Monday, October 21, 2013

Can't believe it's been a year...

Exactly one year ago today, my sweet friend Stephanie Parker went to Heaven.  Our Lord received a beautiful angel on that day, and the Earth lost one of it's kindest, most caring, thoughtful people.

Stephanie touched every single person she met.  Her smile was sincere and her laugh was infectious.  She made people happy, and people were happy when they were with her.  I know I was.  

Stephanie and I met when we were babies.  Our moms were best friends.  I grew up with Stephanie, her twin sister Emily and their little brother Andrew.  I didn't have any sisters or brothers, but they were just as good (if not better!) than if I had siblings of my own.   I have so many happy memories of playing together in my yard growing up, or bike riding around the neighborhood.  

One of my favorite photos of us when we were small is at my birthday party.  This photo shows my mom (standing up) holding me, and on the left is my grandmother holding Emily, and then next to my grandmother in the blue dress is Amy (Stephanie's mom) holding Stephanie.  Stephanie ALWAYS wore pink...and usually Emily wore blue.   

We were pretty cute kids! ;)

Another favorite photo is from my mom's college graduation.  Stephanie was always an old-soul. When the rest of us kids were off causing trouble, Stephanie was singing with my aunts and cousins! My family is Albanian, and it's not uncommon for the adults to gather around in a circle to sing or dance.  I remember many years as a child when my aunt Fana (who passed away just days after Stephanie last year) would gather around the table to sing and we would dance together.   I just love this picture.  Because Stephanie and Fana went to Heaven at almost the same time, I just know they are up in Heaven singing together! 
As the years went by and life got in the way, Stephanie and I would lose touch from time to time.  But not unlike sisters, we would catch up right where we left off. 

When Stephanie told me she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my heart sunk.  My mom had passed away from breast cancer in 2005 and it was devastating to hear of Stephanie having to face treatments...and at such a young age (in her 20's at the time).   I prayed and prayed for God and my mom to find a way to cure Stephanie.  

I know that my mom would have dropped everything and helped Stephanie and Amy and the whole family.  My mom viewed Stephanie (and Emily and Andrew) like her own children.   

Stephanie and I talked and I offered to come up to Maine to take her to chemo treatments.  She said that it was hard going to chemo with people who didn't understand cancer, because she was so tired, sick feeling and not in the mood to entertain guests.  But knowing that I understood all of that made it easier.  

I would pick her up at her house and we'd drive the short way over to the hospital.  On the way we would joke that we'd be more likely to die in a car accident, because I wasn't used to driving on the crazy Maine country roads.   On our rides to the hospital, we had to stop for chickens, pigs and cattle crossing the road!
Usually once we got to chemo, Stephanie would sleep and I would work.  After it was over we'd go to McDonalds or somewhere for some greasy unhealthy food because oddly enough it's one of the few things that can be stomached after chemo (at least according to both my mom and Stephanie).  We'd talk about life, and the ups and downs of things.  Often times, we talked about faith.  We talked about what Heaven might be like.  I told her the story about the night my mom died.  We talked about beliefs and life and Jesus.  Stephanie had one of the strongest faiths of anyone I know.  We talked about church, and worship.  We were both raised in more traditional churches...Stephanie in the Catholic church and myself in the Eastern Christian Orthodox church...but as adults, we both attended non-denominational churches where the style of worship was much different than how we were raised.  We both loved the style of worship in the non-denominational church.  We both felt more connected to God at the new churches we attended.  On our way to chemo, we would listen to Christian rock music that we both liked.  One song we listened to was Amazing Grace by Chris Tomlin.  This song was played at Stephanie's funeral.  I sang it and cried knowing that Stephanie was free from her chains and in Heaven.

During Stephanie's illness, she received a lot of cards and gifts and flowers...but everyone who knows her knows that she sent out WAY more cards than she received.  We all joked that she single handedly kept the postal service in business!  It felt like not a day went by that I didn't receive something in the mail from her.  One of my favorites is a birthday card she sent me.  It said "for my sister" and inside she wrote that the regular cards didn't do it justice.  That is exactly how I felt about a sister.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of Stephanie.  She's an inspiration to me and to everyone who knew her.  I am thankful we had the time together that we did, although I know we all wish for more time with her.  

Stephanie made me a better person.  She deepened my faith.  She helped me to see that sometimes life isn't perfect, but that at the end of the day it doesn't matter.  Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful. 

Dear Stephanie, if you can see this in Heaven, please know that I love you and miss you and that this world isn't even close to the same without you.  The last year went by slowly and quickly and in a little bit of a blur.  Each year ahead will be one year closer until we can see each other again (but don't worry, I hope that's when I'm a very old lady! ;)).  Know that I will do my best here on Earth to achieve the things we talked about, and I hope to make you proud.  Give my mom a hug for me (and when I see your mom I will give her a hug for you) and know that everyone here on Earth is so very proud of you and misses you more than you know.  xoxo

more of my favorite pictures....
Stephanie just LOVED her little dog Bruce.  We all did! He's a sweetheart.  
even Bruce is smiling in this picture :)

xoxo nikki

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