On April 10, just two weeks after turning 42, my sister, Julie Elizabeth, died after a 17-month battle with stage IV colon cancer. If you have followed our story, you know that we were not only sisters; we were best friends. We were soul mates.
Because Julie was fiercely private it could be hard to get to know her. She hated social media and opened and then subsequently deleted at least three different Facebook accounts under various aliases. The last one she used was Morticia Adams, because even while she was dying, her morbid and sarcastic sense of humor prevailed. She was hilarious. When she spent a week at OHSU hospital in Portland last year, the nurses fought over who got to care for her because she would crack them up with jokes at her own expense, and by ripping on me and her fiancé, Daniel. She somehow made fun of cancer in a way that was wildly inappropriate but so damn true that you had to laugh. I mean, she had colon cancer, so ya know, that kinda lends itself to a shitload of inappropriate jokes. And if I’m completely honest, some of the funniest lines in blogs I have written were the result of late night texts asking her for a one liner. Inevitably, that line of hers that I snuck in was always the line people quoted back to me as their favorite. She was like that. She snuck up on you and before you knew it, you were hooked.
Our childhood wasn’t easy, and because of that, we depended on each other more than anyone else. It’s no coincidence that we both became therapists with specialties geared toward helping children. But while I opted for the safer specialty of School Counseling, Julie became a Child Protective Services officer. And she was a damn good one. Fair, and nonjudgmental, which I can attest is very rare. Sometimes she told me stories about the things she saw or had to do while on the job, and I would respond that I could never be strong enough to do what she did. She would shrug it off and say, “If I can help that family get better and keep their kids safe, I can let go of the rest.” Her determination to help in such a thankless job always astounded me.
Julie was shy and quiet and much, much braver than I am. I have always been a planner, but Julie just jumped, thought later, and somehow made it all work. Even though I was her older sister, I was ALWAYS asking her for advice or needing her to talk me out of a REALLY poor life choice. She would almost always succeed. When she didn’t, she never judged me for my bad call. But she did make me take responsibility for it and then mercilessly made fun of me. Which was fair.
I told my sister everything. And the few times I tried to hide things, to protect her, it did not end well for me. Cause let me tell you. Although she was little, shy, and almost always even keeled, when that girl raged, back the hell up, cause she could take you down like a hurricane. While I was constantly asking for her thoughts about things I was contemplating, Julie, on the other hand, would tell me something after she had done it. There was no talking Julie out of anything. There was only the aftermath – good or bad – of whatever choice she had made. She was sensitive and secretive. And I loved being the keeper of her secrets.
Before I had my first child, Julie was already a mother of three (Her fourth was born in 2016). I was always going to her for mom guidance, even though our parenting styles were completely opposite. She had a way of letting stuff go, while I always remained the stricter parent. (My kids have never had McDonalds. Ever. Seriously.) But I learned more from her about being a mom and how to enjoy my kids than from anyone else. Julie loved being a mom. And she loved her kids more than anything in the world even when they made her crazy. She was the one who started documenting the long list of ‘I never thought I’d say this’ that eventually became my very first blog for The Lil Mamas, because she could find the humor in everything. I mean, if I ever had to say ‘can someone PLEASE take the goat out of the dishwasher,’ I would have lost my ever-loving mind, but not Julie. She just laughed her butt off. Of course, I would also never own a goat, let alone have it in my house, but like I said, I always was the stricter one.
From the day Julie was diagnosed, her biggest concern was her kids. That she would have to leave them, and worse, as the battle went on, and money grew tighter, that she would leave them without security. She asked me to do whatever I could to help them emotionally and financially. I promised her I would. Near the end, our Hospice nurse told us that the best thing we could do for Julie was to help her let go. We needed to help her resolve ‘unfinished business,’ which in her case, we all knew meant the kids. So our job was to tell her that everything was going to be okay. We would be okay. Her kids would be okay. We could take it from here, and she could let go. The night she died, I held her hand and stoked her hair, and while every part of me wanted to scream at her, ‘please don’t leave me’, as if she had a choice, instead I promised her over and over again that I would make sure her kids were okay, and that she could let go.
Early the next morning, Julie did her part, and now it’s time for me to do mine. Somehow I have to be as brave as she always was and move forward. But I need help doing it. To help me keep my promise to her to take care of her children, I’ve started a youcaring fundraiser that will go into trusts for each of her children. If you can donate any amount, even a dollar, it will help provide some financial security for her kids.
I lost my sister to cancer. Every time I write or say that, I fall apart. Not just for my loss, but for her children. For Isabelle who is turning 17 and won’t have her mom to help her get ready for prom. For 14-yr-old Ariana, who just got her braces off and wasn’t able to show her smile off to her mother. For Eli who turns 12 in September and loved to curl up next to his mom and watch TV when his sisters were annoying him. And for Adam, who lost her before turning two. He won’t even really remember her or know how much she loved him or how hard she fought just to stay in his life a little bit longer. Cancer took all of that from them. I can’t let it take anything else.
My sister is gone. But her spirit is with me. She is the reason I am who I am in so many ways. Always so alike and yet so different. She kept me grounded and held me accountable. I’ve never broken a promise to her, and I won’t break this one. In her memory, please help me help her children.