The Story of the Past Year

‘Tis the season once again - time to celebrate our Irish heritage! We are reminded of our St. Patrick’s Day post last year, when we launched this website. We shared one of our favorite quotes:

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal;

Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

- Irish Blessing

We are proud to announce that we are celebrating our 1 year anniversary of this website and blog! Although it has been a time consuming and sometimes difficult road, it has been incredibly rewarding. We are impressed with the real writers of the world who do this regularly and our respect for them has only grown. Just when we had moments of thinking that we couldn’t keep this up, a great idea would strike us in the middle of the night and we felt inspired again. We thank you for the support and as always, we thank our role model and big sister, Colleen, for constantly motivating us to work harder and to make an impact on the world just as she did.

Below is a recap of the year in images and quotes.

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"Our goal is vast - to help not just other young adult and sibling caregivers and grievers, but also to reach their family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as health care professionals, in order to increase awareness and understanding of their needs. We can all improve upon our ability and capacity to discuss death and dying, to prepare ourselves and others for it, and to support those that are going through it. Even though these are big goals and big topics, we think Colleen would agree that we should try to tackle them." - Our Motivation Behind Losing a Puzzle Piece
"In many ways, losing our sister helped us find more meaning in family and appreciating life - and isn’t that a big part of the holiday spirit?" - Simplify and Downsize: Surviving the Holidays Without the Same Cheer
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"#stoptalkingaboutyoursickcat #doyouwanttoaskaboutme #publiccryingismythingnow" - Sister Humor About Our Grief
Photo credit: Melissa Kroll Photography www.melissakrollphotography.com

Photo credit: Melissa Kroll Photography www.melissakrollphotography.com

"After Colleen died our house was transformed by what seemed to be a million bouquets, orchids and ferns, a rose bush and a new tree in the backyard: a physical manifestation of Colleen's reach. The places where we dwell define our dealings with death, almost as much as our intangible memories and feelings."- Maggie Gets It: A Place Like Home

We have learned a great deal, not just by examining our own feelings and searching for insight, but also from our fabulous guest bloggers. We heard a mother’s perspective on sibling caregivers, a patient talk about grief and how acceptance is the hardest stage, and various views on sibling loss from a Marine's family dealing with his sudden death and how music heals, from a sister accepting and reflecting on the whole sibling relationship, from a group of siblings who supported each other through loss, from a sibling dealing with an unexpected loss and realizing life will never be the same, and the lessons a sibling learned through death. We received advice on how to talk to children about serious illness, how to keep going through grief, how Colleen was essential in her friend’s life, and other topics such as ambiguous loss, survivorship, and architecture's role in caring for cancer patients. We are so grateful for their wisdom.

Check out some highlights of these guest posts through their beautiful images: (Click on the image to link back to the blog post.)

"[Colleen's sisters] were there no matter what. They knew her better than anyone. With them, she didn't have to put on a show. If she wasn't feeling good or didn't feel like talking, or even felt crabby, she could let her true feelings come out. This is what siblings provide in Caregiving." - A Mother's View of Sibling Caregivers

It has been quite a journey and we can't thank you enough for your support. What we have gained from this website and the many touching stories is difficult to put into words. Every day we are reminded of Colleen and the pain of having to go on with life without her does not go away, but this website has given us purpose and for that, we are thankful.

Essential

The timing of this important guest is perfect as we look forward to Thanksgiving and reflect about what we are grateful for. We are thrilled to introduce our very special family friend, Ellen St. Germain, as a guest blogger. We have known Ellen and her fabulous family for our entire lives and they are basically part of our extended family. We are blessed to have them in our lives and our sister, Colleen, was very thankful for this wonderful friendship. They have provided us tremendous support and comfort after Colleen’s death. This week, Ellen, talks about the unique bond that she and Colleen shared and how Colleen continues to be part of her life.

Little did I know how essential Colleen was in my life, until this past year.  Colleen and I knew each other before we were born – little twinkles in the sky – as our Dads went to medical school together.  Colleen and I are both the oldest children – Colleen with her four sisters, and I have two sisters and one brother.  We grew up together living long distance from one another, as “pen pals” back when “snail mail” was the normal mode of communication, and taking our annual ski trips with the nine kids and four parents.  Those ski trips to places like Vail, Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte are some of the most fun memories of my childhood.  I idolized Colleen.  I could not wait to have a ski vacation and get to be with her for a week.  I thought she was just perfect in every way – so academically smart, so athletically coordinated, so beautiful, such a great sister and daughter, and the list goes on.  Colleen could do no wrong in my eyes.  I always aspired to be just like her.  There was so much that I could learn from her on how to be a better person.  The November before Colleen died, she wrote to me about how hard it is to explain our relationship “to say we are just friends seems so simple and trite.”  That is just it, hard to explain.  

Drawn by Ellen in 1985

Drawn by Ellen in 1985

Colleen and I both went to the University of Notre Dame for undergrad (Go Irish!!).  I loved having her so close, and got to spend many holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter back with her family in Michigan.  Our senior year, there were many times when I crashed at her apartment after a night out.  Colleen always went out of her way to do kind things while we were in college together – like make cookies or meet up for meals or organize get-togethers when our parents were in town.  Colleen always put other people first, she made everyone feel special and unique.  That was just her nature.  It was a great four years where I grew even closer to her, since we were physically in the same location at a time before social media was king.  When we graduated, she gave me the poem below.  “With every goodbye you learn” – I am not really sure that at that time, I would understand what that could mean to me.     

Right after Colleen passed away in February of 2015, my sister noticed that my youngest son had something on his eye ball.  Fast forward to this year, and three eye surgeries later under the care of an excellent cornea specialist – praise God and praise Colleen that everything is proceeding normally.  Who would have thought that part of my daily life is now in one of Colleen’s greatest talents – that of a cornea specialist??  I think of Colleen every single day – multiple times a day, when I am putting eye medicine in my youngest son’s eye.  I have found myself standing in Target trying to figure out which Artificial Tears to buy for him, because they all have different ingredients, with tears streaming down my face because I can’t call Colleen on the phone to ask her what to buy.  I find myself talking out loud to Colleen asking her if we need to get another doctor’s opinion, or if we are doing the right thing in his medical care.  Each night, we pray to St. Lucy (patron saint of eyes) and St. Colleen.  There is absolutely no doubt that she is guiding us through this process.  I know that Colleen is helping us to make the best decisions for the next steps in his medical plan, I can “feel” her.  Colleen was a medical doctor, but she was also a Mom!!  I can hear her saying “I am right here, you are not alone.”

Colleen was my first close friend to pass away at a young age.  At the time it happened, I don’t think I really fully processed what was going on and simply suppressed my emotions (minus the funeral mass, where I turned into a sobbing, shaking mess).  Denial seemed the easiest route at the time.  But God has an interesting way of intercepting our lives, to provide us guidance as we take it one step at a time, and this past year, the journey on my son’s eye has really helped me to face my emotions.  As I pray to Colleen so often, she helps me put perspective into the priorities in life – ordered by our Catholic faith, our family and our friends.  I am very thankful that her sisters have started this blog as a resource for our age group.  They have continued Colleen’s mission in being essential to many people’s lives.  I look forward to reading each post and find myself nodding along in things I wish I had known to have been a better friend during the process.  It can be awkward for this age group to try and navigate through the end of life process.  This is not the natural order of how things are supposed to happen.  Yet as I have learned, Colleen remains essential in my life – whether she is here on Earth or up in heaven.  I tell my youngest son how lucky he is to have his own very special guardian angel.  Love you, and thank you, Colleen.