Probably A Million Years

With the encouragement of my dear friend at Dragonlane, Redrokit decided to tell just one more story, only so you know how things are going around here. We hope you like it.

IMG_1938My niece Madalynn and I saw Lana Del Rey a week ago last Sunday. We attended the concert in tribute to Madalynn’s Mom, my sister Julie, whom we lost to cancer on February 12th of this year. Julie loved Lana; and so do Madalynn and I. And somewhere in the middle of that concert, Madalynn and I found ourselves standing, and singing our hearts out with the crowd all around us. And we sang, “I will love you til the end of time. Probably A Million Years.”

And we both knew exactly who the other was thinking of as we sang those words.

On the drive home, a waxing gibbous moon glowed in the sky. And as often happens whenever a member of Team Julie sees a beautiful moon in the sky, we think of Julie who chose a tiny little moon tattoo to adorn her wrist a few years back.

“I wonder if we will have a full moon on Tuesday night,” said Madalynn. I said I hoped so. Mentioned that I had heard from a girlfriend that it was supposed to be a strawberry moon in fact.

Because Tuesday night was looming large in the minds of everyone here at Team Julie. In the first year of grief, as we have all come to understand more fully, there are a number of first occasions through which we must suffer without a loved one beside us. And Tuesday was June 2nd; the day that should have been Julie’s 45th birthday.

I awoke early on Tuesday morning, and realized with great chagrin that I had backslid in my progress through the stages of grief that all of Team Julie has been experiencing over the last three and a half months. And I realized that I had slipped back into The Anger Stage. My least favorite of them all, that horrible Anger Stage. It’s not my poor husband’s favorite stage either, let me tell you.

Luckily, however, my nieces had a plan for June 2nd. And they had graciously invited me along with them. And it made all the difference.

First, Maggie and I had a little shopping to do for certain clothing items that required a girls-only rule. Unfortunately the display of sunglasses across the aisle were far more interesting and compelling to the kid, as I struggled to insist that we had a job to do and we were going to get it done by golly. Thankfully, we managed to find a couple of items that fit Maggie quite well and headed to the checkout counter.

Just after Maggie had talked me into an additional purchase. Of new sunglasses. Of course she did.

Soon after the tags were removed from the sunglasses, Maggie and I headed out to Madalynn’s apartment to collect her and a certain boy who had travelled all the way from Milwaukee to be a support to Madalynn on this very first Julie-less June 2nd. Well. Bless that boy’s heart, is all I can say.

Our first stop, once we got ourselves situated in the car, was The Laundry in Fenton for dinner. We ordered up, chatted our way through the meal, and lingered at the end of it. Soaked up the moments together at Julie’s most favorite restaurant. We realized, however, that it was growing cooler outside due to the clear evening sky and the high barometer reading. And so we decided to grab a few sweatshirts and jackets at Madalynn’s before heading out for our final destination of the evening.

At almost half past nine, I made a left turn onto the road that would take us to Club Julie, and there it was straight before us in the dark blue sky. A full, bright, gorgeous and enormous strawberry moon.

Everyone in the car saw it at the exact same moment. There was a great intake of breath. “Oh my ___”, we said in unison. Well, almost unison anyway. We did form a chord of words for the last bit. Tried to catch our breaths afterward. Sat quietly in the car as we continued on our journey.

IMG_1957We found a quiet, out-of-the-way spot in the condo neighborhood where Julie and her daughters had made their last home together. Opened the trunk, unwrapped a new sharpie pen, and each of us three girls wrote our own special messages to our beloved Julie on thin, almost transparent white paper. Handed a lighter to the boy. Held our lanterns in front of ourselves in turn, and let the boy light the small parafin coated squares at the base of our Chinese lanterns. And within seconds, each of our lanterns had filled with warm air, had moved into an upright position of their own volition, and tugged gently upward as our hands held them. And then we let go and watched our lanterns float away from us.

IMG_1958 And with strawberry moonbeams on our shoulders, we stood quietly and watched our three lanterns float in close proximity to one another, until they flew directly over Club Julie. And then, one by one, our lanterns disappeared from sight.

Maggie was ecstatic. I felt the need for a hug. Madalynn cried a little bit. The boy kept still, put his arm around Madalynn, let us be ourselves in the company of the moonlight.

And on our way home, the girls decided that our evening wasn’t huge, or complicated, or splashy. Instead, it was perfect.

