Sometimes during the holidays I think of that song Angels Among Us by the old country band Alabama. It gets a lot of play through Thanksgiving and Christmas every year and often I reflect on how true that song really is. I don’t think of God’s winged angels in the shadows keeping watch over us, I think of the kind people among us every day that we often overlook or take for granted. And sometimes, we recognize someone who is truly an angel among us and we know it. We cherish those people, people who are always trying to be positive, who are selfless for the ones they love, who make friends easy because of who they are and not who they know.
I lost my big sister, Melinda, to COVID on Dec. 17th. She was one of those people, an angel that walks among us. She was a loving mom and wife, a woman of faith that believed that God has a plan for all of us and was dedicated to her church. Faith, family and freedom was not a slogan for her, it was a way of life. Now, she was always a faithful woman and an awesome big sister and was nice to her little brother, well tolerated me mostly, haha. She battled cancer a few years ago, a very aggressive kind. Fortunately they caught it early, but the treatments were rough. Very rough! But as a family we all get by because we can lean on each other in times of stress and worry. I watched that sweet gal cry many times, so suddenly and unexpected (sometimes before a chemo treatment, sometimes after). It always caught me off guard, the deep fear and pain and worry. Not for her own life. Not at all, not even in those moments of battling cancer, not even when her hair had fallen out. Nope. Not her. She knew that the treatments she was going through would be devastating to her immune system. She did what she had to do. In those moments of fear and tears, she just wanted to live long enough to see her kids grown. She didn’t kick cancer’s ass for her sake, she did it for theirs. And for her family. She leaves behind a daughter aged 24, and a son aged 18 that will graduate high school this year, and her husband–her high school sweetheart.
One reason I’m writing this is because so many people have reached out to ask what happened. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to have that personal conversation with everyone. It is personal, and one on one. But things move so fast during times like this that it probably sometimes comes across as rude not to share more than a brief sentence or two on a text or email, or a post on social media. And that is never the intention, and we’ve all probably been there. The other reason I guess I’m writing this is because maybe I need to for my sake. I’m not going to lie. Just typing this at my computer is gut wrenching. My eyes are burning from the hot tears that come and go. I’ve had to stop three times already. And still, how can I find the words to honor my sister properly? Maybe there aren’t words to do it. COVID came on quickly. She was diagnosed on a Tuesday and was gone on Thursday afternoon. She was stolen, like a thief in the night, or at least that’s how it feels. The same feelings I guess we’ve all felt before when I loved one dies has welled up in my heart…Why? Why not me instead of her? This isn’t fair!
And all of that is true. But Melinda lived a life that was an example and she’d probably smack the taste from mouth if she could whenever I ask that. Life is exactly the time we’re given, and we only have so long to try to make a difference in whatever way we can. Some people make a difference in big things. You know, like helping start a foundation and trying to change the community. (*Check, she and I started a small nonprofit—managed to give out a couple of local scholarships, held a small festival for local artists to promote their work. Nothing major, just small ball stuff, but it maybe made a difference to someone.) But the joys of life aren’t in the heavy lifting and I guess that lesson really burned in during her time fighting cancer. Burned in, bad choice of words there, but you get my point. I have two older sisters, and a brother (that I met for the first time just a few years ago). Growing up we had the usual sibling squabbles, like everyone else. But I can honestly say that they are two of my best friends. Always have been. They both share a similar quality…life isn’t about the big things. It’s the small things that matter the most. As for Melinda, I have more memories than I’ll ever be able to talk or write about.
When I was at that “annoying little brother” stage and wanted to go to a rock concert but too young to drive, but barely old enough to go…guess who insisted on taking her little brother along on the date to go see Huey Lewis and the News back in the late 80’s (and I’m sure the date didn’t really like that idea! She later married that date, heh!). Yep, my big sis Melinda insisted on dragging me along to that show and countless others over the years. We shared a love of similar music, movies, and yes…politics. She’d gotten more involved on that front in recent years on social media and even touched the lives of folks she’s never had the chance to even give a hug. She truly adored some of those folks. And she hugged everyone! She was a hugger. And a listener. And a patriot. And a volunteer. I wish those on social media that hadn’t met her personally could have had a chance to know her like I knew her.
I used to joke with her after she finished her cancer treatments. I went to every single one of them with her. Every radiation treatment. Every chemo treatment. I’d tell her that she was tough, too tough that even cancer ran away. She didn’t even miss a day of work through all of this. She loved her students and she loved her co-workers. I’d tell Melinda that she was my favorite superhero for beating cancer, for being strong, for living a life of example. She still is, and always will be.
Melinda is walking on better shores tonight. She’s in a better place and perfectly healthy. Maybe she’ll even spot our dad out there somewhere and they can have a few laughs together. After all, that’s about what ninety percent of our family gatherings are. Ninety percent laughter and ten percent good company and good food. She’ll be missed. I’m thankful that we could borrow this angel down here for the short time we had her. So if there is a message she’d want me to tell others that are reading this…go hug someone you love, make sure you tell them how important they are, lift up others, fight for what’s right in this world. There is overwhelming beauty in a world that sometimes seems so ugly. Be that light. Shine brightly.