Last week was bittersweet.
It was our tenth year – our final year – of the Hope Hike/Climb for Katrina, and as our week in Colorado progressed, I felt my emotions swinging on a pendulum. A year ago, we decided as a family that this would be it, our last hike. Afterwards, we would give away the rest of the money in the foundation we established in honor of my sister after she passed away from breast cancer, Katie’s Club, and that would be it. At the time, it felt good and right, but the reality of it, the very finality of it, hit me hard this week.
We were blessed to stay with dear friends this week – lots of laughter, children running rampant, shared meals and conversations a highlight of the week. And as one of them asks how I’m feeling about the final climb, I find ways to occupy my hands. Watching them plunge dishes into scalding soapy water, extracting them for a cool rinse, leaving them to dry on a well-worn plaid dishcloth distracts me from my feelings. I give a rote response, unable to articulate how I really feel. Later in the week at the pre-climb dinner, I find myself doing it again — digging my nails into my hands, hoping the physical pain will stem the tide of emotions welling up, threatening to pull me back down in a tidal wave of grief. But late at night when the baby is up nursing yet again, or in the early light of dawn while I’m getting ready for the day and surreptitiously looking for spiders in our lower-level bathroom, I think a lot about my sister. She’s never far from me when I’m in the mountains, which is odd considering we were never there together.
The questions, the conversations, and my thoughts leave me searching for breath to pull in my lungs. In some ways it feels like my sister has died all over again and I’m left bereft, wondering – What now? What is her legacy now, if not all this? How do I now find purpose in the circumstances of her death, if I can no longer see these visible, tangible reminders of her life in our work with others through her foundation?
And even as I feel the weight of those questions, the burden of missing her and the hurt and grief that linger like a palpable presence, I encounter the reminders of her life, her legacy.
As a phrase catches me unexpectedly – the reminder that Jesus himself was “the Word made flesh and dwelled among us” – I think about how true that is, how often intangibles are made manifest in the world around us, in the people we encounter.
At the climb dinner, I see the beautiful, thoughtful niece who has the same generosity of spirit and gift-giving skills that her mother had, the maturity in her face and features making me wonder where the last ten years have gone. She was six years old when my sister died, and ten years later, I’m months away from having a 6-year-old of my own. Later, as I hug the nephew who now towers over me, I think of those long-ago days when I brought him to preschool as a tow-headed 4-year-old and he sang “Singin’ in the Wain.” Those children, they are her legacy. As I look around the room, I see the friends and family who knew her (and some who only know her through us), who loved her, who were willing to sacrifice time and money to be a part of this hike, and I think – this sense of community, these soul-deep friendships, are her legacy as well. Later on, as a friend sends me a sweet text about my kindness and my calm nature, I feel the tears rolling down my cheeks in response, and think – me, I’m part of her legacy too.
As the week ends, and we pack up our luggage and leave the mountains, that certainty remains. And in purpose, in heart, in spirit, Katrina remains too.