And I looked at my nieces, the daughters of my beloved sister Julie, and I thought…

I will love you til the end of time.
Probably A Million Years.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

And just in case you missed Julie’s moon on June 2nd, she also visited Brother Bill, who was wandering around, missing Julie with all his heart in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And he recorded her visit as no one else could.

And now, I shall return to my quiet corner.

We Wrote This Blog for You

Hi Julie, it’s just me. No need to fuss up or fix your hair. Just wanted to check in, let you know how things have been since we last talked a week ago.

Well. It’s been cold. Fiercely, brutally cold. And I’ve been missing you terribly. Have thought of a million things I’ve wanted to tell you. Turned to make a smart crack to you when the situation warranted it. Grabbed my phone to send you a text about something only you and I would get a kick out of.

But, for the first time since the day you came into this world, you’re not here with me. And yet, I still feel you close by. Just beyond my peripheral vision. Reminding me what we had agreed to. Reassuring me as I walk through the steps of settling the details at Club Julie. And I’m so glad we had all those honest and sometimes painful conversations.

I’m truly sorry your last four days were so rough for you. We tried to keep you calm and comforted, but sometimes your disease claimed those long and fitful hours. And there was little that could be done to soothe you, despite our best efforts. But just as you would do, I’m trying to keep the memory of those days out of my mind and focus instead on those things for which I am thankful.

I’m so glad that you decided to live large after your diagnosis and that you invited me along for the ride. And I’m happy we shared our friends with each other; I know they were a source of joy to you, just like they are for me still. And I’ve got a crowded closet full of precious memories to hang onto, hold dear. We did it right, didn’t we kid?

I also feel truly blessed for those nights before the going got really tough for you. Those evenings when we settled into that big bed of yours to watch our favorite shows. Like the cooking shows, even though you couldn’t eat and I hate to cook. I’ll be sure to remember who won the Great British Bake-Off so we can evaluate the decision. I’ll also tell you how those two sisters we loved so much made the world a better place in Happy Valley. And I’ll faithfully report how things ended on Downton Abbey, I promise. But mostly, I’ll remember those warm and intimate moments we shared in the middle of the night. When we reminisced together, got mad together, cried with one another.

I’m thankful that you were able to visit with a few of your nearest and dearest friends and family in the months and weeks preceding your death. I’m also glad that the girls were there frequently, even if just to sit quietly with you, even when you weren’t able to let them know you were aware of their presence.

I’m glad Maggie was able to deliver her hand-made valentine to you, just an hour before your passing. We know you saw it; that you heard Maggie’s words of love to you. And we watched you struggle out of your pain and confusion to reach your arms into the air and give Maggie one last hug from her Mom.

I am also relieved that I happened to check in on you before going downstairs to get ready for bed last Thursday night. That I noticed a strange sound in your throat, laid down next to you on the bed, locked your hand in mine, watched and listened for signs of distress. Both Madalynn and I were with you at the end. You couldn’t speak to us, but I’ve decided to believe that you felt us there with you.

And boy oh boy kiddo, were we ever right in choosing Melissa to be our hospice nurse. She was a calm support and comfort through that night when it was clear you had breathed your last. Just like she was for the months preceding your death when you and I had questions, concerns, needed a little advice or a new treatment to try. She stayed with us until the end, just like she said she would, and still sends me notes telling me how much she admired you and what she learned from you, asking after the girls, hoping our family is doing alright in the face of our terrible loss. What a treasure.

Brother Bill packed a bag and hit the road for home just hours after you slipped away. He stayed with Doug and me a few nights, and slept over at Mom’s a couple of times as well. He knew exactly how to keep us company, how to stay close, how to let us be whatever we needed to be at such an unpredictable time in our lives. And he accompanied me back to Club Julie for the first time when you were no longer there to greet me. Helped the girls pack up their clothes and treasures to take to their Dad’s house, put groceries into bags to keep them provisioned for awhile, made us a little lunch.

You’ll be happy to know that our family and friends completely respected your wishes to forego a funeral or memorial service. Instead, we were invited to Aunt Rilla and Uncle Bill’s house on Sunday with a gathering of warm and loving family members. It helped our hearts Julie; you would have been so pleased.

I’ve seen the girls a few times at Club Julie. They’re quiet, subdued, and feeling the loss of their Mom. Madalynn and I were going to do her taxes the other day, but as it turns out, I didn’t do a thing but nod as she took the driver’s seat at the computer. Moved around easily in a piece of software she’d never used before. Input information that she’d never had to consider before. Clicked the correct e-file button when she was confident she had done everything correctly. So like her mother.

