‘Love, strength and friendship’
I gave my little sister Becky a Claddagh ring on my wedding day. It symbolized love, strength and friendship. I wanted her to know she would always be my best friend.
She volunteered for Dr. Jane Goodall in Africa, traveled to over 35 countries, lived in Florence, got her college degree late in life (at San Francisco State University) and had a two-page bucket list, her “life list.” I still have a picture of her, waving to the cruise ship after her four-month journey around the world ... with the Claddagh ring I gave her.
Last year, she passed away, from a heart attack, at the age of 43, six weeks after our mom’s memorial.
She lived an extraordinary life and her ripples touched many people. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that thought I was her best friend.
She is greatly missed.
For her memorial, we gave attendees a stone that said “courage” on it, because that’s how she lived her life, with great courage. I wanted everyone to take that courage stone back to their homes and be reminded of her beautiful presence, and let that courage move them to do good things.
During these unusually crazy times, I deeply feel her absence and long to talk to her about all that’s going on in the world. One of the things that has helped me with my grief - and I realize everyone’s process is different - was to find ways of honoring her.
I created a memorial garden in our yard.
I put her “courage” rocks in places I visit.
I made a magnet with her wise words on it, called “The Wisdom of Bec,” and made a huge photo album with her pictures and her Facebook posts.
I’m compiling a movie reel of her videos. And I wrote a children’s book on grief.
Also, my cousins and I have met yearly for a “cousin’s weekend,” and we did a few things this year on Becky’s “life list” that she hadn’t completed, such as throwing a Cuban night and a wine-and-food pairing.
Honestly, it’s whatever it is that keeps her spirit alive for me.
I relish the simple moments we had together, of getting a latte and doing errands around town. It’s bittersweet living in Petaluma, because so much of it reminds me of her and our time together.
It was so simple, but I knew at the time how special.
We were never shy to express our love and gratitude for each other. More than anything, I miss what was. I miss her presence in our home, her infectious laugh and constant goodness.
What I would want people to know, especially during this time of the Covid pandemic, is that even when we are thrust into the great unknown of deep sorrow, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves, listen to what we need at the time, and to know that we can and will come out the other side of this.
Sometimes, I need to just hold Becky’s black sweater and smell her perfume and that helps me move on.
She loved my kids more than anything, because she didn’t have children of her own, so I decided to give my daughter the Claddagh ring that I had given Becky.
I know I need to find a way to walk forward in this life without her, somehow softly tucking her in my heart. I know she would want me to spread the constant goodness and infectious laughter she imprinted upon us.
(“First Person” is a series of occasional pieces written by readers and residents of Petaluma describing significant moments in their lives, with specific focus on how they are getting through this unprecedented time. If you have a piece you;d like to share, reach out to Community Editor David Templeton at firstname.lastname@example.org)