when I was almost done with school. Many remark on how I live my life now - doing what I want. When I want. Experiencing all the things I can between the work weeks. That's my choose my own adventure. I choose to have adventure. To enjoy those moments before and even during the crappy hands. Because one day you're going to choose your own adventure and the book is going to end. And all you can hope for in between is a wild adventure. Without cancer showing me, as a small child, what it means to cut a life short - I don't know if I would be who I am. (Don't get me wrong. I hate cancer. And hope it chokes to death. But I suddenly stopped being angry. It doesn't even deserve that from me.) 

For now my life is filled with people I love. With friends who may have trials and tribulations but still keep their heads up. With family who has been through what no one should have to witness and remain a family unit full of dyFUNction. When my story ends, cancer will have been there. It may have had a reoccurring role I didn't write it. But it will be so overshadowed by the wonderful moments in between - that it doesn't even matter. 

And for what it's worth - I'm going to peek ahead on this choose my own adventure for my dearest friend. And I'm going to pick what's the best option and that's the one she's going to get. I'm going to write it. So it shall be. 

Love you Kate. Thank you for being a part of my beautiful story. I'll sneak you an ace as soon as I find one. <3 p="">

Monday, September 11, 2017

Before and After

When September 11th became a date to remember, I was still a teenager. I would turn twenty a few months later. 

I opened up at work. And was irritated when one of the mechanics in back came running up and said turn on the television. It's too early for tv, I remember thinking. My office was steps from the waiting room and television I had to listen to drone on all day every day. 

We stood, huddled, and gave theories on what had happened. It wasn't a terrorist attack yet. It was just a strange mishap. Some freak accident. And then boom. The second plane hit. And I can still recall thinking that was a shift in life as I knew it. I still wasn't sure what had happened. But I knew it was something. 

My college classes were cancelled. I spent the afternoon at work, helping fill cars with gasoline because the car business had no idea what was going to happen. I saw grown adults fighting and hitting each other (more than once) over gas and gas prices being raised as cars were filled. 

That night, I drove right by my house to my parents. I watched the never-ending news coverage with my dad for a few hours before going home and sitting on my porch with my roommate and her boyfriend. We remarked at how quiet it was with no planes whizzing by over our tiny little home. We had a drink or two, smoked a couple cigarettes, and figured we were headed to war. Against who - we had no idea yet. But we hadn't even had to worry about it before then. 

My life had been pretty trauma free. And I remember that night, my dad hugged me as I left and apologized. He said he was hoping for a life where I never had to recall "where I was". For them, he said, it was JFK being shot. And he told me then that this would be my moment. The moment everyone said: hey remember where you were when this tragic moment occurred. He told me that life would be a before this moment and after this moment from now on. 

I don't know if I believed him fully. And I wasn't sure why he was apologizing to me. But he was right. There are two moments I think of as "before and after" life changing moments. 9/11 and the day my dad died. He didn't prepare me for either one of these. 

But he did give me a good foundation of how to live my life to the fullest. How to never let the bad overshadow the good. How to find and be one of the people who helped make the world a better way in any capacity I could. And he left me with a mom and sister to help me get through the other life changing moment. So I guess he can stop apologizing for the first event. 

The second one - he still owes me for. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

You Have to Love Her - And Then You'll Love Those She Loves

Anyone who is an older sibling can tell you that younger siblings are annoying. They touch your things, they ask all the questions, and - if you're like me, an only child for almost 10 years before a sibling came along - they take part of the attention you're used to having all of off you.

I never wanted a younger sibling. And I certainly did not want a little sister. I had asked for an older brother for years. Even with my parents informing me that this is not, in fact, how it works.

And then there she was - a little sister. I was told I didn't have to like her but I HAD to love her. It was a family rule. I moved out when she was only 7, and we didn't have things in common. But I always loved her. And, truth be told, I learned to even like her. Even when she broke my things, picked the paint off the bedroom door we shared, and invited herself to all the things I did with my friends as a teenager. And, to be fair, she picked the paint off the door because I put a childproof door handle on….to the room she shared with me.

My parents both came from families with numerous siblings. And they assured me I would learn that my sister was not only my sibling but my friend. So they prepared me for that.

They did not tell me I would end up taking her friends places. That they would have sleepovers at my house on New Year's Eve. They never mentioned that I would forever run into people who would say: are you Emily's sister?! And they definitely didn't prepare me to care for not only her but for those who she cared for.

Even when I didn't live at home with her, I came to see my family. I watched her friends come in and out of the house. I saw them grow up from awkward preteens into even more awkward teenagers. I showed some of them, when our parents were out of town, that using cardboard wasn't the most effective way to slide down the stairs inside - let's try a laundry basket. And please don't tell your parents. I said things like: stop playing with fire. Do you really think you should be shoving that many marshmallows into your mouth at once? If you need a ride after drinking, call me. And also don't tell your parents I said that, either.

I watched so many kids not related to me come in and out of our house. I saw them grow into actual humans. I was proud when they graduated. We became MySpace friends, Facebook friends - and some of them just plain actual friends.

I never imagined that the pain they felt would make my heart ache. I don't have children. I don't want to have children. I don't have any desire to know what it's like to have my heart run around outside my body. I don't want the responsibility of another human being. I have a cat and a dog because you can put them in a cage and no one calls CPS. I have a lot of fish because when you screw up with them? You just flush them and get another. None of these practices are acceptable with children. So I didn't think I had it in me to care so much for these little kids, as they may always be to me. But I do.

This weekend, so many of them have suffered a loss. Of one of their one. One we watched grow up. One I spoke to as a friend, even recently. Watching my Facebook feed light up with posts to his page has made me happy, to see how cared for he was. And sad to see the impact he had on their lives and how heart broken they are. It's also surprised me. To see how many of them mean so much to me and to my family. And see how easily they weaseled their way into a spot in my heart.

I've been where you all are. At a loss. Without the right words. With an ache you can't touch. The loss of one I had to say stop playing with fire to hurts me, makes my heart throb a reminiscent tune I hate knowing. But knowing they're all hurting as well makes the tune go from mono to stereo in a way I didn't know possible.

I know you don't think you'll ever be the same after your loss, little friends. And you won't. But you'll live. You'll learn. And you'll grow from this - you'll grow in your adulthood. And you'll grow even closer as you all help each other through this. And I love each and every one of you in a way I didn't know possible. Even those of you who are still annoying. And those of you who still need a reminder to not play with fire - you know who you are.

Thinking of you all,
The big sister you didn't need. Or want. But got stuck with.