This past Monday, I found myself at the airport for a last minute trip East. Normally, this would have me buzzing with excitement but I couldn't lift the 50 pound weight off my heart because I was going back for a funeral. Throwing on my baseball cap, I pulled the brim down low so as to avoid eye contact with my fellow travelers. I was in no mood for friendly conversation and wanted to allow my teary eyes the right to overflow without well meaning strangers asking if I was okay. There was nothing they could say to make it better. All I wanted was my friend back...
The only phase of my life when I didn't know Kaitlin was the year I spent being a baby before she was born. In other words, I have no memory of her not being an integral part of my life. Aside from the obligatory high school spat between close friends followed by the typical temporary silent treatment, we never felt ill will towards one another to any degree whatsoever. We were both one of the youngest of large families so by the time we were born, our households were already fully entwined and she and I paired off as natural sister-friends. Our friendship morphed a lot as we grew older. We seldom ran in the same circle of friends and there were spans of time when we were both too busy to check in--we even lost touch for a bit when my family moved out here to Colorado. Through all of that, we managed to maintain a connection between our hearts that would prove impossible to break. Reconnecting effortlessly and brimming with delight as soon as we had a chance to sit down for coffee together.
I am the youngest girl in our family and felt robbed of the chance to take a little sister under my wing and share the mystical womanly knowledge that was being passed down to me by my older sisters. Even though Kaitie had her own sisters to do so for her, I dubbed myself her unofficial older sister, overloading her with unsolicited advice whenever I had the chance. Soon, we were going through the same things at the same times and I no longer had the answers--so we plowed through together, comparing notes and sharing top secret-secrets. When we transitioned into adulthood, I realized our original dynamic had done a 180, and I was now hanging on her every word, wanting to hear her point of view and advice on all my big challenges.
Kaitie was the absolute best at looking life square in the eyes and showing it who was boss. She was unafraid of being herself..every detail, to the core. Her perspective was unique and inspiring. Talking with her made you feel like anything was possible because she believed in you. Strong as steel, her strength ran alongside an ocean of sensitivity, warmth and humor. 2 years ago, when I spent an afternoon with her before her first chemo appointment, she caught me up on the specifics of her cancer and treatments. She was scared but wasn't going to let her fear run the show--she was already finding humor in the situation. Her stoicism was staggering. After a couple of hours concentrating on her stuff, she was ready to hear about mine. I divulged that a year before, I had been struggling with depression. I admitted to entertaining a fleeting pros and cons list about ending my life. Before I could get to the happy ending (that I immediately knew something was wrong, got help, and felt a million times better), Kaitie burst into tears. 2 hours of laying out details of her newly discovered aggressive cancer without batting an eye and my friend was moved to tears by the mere mention of a fleeting thought I'd had a year earlier. From that moment on, I made a silent promise I would go to great lengths to prove myself worthy of such a friendship.
From that moment on, I have drawn upon her inspiration to find courage. From that moment on I look for things I take for granted and honor them instead. From that moment on I have believed in myself. From that moment on I have forgiven my shortcomings. From that moment on I have felt driven to make Kaitie proud. Her death will not stop my mission. I will never stop trying to make her proud to be my friend.