My Friend

God is all around us.  And, I believe, so are our loved ones who live with Him in Heaven.  The question is, do we recognize them, when they are speaking to us? 

I found out on a Sunday that my grandmother passed away.  She was a good friend of mine.  We did not always have a close relationship, but God, in his goodness, brought us close in those last few years of my grandmother’s life.  She brought to life a passion I had as a child that I had let go of for awhile–reading good books.  It was through sharing books with her that I really learned who my grandmother was; and discovered that she and I had alot in common! I will forever thank God for allowing us to share a bond with one another.  My grandmother truly was my good friend.

The Thursday before that Sunday, as I went into the Adoration chapel like I do every Thursday, I was overwhelmed with the scent of the gardenias that were growing right outside the chapel.  I knew the gardenias grew there, but the powerful aroma reminded me that they were there, that Katie was there.  Of course, I didn’t know at the time why that was so significant, but I did know that God and Katie were speaking to me.  It gave me a very comforting feeling–one that stayed with me for some time.  The feeling was so powerful, in fact, that when I heard the news on that Sunday, I immediately thought back to that powerful scent that reminded me that I was surrounded by love.

Fast forward to that Sunday.  I woke up very early that morning–I just couldn’t sleep.  After alittle while, I decided to look at my phone and check the time.  And that’s when I saw the message that my grandmother has passed.  After speaking with my parents and then saying a rosary, I decided to go for a run and pray.  When I walked outside, the sun was just starting to come up through the clouds and it was a beautiful sunrise.  And as I ran and cried and prayed, I passed by bushes and bushes of gardenias.  The further I ran and the more gardenias I passed, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. They were everywhere!  And as I passed them I could smell their sweet fragrance.  It made me happy and sad all at once.  But mostly, it made me aware that God was with me.  That God was with her.  And that Katie was with her too.

As I look back on these events, I see how intertwined they are.  It’s those small moments, those little things that God gives to us.  On my run this morning, Grandma popped in my head and I started talking to her.  And shortly after, I watched two cardinals fly in front of me and I knew she was there.  And then, a big green leaf floated from the top of a tree right in front of me.  And I knew she was there. 

We are always surrounded by love.  The love of God and the love of those who live with Him are always around us.  It may be in the breeze that blows across your face or the unusual song of a bird or the sunset that makes you stop and stare.  We are never alone.  We are never without a good friend.

What You Take

I just finished reading a great novel by Kristin Hannah, Fly Away.  It is the sequel to Firefly Lane, a story about the friendship between two girls.  Fly Away tells us what happens to one friend after the other has died.   As the book is drawing to a close, the two friends part ways one last time and it brings back memories of my childhood friend, my best friend, my sister.

Katie died when she was 13 and I was 11.  Being two years apart, we grew up very close.  Katie was a tomboy.  She was carefree, unafraid, sporty, talkative, funny.  She was a star.  I was her opposite “twin”.  Timid, shy, extremely girly, not very coordinated, and never one to want to be in the spotlight.  I was tall, she was short.  Thus, we were often about the same height, with similar hair color.  Sometimes we’d switch jackets and put our heads down as we walked to the bus stop, hoping to fool the other kids into thinking I was her and she was me.    Katie and I did everything together.  She was my rock.

The last memory I have of Katie, and probably the strongest memory I have,  was after she died.  We had just said goodbye to her in the hospital.  Seeing her laying in that hospital bed, it didn’t look like my sister at all.  Her face was swollen, she was bandaged and had tubes everywhere.  There was no life…it was not her.  But we held hands around her and we said the Our Father.  And I said goodbye.  When we got home, I told my parents that I should go upstairs and call my friend and tell her why I haven’t been in school.  I will never forget my dad asking me if I needed help.  I did not understand that question.  Why would I need help calling my friend?  I was eleven.

So I started walking up the stairs in what felt like slow motion.  I remember looking over to my left hand slide along the railing.  And when I reached the top of the stairs I felt something on that hand and I shook it.  And then, immediately after I shook it, I knew exactly what it was.  It was my sister’s hand, holding my hand.  I felt her fingers slide into mine.  It felt so real that I knew then and there, at age eleven, that if I had just looked over, I would have seen her standing right beside me.  And suddenly, I knew exactly what my dad was asking when he asked if I needed help calling my friend.  Because as I went to make the call and started speaking, all of a sudden, I couldn’t get the words out.  The realization that my sister was no longer by my side hit me all at once.  And there was my dad, ready to take the phone and finish the conversation.

I hold that memory tight.  It was the last time my sister physically held my hand, letting me know that she was with me.  Her message rang clear in my heart, “I am always with you, holding your hand through life.” And many times, in the 29 years since that moment, I have felt my sister with me.

As I read Fly Away, one particular line hit me like a ton of bricks and instantly brought tears to my eyes, “…my best friend, with her long, tangled blond hair,  and thick eyelashes and her smile that lights up any room.  My other half. The girl who took my hand all those years ago and didn’t let go until she had to.”  And suddenly, I was missing my sister all over again.  But I noticed, as I sat silently crying, that after so many years had passed, so many memories start to fade.  You forget exactly the expressions that she made and how her voice sounded and you try so hard to bring back so many memories that you know you shared.  The tons and tons of conversations you had when your parents thought you were sleeping, but really you (she, mainly) was talking for hours and hours into the night.  What did you talk about?  It all  fades with time.

But here is what I remember.  I remember the love.  I remember feeling safe with her.  I remember feeling like we’d always find something fun to do together.  I remember feeling like she would always protect me.  And I remember her holding my hand.  And that’s what you take with you.  No matter how much time passes, you never forget that love that you shared.   The love stays with you forever and in the end, it’s all that you have.  It’s all that you need.

Until we meet again, and hold hands.