Everyone has a few people in their lives whom they can’t imagine the world without. I am lucky enough to have a lot of them. Obviously, my kids are on the list, as are my parents, my three sisters, and my sister’s baby and, lately, My Ho.
Also on the list are four cousins who are like sisters to me. We grew up together, had sleepovers at each other’s houses, took family vacations together. When one of the four, Shanna, first arrived at college, her new dorm mates played one of those dopey getting to know you games in which each person was to tell the rest of the group two things about themselves that were true, and one thing that was a lie. Everyone was supposed to try and guess which statement was the untruth. Shanna told the group that she had seven sisters, and she gave the names of each of us—her three actual sisters, and my three sisters and me—in such rapid succession that all of her dorm-mates were fooled. Personally, I think she kind of cheated, since it wasn't exactly a LIE, but whatever.
Another person who certainly qualifies is the mother of my four sister-cousins, my aunt Karen. She is probably the most capable woman I know. She can fix just about anything. She gardens like a pro. She can always be counted on for stellar Christmas gifts, and she tirelessly served as my occasionally high-maintenance grandma’s on-call assistant for years. And she did it all on her own terms, without any fanfare.
I have been doing the single parent thing with the Demigoddesses for about four years now, and there have been days when the strain of trying to keep it all together has nearly killed me. Literally. Karen pulled it off for ten years after my uncle passed away, with twice as many children, and if she ever broke a sweat, none of us ever saw it. In fact, Karen has been such a steadfast presence in my life that when she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, it took a while for me to comprehend the possibility that she could ever be anything other than the fiercely independent, self-sufficient person that she has always been.
She had surgery not too long ago, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Throughout this ordeal, she has been incredibly honest about her struggles, both physical and emotional, which, frankly, has surprised me a little bit. But her openness during this crisis has given me an all-new appreciation for the quiet fortitude that I have taken for granted until now.
Last week at the lake, Karen spent most of the trip inside, resting and reading. She has acquired an assortment of attractive bandanas and scarves that she has been wearing over her disappearing hair, and at one point I commented that the one she was wearing that day was especially pretty. She shrugged off the comment, saying that they were just dumb old bandanas, but she can’t bring herself to put on a wig just yet. I suggested that she go natural like Melissa Etheridge at the Grammy Awards show, because, after all, between her and Lance Armstrong, Cancer is almost cool these days.
I don’t think she was sold.
Karen, I don’t care what you see when you look in the mirror lately. You are beautiful and I admire you very much.