And Maggie and I had a little chat downstairs while fooling around with the cats and looking through her art work a few days ago. She told me she doesn’t know how to feel yet. Because she wishes you were still here, but she’s glad you’re no longer suffering or in pain. Well put, my dear niece.

So. Anyway. I’m faithfully following all your clear instructions. I’m so impressed with how orderly and efficiently you left your household for me, and I’m thankful for all your careful planning and consideration. And today I brought home all the treasures you’ve asked me to safeguard until the girls are older. They will be so thankful for the things their Mom kept special, just for them. And tomorrow I’ll deliver the hand-chosen treasures you asked me to give to our Mom; it will mean the world to her.

Image 3And lastly kiddo, Redrokit and I had a little chat last night and we agreed that this is our final post.

Because some days during this terrifying journey, I thought we wrote this blog for me, so I could try to make sense of the chaos in which we found ourselves.

On other days, however, I thought perhaps the blog was written for our family, friends, and faithful followers who were there for us and with us every step of the way.

But actually Julie, my dear, smart, brave, strong, funny, magnificent sister…

The real truth is that We Wrote This Blog for You.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

Maybe I DO Know

I don’t know what it was about this Christmas, but…

The whipped cream appeared creamier.  And our sweet little blond-haired girl seemed sweeter.  (Is that possible?)

The whipped cream appeared creamier. And our sweet little blond-haired girl seemed sweeter. (Is that even possible?)

Our gathering felt cozier, warmer, kinder.

Our gathering felt cozier, warmer, kinder.

My nieces seemed happier.

My nieces seemed happier. In a sideways kind of way.

My nephew and my brothers seemed cheerier.

My nephew and my brothers seemed cheerier. In a manly sort of way.

Our family seemed jollier

Our family seemed jollier, laughed easily with one another.

Lakeside Inn seemed glowier.  From without...

Lakeside Inn seemed glowier. From without…

And also from within.

And also from within.

Two sistas got chummier.

Two sistas got chummier.

And the group shot was laughier.  (Is that even a word?)

And the group shot was laughier. (Is that even a word?)

And so, I don’t know what it was about this Christmas…


But you know, come to think of it, just perhaps…Maybe I DO Know.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

One More Brilliant Theory. Proven.

I drive quite a small car. It’s a two-door, a stick-shift, quite low to the ground; not really built for company. And for most of the miles I’ve travelled in my car, that’s been OK because I’ve generally been the lone passenger. To work, here and there for shopping, a little trip to see somebody. All by myself. And on my morning commute to work, I noticed that almost every other car I passed on the road resembled mine in that same way. There was only a driver in the car. No passengers.

And then, over time, I began to formulate quite a brilliant theory.

Because on major holidays, of which Christmas is one, I noticed that most cars on the road looked quite different than they did on a regular old work day. Because generally, in addition to the driver, there were passengers within the vehicles. Companions. Heading out to shop, to visit with someone, to share one another’s company. And they all looked a little happier because of it.

And so this afternoon, Christmas Eve afternoon in fact, I rolled into Club Julie and picked up my little sister. And I told her that I was going to test my little brilliant theory and that she could help me. And so we agreed to pay attention to the number of cars traveling solo versus those with companions.

Well, of course, we did no such thing. Instead we immediately started talking, catching up, planning where we needed to stop and the best way to get there. And before I knew it, we had delivered a few little surprises to our parents. Had a cup of coffee and a sit down. Gassed the car. Picked up last minute provisions for the feast Julie and her girls would enjoy over the next day and a half. Hugged one another and wished each other Merry Christmas. And the next thing I knew, I was home and realized with chagrin that we had collected not one speck of data on that theory of mine.

But then, I had to admit that it truly didn’t matter. And that, actually, I could chalk the day’s events up to One More Brilliant Theory. Proven.

Because I was in a car on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.

With one of my favorite companions of all time.

And I was happier because of it.

Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Team Julie.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

Both An Adjective and A Modifier

My girlfriend had the nerve to move miles and miles away from me a few years back to follow her dreams. We have kept our promise to one another, however, and keep in contact regularly and see each other when the moon and stars align. And because she has moved to New England, I have since learned that persons from that region love to use the word “wicked” in a way which means something other than evil. Instead, it is commonly used as an adjective (like AWESOME), or a modifier (like REALLY).

OK…I admit…I looked this up online. Because, while I’ve heard the word “wicked” used by New Englanders and have sussed out its meaning in context, I don’t truly know the purpose or definition of adjectives or modifiers on any given day. Just trying to keep it real here, and stop you from being overly impressed with me.

