My birthday is a tricky time of year. This week is emotionally charged always. Emotions are right at the top. I simultaneously love and abhor my connection to dates. It is a blessing and a curse that I constantly strive to strike balance with.
I never thought much about my birthday growing up. There were often sleepovers and cake with family, but I never thought too much about it. Not about the day, or about the blessings of family, friends, and gifts galore. Somewhere in my youth, I thought it would last foever. I was always taught gratitude, and have penned my own thank you notes from a young age. But, I meant the matter-of-fact way things just happened. My mom worked 2 jobs. She worked hard all the time. But, she made time for those things as if it was effortless. I am pretty sure I might have missed some thank yous to her along the way. She never skipped a beat.
As a teen things changed a little. Our immediate in house family grew with the additions of Ken and little sister Kathi. Older sister Lisa was at college. But, still, I never gave the day much thought.
My cousin Meghan was born in May of 1985 when I was in 6th Grade. She was the absolute apple of my eye. She was the first child in my large extended family that I was ever old enough to babysit for. We spent a good deal of time together.
Meghan’s leukemia diagnosis came when I was a freshman in High School. The next 4 years for her were a perpetual whirlwind of remission and relapse, treatments, bone marrow transplants, and smart, silly kid time. She was wise beyond her years and loved on her little sister with everything she had. She loved our Grandma’s dog, and so many people loved her.
As a growing teen, I wanted nothing more than to be tested as a possible bone marrow match for Meghan. I was turned away, even as a first cousin, and told to revisit the possibility when I was 18.
The summer before Meghan died she gave me this picture after an afternoon at the local Children’s Museum. It hangs in my house still.
I left for college in August of 1991. I called and spoke with her as often as I could in the “pre-cell phone” era. And then our stories above became forever intertwined on 11/12/1991. A call to my dorm, on the morning of my 18th birthday, brought the news that Meghan had gained her angel wings. I was never going to know if my bones held the marrow that could have saved her life. That was a bitter pill to swallow. I was broken-hearted as I headed home for formal goodbyes, but I was buoyed by the fact that no matter how many years went by, her passing, and the celebration of my birth would be remembered the same day.
I never lost the feeling of connection to this spectacular, tenacious 6 year old whose ability to converse with those well beyond her years, to express her thoughts, and to bring joy to those around her was utterly epic. I never ever forgot New Year’s Eve together, setting all her dolls out on the couch, or the MILLION times we watched Lady and the Tramp.
Meghan was still in my heart in the summer of 2003 when I asked my aunt and uncle if I could name my child after theirs. That is Meghan’s name story. She was named after a warrior whose spirit she possesses. Their struggles differ but their giant hearts and no-nonsense speech sometimes are intertwined in my memories.
Our Guardian Angel wears a gold ribbon. The power of this has also not been lost on me. Childhood cancer is it’s own kind of hell, for the parents and the children. We, as Cowden’s Syndrome patients have astronomically high cancer risks. Ones that can get into your head if you’re not careful. But we have what is not given to most. We have a warning system. And through that warning system our cancers, if they occur, can be easily managed most often. We have a gift others were not given, even in this messy road.
The story of our Meghan has had so many twists and turns these last 18 years that many blend together.
Through those years we said goodbye to many grandparents. Among them, my father, Ken’s father, my mom’s father, and my dad’s father. That group of veterans were life-shaping as well. And, with Veteran’s Day being this week too… sometimes the proud, and the grateful, and the sad get mashed together.
And November 10th, the birthday of the US Marine Corps fits right in here as well. I do not profess to fully understand, but watching my Dad reach out to every Marine he was still in contact with on 11/10/2014, a month before cancer stole him, it imprinted on my heart.
I’ve never been a big fan of fall. Or, maybe I was when I was a kid. I don’t remember. But, somehow the darkness and the dreariness and all the memories seem to feel heavy this week.
So I try to think of the joys that have intertwined with the sorrow. I think of 11/12/2014 when Meghan received “Kid of Achievement” award at a very special ceremony.
I think of my little second cousin Mackenzie, my birthday twin, just a TON of years later, brought into this world no doubt with some careful guidance by Angel Meghan and some others, whose memory Mackenzie’s mom and I both hold dear. That precious girl, born after tragedy had already touched her life, has the most magical smile. Oh, I wish I saw her more.
And last year, we took the day as a family of three and had a delightful senior photoshoot for our one and only, also on 11/12.
All of these memories are somehow connected to this week. And as I think about my birthday I am grateful for another journey around the sun. The numbers don’t flip me out. I will scream loudly and proudly that I am 48. I am a mother, a wife, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a cancer survivor. I am grateful.
This year though, on the 30th anniversary of the passing of Angel Meghan, I pause a little extra.
Some people come into your life only for a season, yet they leave an imprint on your heart that lasts a lifetime.
As I head into my 49th year, I am grateful for those I have loved and lost, and for all I have learned. I look forward to more adventures. I hold my dearest close. I shed the nonsense. I avoid the drama as best I can.
I am far from perfect. Perhaps my biggest life lessons come from basking in that imperfection, embracing those I have loved and lost, and those I still love today. Taking the lessons learned from all and carrying them forward.
Time waits for no one. Semester one at college is almost in the books. My girl is where I was the year my Guardian Angel left this earth. 30 years since I started college. Life keeps moving.
Honor the lost. Embrace those that are near. Live in gratitude and be full of grace as our God is to us. Lead with compassion and a kind heart.
May the fall be full of blessings for you.
We remain #beatingcowdens.