Sunday, August 30, 2009

Manny's smile

Ok, I am NOT being sad here. I just have to share this picture of my brother because this is exactly how I remember his spirit and his smile. The picture was taken on his last birthday. We had to celebrate it in the hospital, but we still had an awesome time. And, of course, his favorite cake was there.
Have you ever seen a bigger smile?

Thanks, Jennifer, for adding him to KCC. It means the world to me. And, your request for a photo of him had me looking through old albums and finding photos (and memories) I had forgotten. I promise to share more later.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Hiking in Shenandoah

At the end of last week, I took a few days off from work so that I could go down to Virginia and go hiking with a good friend of mine. We went to Shenandoah National Park where we did a lot of hiking, relaxing and reading. It was a much needed unwind and I absolutely loved getting the chance to catch up with Christina-- we hadn't seen each other in 2 years!

We're hoping to get a chance to go back some time in November to do more hiking in cooler weather. (We're both more fans of the cold, really.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Words to live by.

If you know me, you know I love quotes. I'll admit it. I'm a quotes girl. I love how words can work so beautiful together and inspire the mind to ponder and the heart to feel. I love quotes.

When I find a quote I really like. When I read words that touch my soul. I write them down because I want my mind to remember them and my heart to live them.

In early 2003, I met Christi. If I am the quote-collector, in life, Christi would be the quote-creator. Angela would share a "Christi quote" in journal entries and as I read them, I was humbled to learn such wisdom from someone so young, and I was inspired to live them out.

Tonight, I miss Christi and I wanted to take a moment to share some of her wisdom with you. I can't take any credit for the words listed below. I simply compiled them. Angela shared them. Christi spoke and lived them. And because she's no longer here to speak them herself, I wanted to share some of Christi's spirit with you. My hope is that in reading them, your mind will ponder and your heart will feel. And, in living them, you will take a piece of Christi with you into the world. I know I have. It has made all the difference.

1.31.03- "Enjoy what you've got while you've got it because you don't know how long it's going to last."

2.7.03- "It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside. It's what's on the inside that matters."

2.14.03- "Everyday is a special day!"

2.22.03- "You don't know what's going to happen, so just make the best out of whatever happens." (Again, this quote isn't about her cancer, but about not being able to get back from a museum this week in time to watch her new favorite TV show - PBS's Cyberchase. It was rush hour and we couldn't get a taxi so we missed her 5:00 show. The next day she asked if we could take a fast subway train instead and we did.)

3.14.03- "Always do your best."

4.4.03- "Kindness gets kindness back."

4.25.03- "You can do anything if you put your heart into it."

4.30.03- "Something bad can turn into something good." (She made this comment after we got lost driving back from the science center. Christi was happy to learn about boroughs as we drove through Brooklyn and Queens trying to get back into Manhattan. The next day she asked if Tiffin was a political subdivision of Ohio and therefore a borough. We were floored with how well she was listening to Daddy explain it the day before. Amazing!)

5.3.03- "I want to do nice stuff like people do nice stuff for me." (This was her response to the boy in the other bed receiving his 3F8/beta glucan treatment whimpering in pain. She wanted to make him a card. Sadly, this four year old lost his father one year prior to his 6/02 diagnosis. Our hearts are heavy for him and his family. Also he, like Christi, still has some disease and therefore can't go to transplant yet either. We pray for a NED status for this precious child.)

5.11.03- "Sometimes bad things happen to good people." (Shayla was asking if she was going to get cancer if she ate too much candy and the above quote was part of Christi's lengthy explanation to Shayla.)

5.18.03- "No one's life is perfect." (Christi's explanation to Shayla when Shayla was upset that she couldn't do an art project quite right because her hands were too little.)

5.28.03- "Be happy with what God gave you." (This is what I looked down and heard my daughter tell me after she overheard me complaining to another Mom in the hospital's playroom about my curly hair being even curlier because of the day's rain. The fabulous volunteer Christi was playing with hugged her and told her that she likes how she thinks. I immediately quit complaining.)

10.8.03- "Sometimes things don't turn out the way you want them to."

1.31.04- "When I close my eyes and open my heart, I feel that God is near."