Anyway. Just to update.

Last Friday, my sister Julie informed me that her side effects and pain had bumped down to a tolerable level.

And that news was wicked good.

So, last Saturday, my sister Julie sent me packing for home.

And returning home again was wicked awesome.

IMG_1835But then, on Sunday, my husband and I arrived at Club Julie and three girls buckled themselves into the backseat of our car. And we made our way to Detroit Opera House to see the show we had purchased tickets for months and months ago as a special holiday treat.

And that show was Wicked Wicked.

And I mean that as Both An Adjective and A Modifier.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

The Kids Are Alright Tonight

I think that’s a movie title. I didn’t see it, but I heard that many people thought it was a good one. And yet, even though I have no idea of the plot line or the characters of that show, the title has stuck in my head.


The hospice people have visited. We like the nurse who has been assigned to assist us. She did the intake visit, and requested that Julie be placed on her caseload.

Well, of course she did.

Julie’s been working on a regimen that keeps her pain at a tolerable level, without causing side effects or a fuzzy mind. This is tricky business, but we think we are onto a medley that works for now.

I moved a few things over to Club Julie last weekend and have been here as back up while we adjust to this new state of affairs. I’ve tried to be mindful of boundaries in someone else’s home, and all three girls have been quite gracious about my presence, here in their personal space.

For the first two overnights, I bunked with Julie, waking whenever I felt movement on the other side of the bed. Maybe grabbing something that was needed. And that was fine.

But Miss Maggie returned home from her Dad’s house on Tuesday afternoon, once Julie had figured out a combination of drugs that got her up and about. And clearly, the girls felt the need to switch up the bedtime routine that Julie and I had established a few days earlier.

So I’m now sleeping next door in Madalynn’s twin bed. And Julie, Maggie, and Madalynn snuggle into Julie’s bed together. Just like usual.

And last night, as I was reading myself to sleep in Madalynn’s bed, I heard the murmur of my sister’s voice, reading a chapter aloud to her daughters.

And I thought to myself, “The Kids Are Alright Tonight.”

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

This Is The Best Turkey. Ever.

“Oh Cris, you say that every year,” states my mother-in-law annually, with a dismissive wave of her hand. After I’ve announced once again at the Ricketts’ dinner table that This Is The Best Turkey. Ever.

But last Thursday, I decided to hold that phrase.

IMG_1822We had gathered at my mother-in-law’s as usual. Had brought our additions to the upcoming meal. Moved all my mother-in-law’s kitchen stuff around. Put things away in the wrong cabinets and drawers. Got reacquainted with Courtney’s mashed potatoes. Gave our sweet little blond-haired girl the new cowl my Mom had made for her.

And we had a lovely day together. Raised a toast to one another and enjoyed each other’s company. And the turkey was awesome as usual.

But still I kept that phrase to myself.

Because the next day I travelled over to Club Julie to see how my little sister and her daughters were doing. Had a few bites of Julie’s leftover turkey. Waited for Madalynn and Maggie to heat up some leftover cheesy potatoes. And then we got organized. Plotted out the steps we needed to take. Planned how to make this process as streamlined and non-messy as possible. Let Maggie help me whack the bricks of beeswax into small bits in the driveway with a hammer and a great big knife.

Because even though my little sister hasn’t been able to eat meat since she started chemotherapy, she made her daughters a turkey anyway. Put cheese all over those potatoes for her girls, despite the fact that cheese is no longer her friend. Managed a few bites of pumpkin pie, just barely.

And so we decided to make a Thanksgiving bird that even my sister could enjoy.

IMG_1823And a few hours later, I finally got to say that phrase I’d been holding back for the whole holiday.



Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

“I’ve Always Liked Thanksgiving”

“I’ve Always Liked Thanksgiving,” said my little sister Julie this morning. “And I’ll tell you why.”

Well. I’ve been around this block before. Trust me on this one. When my little sister has something to say, you may as well just keep quiet and listen. Because she’s going to say it.

“It was one of the years after you all had left home,” said she. By “you all” she meant we older siblings who had the audacity to grow up and move into the next stage of our lives. “And Mom and Dad and I just stayed home. We had no plans. I never changed out of my pajamas. All day. We watched the parade together and I had my first cup of coffee. Which was mostly cream and sugar. And I don’t even remember what we ate for dinner that day. But I remember thinking, now THIS is a holiday.”

