About 11 or 12 years ago some cousins of ours offered our family 1 week stay at their timeshare in South Lake Tahoe California. They have continued to offer it to us every year since. What a gift. They will never know the impact that their generosity had in our lives and the memories that were made because of it.
It was easily the highlight of our family's year, every year. Saturday through Saturday, there was nothing but relaxation and family fun. My mom would cook ginormous feasts for every meal. You'd catch her "resting" for a quick moment on the couch during the afternoons just long enough to make a list of what she needed for that evenings dinner recipe. I've got two words for you: Philadelphia Cheesecake. If you're interested in how good it was I can show you my right thigh where some of it, even years later, has stuck with me. My dad was very predictable on these trips. You'd wake up in the morning and he'd be sitting on a chair right outside the back door with a cup of coffee sitting on the table next to him and his Bible in his hands. If he wasn't sitting there he was either by the pool or getting into whatever my mom was trying to cook in the kitchen. My siblings and I spent every day in the pool. We'd take breaks to watch a movie, go for a walk or play some soccer, but 90% of our day was spent in or around the water. The biggest (and I don't mean that because of her size) fish of us all, was Catie. You could not get that girl out of the water. When we first started going to Tahoe in the summers she swam without a life vest and over the years got to the point where she had a life vest on and had to be pushed into the pool. Sounds horrible.. like we would just grab our blind sister, too immobile to step into the water, and push her over the edge of the pool. But you have to understand that she loved this!! She would fall into the water, her legs bent stiffly and her arms in front of her. You'd see her fall under the water for a split second and pop right back up with an explosive laugh. Because her face would dip into the water, her hair would always end up wet and stuck down over her eyes and nose hiding her entire top half of her face. All you could see was her beautiful smile reaching from ear to ear. I remember the last summer that she was able to be in the pool, someone had to be behind her the whole time so that her face would stay out of the water. She would float there, smile side up. The last summer that she ever went to Tahoe she didn't make it in that pool. I can't even think about that.
She loved those weeks in Tahoe. We all did. My moms mother, our Nonnie, would come up and always take us shopping. My Dads parents always came up for a few days and we'd spend the evenings painting Poppie's toes and playing cards with Nana. They were completely wonderful weeks and some of my very favorite memories made in my life.
My family spent a little bit of time up in south lake this last week. Not at the townhouse, but still in the same area. We spent an entire day at Pope beach as a family and I lost track of the times that I counted all the heads in the water and on the beach. Constantly trying to figure out who was missing and every time holding back tears when I realized it was Catie. It was a wonderful day together, only because of God's faithfulness and His mercy. But it was a very hard day. How do you explain that to people? Oh the times I've been asked, "you're leaving again?" "Lucky you, another vacation, huh?" If only I could explain that it isn't a vacation, it is an attempted escape from reality. A hope that if you get away from the busyness, you can breathe, maybe not feel any pain. Maybe feel completely happy? Maybe maybe. But enough of that rant. We did get to be away as a whole family that day and we did rest. We were able to talk about Catie uninterrupted by the busyness of life and we were able to laugh. We even ate really well. Not cheesecake, but it was still good. Like I said, because of God's love toward our family we can still enjoy moments together even through the pain.
Now I don't know if its survivors guilt or a coping mechanism. I'm not going to bother trying to figure it out because I'm still having a difficult time trying to remember what day it is and what I have going on. But whatever it is, made me go for a run the morning after the beach. Ever since Catie left I have been addicted to exercise. It gives me something to focus on every single day. My vice. While I am working out my mind is either completely focused on my work out so I'm not thinking about the loss of my sister, or it allows me to work off the anger I have from losing her. Its different every day but either way, its helping me. Keeping me busy. On this day in Tahoe I was feeling angry. Also guilty. I was in South Lake Tahoe with my entire family, except for Catie. I felt horrible for being there, in one of her very favorite places, without her. For enjoying time with my boys, siblings and parents the day before at Pope Beach without her. I also felt incredibly sad. Like the kind of sad that physically hurts my body and takes my breath away. So I decided to try and relieve some of these feelings with a good work out and one that would help me to really focus on her. I ran and walked up to the townhouse where my family used to stay. Alot of people would tell me thats not healthy, or that I shouldn't put myself through something so emotional. Alot of people however, don't know what its like to lose a sibling, or have, and have dealt with it differently. For me, this was very healing. I felt like I had spent the entire day before with everyone in my family and was about to do the same for the second day in a row but I had to spend time with Catie. I couldn't be in Tahoe and not set aside quiet time by myself to remember her. So off I went. 5:30am came and I stepped outside into the fresh, crisp Tahoe air. I headed down the street with my ipod in and headed toward the townhouse. I cried the entire way there. Stopping at different times to catch my breath, wipe away some tears and remind myself to keep going like Catie always did. I came up over the hill and there was the Heavenly Townhouses sign. I began to sob while I sat underneath the sign for a minute. I closed my eyes and could see and hear my sister.
The excitement would build as we pulled into the parking lot each summer, telling Catie, "we're here!!! yeah baby!! Tahoe here we come!!! We made it!" she'd start clapping her hands and then slap them down onto her legs while she lifted her feet and then clap again. Her smile would reach ear to ear and she'd shout and holler, "woo hoo!! yeah baby!!! gotta love it baby!!" and thats how the vacation would start each year.
I sat there eyes shut, playing that memory over and over in my head. It was so clear that I felt as though I could hear her happy voice and touch her clapping hands. I'd also replay the memory of her being pushed into the pool, over and over.
I continued up the hill to a special spot kyle and I found years ago where'd we'd sit and watch the sunset together. I sat there that morning and cried and laughed and cried some more. I thought about the name of the townhouses as I looked out over the lake. It never crossed my mind really. But that day it did. Heavenly Townhouses. Called that because it sits at the base of Heavenly right across the street from the ski lift. Heavenly, because its considered one of the most beautiful places in the world and we had been spending time there as a family all these years. I chuckled as I realized that Catie now knows what Heavenly really looks like. For years, she spent time in a place named Heavenly and was blind. Unable to see what people travel across the world to see, and now she has perfect vision and can see a kind of heavenly that we could never even imagine. A true heaven. I just sat there blown away watching the sunrise over the water, amazed by the beauty that God created. I felt thankful that I could see this place and enjoy it knowing my sweet sister could see a more perfect sunrise along with me that morning
I enjoyed the rest of the time in Tahoe with my family. We really rested together. But I couldn't have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't spent that time remembering my sister. I feel like even though she's not here, I was able to see her more clearly that day than any other time since she passed. I miss that girl so badly...