I am coming out of one of the hardest months of my life.
During the first weekend of August, Sabin and I flew to Idaho to visit Crystal and watch her girls perform in the local rodeo in Cambridge. At the beginning of the summer, my sister and her husband got the girls a new horse named Sally and they began training on barrels with her. Even though she knew I didn't know much about horses or rodeoing (and I think it goes without saying that Sabin didn't either) she was rather insistent that we come to this rodeo. It had been a few months since I had seen even a photograph of her and our phone conversations became less frequent, but we were still texting pretty much every day and I was hopeful that it would be a fun quick weekend trip to visit with my Idaho family. We packed a few changes of clothes and off to LAX we went.
Joel picked us up from the airport and we headed to Cambridge. I didn't dare ask Joel anything about her, how she was, what to expect. I was just anxious and nervous to see her. As we traveled the two hour drive, my stomach was in knots. I smiled and carried on small talk until we pulled in to the rodeo, but my insides were screaming "get me there. get me there now." The lights were bright and the two city boys seemed slightly out of place as we made our way in to the fairgrounds. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I could feel that she was there, but didn't know how to get to her. We found the teal group in the bleachers, sat down for a second and tried to hug and visit with those I hadn't seen in awhile. I was distracted. I just needed to see her. I felt like it was one of those movies where everything in the background is blurry and moving in slow motion. We found the bar, ordered a few beers and then off we went. I nearly sprinted as soon as I saw the car and as we got closer and closer, a feeling I have never felt before came over me (a feeling I hope to never feel again). Our eyes locked and I just knew. So did she. I wanted to grab her, hug her so tight, but I couldn't. She was still in there. And as soon as she saw me, she cracked a smile and remained eye-locked with me for several minutes. Even though I didn't say it out loud, I told her several things in those few minutes of eye contact. I let her know how much I loved her, and I told her it was OK to go now. I let her know that I would be there to take care of anything she needed me to. We were all there, all of the pieces of the puzzle that I know she orchestrated fell right into place and we watched as her eyes dazzled at the sight of her girls barrel racing in the same rodeo and place where she took the title of Queen years earlier.
The following few days were a blur. I know we made it to the tail end of the parade that happened in Cambridge and I know that even though she was in a lot of pain, she was able to see the girls prance by on their horses and also the car that was decorated in her name and decked out in ovarian cancer teal. She got to visit with her Mom for a few minutes in the car.
We made our way back to Fruitland where she lived with Sunnie; it seemed to take years to get only an hour or so back there. Joel got her into bed and about thirty six hours later, still peaceful on the pillow top mattress topper that she just had raved to me about in texts days earlier, and surrounded by close friends and family, laying right next to her husband whose new tattoo was barely 48 hours old and of which she was so proud that she kept telling everyone to "look at it...c'mon babe show it off," she went peacefully and on her own terms.
It is strange to say she is gone. I still look at her Facebook every day, hoping that somehow this is a dream and a text saying something so funny that I want to pee my pants will just show up on my iPhone screen. She is one of the four favorites stored in my speed dial-Mom, Katie, Crystal, Sabin. I don't want to erase it.
We had a very long, emotional, but memory filled (and even sometimes fun!) week celebrating her life leading up her massive service on the 10th (her lucky number). I got to laugh and cry and grow immensely closer with so many people that loved her as we chose photographs and songs that would honor her. We had 390 chairs at her service and the entire back of the hall was still standing room only. It was so incredible to see how many people truly loved her and how many lives she touched.
And for me, this tragedy gave me one incredible gift. It has shown me how many people love me too. The amount of cards, messages, emails, Facebook posts, and text messages I have received is shocking and humbles me to my core. Perhaps the best of all of those gifts is the blessing I have been given in the shape of the truest love of my life, Sabin. I always knew he was special, in fact I wrote a whole post about how incredible he was on this very blog that my big sister wrote me a personal message about saying, "seeing you this happy makes me have legitimate chills." But when I think back over the past month, the amount of strength, compassion, and hope I have been given has come from this man. He has let me vulnerable, he's pushed me to be strong when I needed to be, and is constantly reminding me how special I am. He came home to LA so that he could fly back with our daughter and make sure we were together in honoring Crystal. I can't imagine experiencing something like this without him. To say he is my rock is a understatement. To say he is my mountain...that is just cheesy. But I have fallen so much more in love with this man and thank God and my guardian Angel, Crystal, for him every single day.
After being out of work for almost two weeks, followed by an 82 hour work week because of a huge pre-planned visit with the president and several VPs of my company, we were able to have a nice dinner with Rilynn, MeKaty and the Heimgartner's (who had an already pre-planned Disney trip to LA) and then drove to Las Vegas where I entered my thirties. Old friends flew in, new friends were able to come, and even my brother-in-law Joel joined us. It was hard to celebrate, however inside I am happy and I had an AMAZING trip. But this loss has changed me in many more ways than I anticipated. I see life through a different lens and I even feel like a slightly different person. I know there are several stages of grief and I am probably only in the beginning, but the days feel heavier and longer. I'm tired, I'm at odds with others and with myself. The one thing I will do that I wished I had done when I lost my dad was seek some professional help. In a video message Crystal recorded for her girls, she says, "Don't ever be scared to talk to someone, whether it be a counselor or therapist. Get help when you need it." The other thing I am doing is squeezing my baby (ies) tighter every night and letting them know how much I love them. Above all else, I miss my sister, but I still have a lot to celebrate and power on for and I want to continue to make Crystal proud because I know she is looking down on me (and eating, and marathon training, and shopping!).