We were on our way to Meijer’s this morning when she told me that. Julie needed some cheese. A bunch of asparagus. A box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

She already had her turkey and knew the things her daughters liked best of all. She was even considering making cinnamon buns for a Thanksgiving morning treat. And they’re going to watch the parade. Stay in their pajamas. Maybe Maggie will have a coffee.

Hmmm. Then again, perhaps Maggie doesn’t need the extra boost of caffeine. Just sayin.

And when she’s ready, without all the hubbub or a schedule to meet, Julie will get the turkey in the oven. Will make those cheesy potatoes both of her daughters love. Won’t have to worry about setting tables, or making stuffing, or having everything just so.

And I’m thinking that some day in the future either Maggie or Madalynn will say to me “I’ve Always Liked Thanksgiving”. And then they’ll tell me why. And it will be somewhere along the lines of what Julie told me this morning.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

My Grandma Would Be Proud

Every once in a while I do something a little out of the ordinary, something a step up from the usual, something which took a lot out of me. And often, after one of these heroic efforts of mine, I think to myself “My Grandma Would Be Proud.” Because my Grandma Vannest believed that you should take on heroic efforts. Not because you would be rewarded. Not because somebody would notice and pat you on the back. But because it’s just right to do so.

Of course, she also told me time and time again, “If you can’t say something nice, then keep quiet.”


The wind chill is below zero today. And it snowed overnight. And I’m not done with my fall clean-up chores.

And that makes me a little ticked off.

And my little sister Julie had a rough night last night.

And that makes me quite worried.

And Julie and I met with her primary care physician yesterday to talk about hospice services.

And that makes me downright furious.

IMG_1819But I’m not going to talk about it, not going to grouse. Instead I’m going to keep quiet and share Miss Maggie’s art portfolio project that she’s been working on ever since her birthday when our sweet little blond-haired girl gave her a new set of pens.

Boy. My Grandma Would Be Proud.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie

The Shark Tank

You might be familiar with the show Shark Tank. I wasn’t until a few weeks back when Saturday Night Live did a parody on the show.

And it suddenly occurred to me while I was watching that SNL episode that ever since Julie was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in April of 2012 she has been exactly that. The Shark Tank.

For instance.

The first oncologist that visited Julie in the hospital in 2012 was a little on the weird side. Made goofy, inappropriate jokes, considering the situation in which we suddenly found ourselves. Had terrible bedside manners that offended us. Offered little hope in the face of the battle we saw stretching before us. So when Julie’s primary physician visited her in the hospital on a Sunday afternoon, Julie had one question for her.

“Can I fire my oncologist?” she asked.

“Yes you can,” said Julie’s doctor.

And so Julie did. “You’re out,” she said. And it was an excellent move. Because the oncologist that she met with next didn’t make any jokes, took her situation seriously, and most importantly, gave her confidence in his ability to help Julie fight her disease.

And when Julie’s oncologist summarized the treatment plan for the summer months of 2013, Julie listened carefully. Looked at her options. Considered her situation from her own perspective. Did a little research. “That’s out”, she stated to her oncologist. “I’m going home to my girls and enjoy the summer months with them.”

Well, what an excellent call that was. Because she and her girls had a wonderful summer together enjoying one another’s company. Worked their way toward a new school year, new possibilities. Without all that chemotherapy mess getting in the way of their plans.

And when a research team at Henry Ford Hospital offered a surgical option which, upon closer scrutiny, offered Julie no actual hope of improving her chances to stop her cancer, Julie firmly declined their proposal. “I’m out,” she said when they called to get the surgery on the schedule. And now, in hind sight, it was the best decision she could have made. Because the cancer had already sent out deadly satellites in areas the research team couldn’t reach. And Julie would have missed out on eight relatively peaceful weeks with her girls.

And now that chemotherapy has ended for my sister, and her disease has begun to grow again, unabated by the chemicals that tried to control it, Julie finds herself in a new situation for which she must once again use her excellent decision making skills.

Because the medication to control her pain caused headaches.
And the medication to control the headaches made her nauseous.
And the medication to control the nausea gave her stomach spasms.
And the medication to control the spasms?
Well, you get the drift, don’t you?

“You’re out,” she said to the bottles in a row that she was taking by late last week, each seemingly created to combat the other. And she put them back into the cabinet. And next week we have an appointment with Julie’s primary physician to talk about the change in Julie’s circumstances. And the need to consult with professionals that aren’t looking at just the cancer, just the headache, just the nausea, just the spasms. Instead they need to consider the whole of my magnificent little sister. And come up with a plan that will make a difference for her.

And I hope they survive The Shark Tank.

Thanks for checking in, and Go Team Julie