4.18.04- "Christi's Comment: After receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, Christi leaned over to me in the pew and whispered, 'That wine wasn't half bad.'"

4.18.04- "Late this afternoon Christi looked up and said, 'There's a cross in the sky.' When we all gathered to look she said, 'I think it's Grandpa Vince.'"

9.14.04- "People always tell me how brave I am, but I don’t have a choice. I have to get needles in my arm and take my chemo so that I can get better. I think the brave people are the people who don’t have to get pokes, but who do so other people can get blood transfusions and live. Thank you to the Red Cross who make blood transfusions possible for people like me."

10.2.04- "Determination is what keeps you going. It's like a best friend."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Running for Christi

It’s time for the 3rd Annual Christi Thomas run! This year, I will be running a 10K on Sunday, October 11th.

My very special friend, Christi, lost her battle to neuroblastoma, a very aggressive form of childhood cancer, on September 19, 2006. In an effort to honor Christi’s memory, and to share her spirit with others, I am running to raise money for the Christi Thomas Memorial Fund and Kids Cancer Crusade, two organizations that were established in Christi's honor.

Running is a small way in which I can keep Christi's spirit alive. I want to help, I need to help, in any way I can to keep Christi's name resounding in the universe.

When someone you care about passes away, their name, their spirit, their gifts become so very fragile, and it becomes so very essential to keep these pieces of them alive and to share with others—because they themselves no longer can. Simply because Christi is no longer here does not mean that her legacy should not continue to inspire others. Contributing to these organizations is one way in which I can achieve this. Christi deserves to be remembered. And the world deserves to know Christi.

The Christi Thomas Memorial Fund provides scholarships for children in the area to go to college. It also donates books to the local library, provides scholarships to the local dance program and has a partnership with the UPenn Animal Shelter for their pet program with the Philly Ronald McDonald House.

Kids Cancer Crusade provides care packages, organized outings and emotional support for children with cancer and their families.

Please consider donating to these very worthy causes. Your support is appreciated. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hitting the Rewind

I went to a training for work today. At one point we were discussing youth development and one of our activities was to close our eyes and "hit the rewind", go back in time and remember what it felt like when we were a certain age. When the facilitator walked over to my table, she said "you'll be the 10-12 group". Meaning? I had to close my eyes and remember what it was like to be 10-12. What was happening in our lives? What was our relationship like with our parents? With our siblings? What did we do for fun? What were we afraid of?

What was I doing when I was 10-12? I closed my eyes and all I saw was Manny. What was I afraid of? I was afraid he would die.

I'm not saying I didn't get together with friends or worry about getting good grades or fight with my sisters or disagree with my parents. I am sure I did all of these things. But. I. Can't. Remember. Them. And, when you ask me what it was like to be 10 or 11 or 12, all I can think of is my brother.

I was 10 when he was diagnosed. We visited him in the hospital a lot. We bought in trays of food on holidays and birthdays. We laughed at the "time channel" (a channel that was literally just a clock showing the time). There were always more people in the room than the hospital was supposed to allow-- no one ever bothered enforcing the rule. He tried to surprise us when he would come home unexpectedly from the hospital. He introduced the now famous banana milkshake. We played basketball outside. The hoop was nailed to the side of the house and the wall would shake when the ball hit it. We almost set the basketball on fire once when it landed on the BBQ grill. We watched wrestling with him. Not because we liked it really but because we wanted to be with him. What we were doing was largely irrelevant. It's the being with that we wanted. That's what I remember at 10.

When I was 11, he was fighting a losing battle to AML. One of my last memories of him was New Years Day 1995. We had just come back from my aunt's house in NJ. He sat down at the dining room table and I did what I always did; I followed him. We sat. And then, he started to cry. To sob. Because he was afraid of dying. I stared at my hands. My mom came in and sat next to him and told him that we were doing the transplant to save his life. He cried. I stared at my hands. If there's a moment in my life I could take back, it would be that one. In the do-over I would get up and hug him and tell him he was my hero. I would hold his hand instead of staring at my own. But we don't get do overs in real life. Two months later, Manny died. I remember my mom telling me. I remember screaming. I remember crying. I remember my aunt coming to hug me as I fell out of my chair. I remember my heart and how it hurt. How it felt like someone was literally tearing it apart. It was the first time I realized that a heart could actually break, could shatter, when part of it is taken away. I remember all of this from when I was 11.

