Amber: My Sister Through My Eyes

amberAmber’s life began on June 28, 1975.  As soon as she could walk and talk, her enthusiasm for, sweetness to and curiosity about other people were immediately apparent.  She never knew what a stranger was, if you turned your back on her for a moment you were sure to turn back and find her striking up a conversation with whoever happened to be passing by.  I can picture her as that little girl and I can picture her by her mothers side always wanting to help, the true personification of Mothers little helper, always wanting to be of service.

These two qualities that defined her as a child, the interest in others and the genuine desire to help them and make their lives easier, continued to define her, no matter what hardships she endured, throughout her life. 

There was another side to her greatest strengths, as is so often the case with all of us, they were also her greatest obstacles.  Amber’s selflessness and self-sacrifice caused her to perhaps give too much while not asking for enough in return.  The great stores of energy she drew on to work an increasingly demanding and exhausting job, while raising her kids, and caring for her family were eventually drained.  Her body was more frail than she realized and her will alone was not enough to sustain her.  In addition her innocence and her complete lack of guile which allowed her to see and expect the best in others left her vulnerable to hurts, a heart like hers could not make sense of, and she at times blamed herself for the failings of others.  But no matter what the cost she would not abandon that innate loving kindness and sweetness.  

It is no wonder that, as her health began to fail and she could no longer keep up with the demands of her Title Insurance job, she went back to school to work in healthcare.  After graduating first in her class she decided to pursue working with cancer patients and in that she found what she considered to be her true calling.  She choose healthcare because she cared deeply and passionately about all those who crossed her path and because she had suffered she had vast stores of empathy and compassion for others who were suffering.  She became a true friend to her patients and their families and she liked to think that she, in some small way, shared their burden and by doing so made it lighter.  When her health continued to deteriorate to the point where she could no longer do that job she mourned it for the rest of her life.

Even this loss did not take away her sweet spirit and she continued to pour her love and care into her children, her family and her pets.  She became quite active on social media and was a tireless cheerleader for others, always striving to make them feel loved and celebrated.  She was, in the last months of her life, contemplating writing a book in order to share her triumphs and tragedies, letting people know they were not alone and still trying to help as many people as she could.

Amber’s life had its hardships and was far too short, but all those that knew her felt blessed by that knowledge. Her sweetness , her kindness, her innocence, her lack of guile and her generous heart were so special they could not be ignored.  She is gone from this world but her influence remains with us and if we can, through her example, open our hearts to love freely and to treat each other with compassion and forgiveness, she will have achieved her true aim in life, she will have helped forever all those she loved.

Amber’s life ended at home surrounded by people and animals she loved, her parents, her son and her beagles.  She will be so sorely missed.

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Goodbye Pat and Goodbye 2015

Weeping Quote

I have never been so relieved to have a year come to an end!  For the most part it was a good year but the end was one of the roughest times of my life.  The whole month of December was kind of awful for a myriad of reasons but the toughest moment came the day after Christmas when our good, family friend Pat passed away.

My family moved in with Pat who was around fifty at the time, when I was a little girl.  We had just moved back from California and had no money, no prospects and no where to live.  Pat was at that moment, and for the rest of his life, our guardian angel.  He was unfailing kind and generous, sweet and playful.  He was the best of friends and the best of people.  He lived with my family for the rest of his life and died in his own bed at my parents house.

He was what some might consider an unremarkable man who lived a remarkable life, filled with tragedy and loss and ultimately redemption and love.

The thing that was so very remarkable about Pat once you got to know him  was how happy he was with so little.  In our modern view, the gifts that life gave him were so pitifully few, he was never in love (the one date he ever went on ended with getting kicked out of his house for dating) he never had children or a high powered career, he wasn’t famous, he didn’t change the world.  And yet in all the time I knew him he never shed a tear (he said he had cried all his tears when his mother died), he never complained about the life he was given, he never forgot to say thank you for even the smallest gesture of thoughtfulness.

I’m not really sure if understanding the life he lived makes his unfailing contentment more or less amazing.  He lost his mother at age seven and was sent to an orphanage with his brother.  A couple of years later he lost his father as well.  He continued in the orphanage until he was adopted by some cousins but even that  was shortlived and he time and again ended up homeless on the streets of Detroit.  He though about becoming a priest but was disillusioned by the hypocrisy he witnessed while working around the order.  He went into the army and was one day away from shipping out to Vietnam when he contracted double pneumonia and was eventually given an honorable disability discharge.  He had a mental breakdown a few years after he left the army and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent some time in an institution.  He moved to Colorado and ended up buying a house for his beloved poodle Blackie.  That was the only reason that he bought the house because he wanted his dog to have a home and a yard and so he provided them.   Some time later he started going to the church my father worked for and that was how we met him.  When we moved back from California, homeless and desperate, we found out that his dog had died and he was terribly lonely and heartsick over his dog’s passing.  The pastor of the church thought it might be a blessing for him to have some companionship and it was undoubtedly a blessing for us as well.  From that day on he was a part of our family.

Time and again life gave him obstacles and problems that he saw for what they really were, gifts.  The pneumonia that wrecked his lungs and was the foundation for a life time of lung problems wasn’t a curse it was the blessing that saved him from the horrors of war.  The death of his beloved pet was the reason our family came to stay and he finally got the love and friendship and the home that he had never had.  It didn’t make him bitter that life had been so hard because he knew the worst that could happen, he’d lived through it, and the qualities of character and personality that caused him again and again to seek a life of service and a purpose in helping others, helped him to remain happy and positive and unfailingly grateful.

There have been so many lessons I’ve learned from Pat in our life together but his last lesson and gift to me (and one that I needed more than ever as I dealt with the loss of him) was that this too shall pass.  Pat lived a life blighted by pain and suffering for the first two thirds of his time on earth but the last third, though it maybe didn’t make up for or remove those lost years, did give him something he’d always wanted, a home, a family and unconditional love.  I imagine it would be all but impossible for me to experience the amount of loss and devastation  in my life that Pat suffered but even if it did, the memory of how he dealt with that loss and the knowledge that it did eventually get better will stay with me through anything.

So goodbye Pat, I loved you and I will always miss you.

Lincoln Quote