At 12, I was trying to pick up the pieces. To move on without leaving him behind. I was sneaking up to his room to see if his clothes still had his scent. I was snuggling on his bed holding his stuffed monkey, James. I was trying to figure out how he could get his toothpaste so foamy when he brushed his teeth, and attempting endlessly to get mine to do the same. I was going down to the basement to the closet door where my mom had penciled in all of our measurements to see if he was still taller than me. I started writing. Words helped. Pencil to paper. Memories, what I had of them, were put into words. My brother became words. It's how I tried to save him from being forgotten. And myself from missing him so much. So I could remember the Olivia I had been and the life I had had when my Manny was living it with me. That was me at 12.

When they asked us to open our eyes again, I was still stuck in 10-12 year old Olivia's head. Has that ever happened to you? It happens to me every time I think of my brother. I'm always 11. He's always 14. And, the longer I sit and think of him, the longer I close my eyes and remember his face or how it felt to hold his hand or how he laughed when I hugged him hard-- the more real he becomes in my mind-- the harder it is to come back to 26 year old me and the longer I get stuck in that place in my memory where my brother now lives. He becomes more than just the words I put together. I'm usually pretty good at stopping myself before it starts to hurt too much. I can remember a moment, a gesture, a feeling and then stop before the memories become too painful. Usually. But on other days, like this one, I sit and remember and I forget to be careful. I remember so much and he becomes so clear that when I open my eyes, it's like I've lost him all over again. And it'll take me a few minutes or even hours to "snap out of it", whatever "it" is. That's how it was for 20 minutes this afternoon. Hard.

And, when the group came to sharing their experiences as 10-12 year olds, it took everything I had to not say: "Actually, I was 11 when my brother died. I don't remember how it felt to be in school or what I talked about with my friends or if I cared about boys. I just remember that I went to the hospital a lot and everyone was trying to save my brother's life. And then on a crappy day in March, he died. I hate March." I can't put into words what that felt like. And it wasn't the time or the place to share my brother. (That's what I do here) So, I shrugged, said the trip down memory lane had been a difficult one, that there were some family problems, and that I had dealt with them by writing. None of this entirely untrue. And the facilitator smiled and said that it made sense. When you're in that age group you're just starting to learn how to process and internalize thoughts. It made sense that I would think and write about my problems. And when the others in the group shared, I simply smiled and nodded. 20 minutes later I was 26 again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thanks, Irene!

Irene, thank you for sharing this video!! I just saw it and I absolutely love it!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For a laugh

It has come to my attention that this blog has been rather depressing lately. Or, at least, that it's made some readers sad. So, I thought I would lighten the mood and share one of my favorite "funnies". (You can click the title of this post to get to the video too.) This probably my favorite youtube video and it makes me smile every time I watch it. Here's to making you smile today.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, Manny.

It's hard to believe that you would have been 29 today. You've had more birthdays in Heaven than here on earth. That's not easy for me to wrap my mind around. It's impossible, actually. When I think of you, you're always 14 and I'm 11. We're stuck in a time capsule.

Except you're gone and I'm here.

I tell myself you're in the sky, but there are times, like this one, when I don't want to search for you in the clouds. I want to be able to run up to your room and give you one of those hugs you loved so much. Your birthday makes me want to bake a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and drink a banana milkshake. I wish I were spending this time thinking of what gift to get you rather than trying to put into words what 14 years of missing you means. Those words simply don't exist. There are some that come close: Love, Memory, Laughter, Smile, Brother. But, I'm in a selfish mood right now and I want you the person, not you the memory.

But because I find comfort in words. And because they are the only thing I have to give you. I want to say:

Happy birthday, Manny. I love you & I miss you.

I'm going to bed now and when I wake, I will look for you again in the sky, in the sun and the rain and the trees and the wind. I'll look for you in my heart, the one place you never left at all.