Their voices are like echoes – one speaks and you wonder which body it belongs to. Their humor coordinates and though each has a slightly different take on the world, they understand each other and laughter comes easy.
I was born into a family run mostly by women; strong, sweet, funny, brilliant women. My great grandmother, Betty, had one gorgeous, blue-eyed beauty she called Carole during World War II and then didn’t have any others for almost 20 years. Carole gave birth to her daughter Tracey just a couple years after Betty gave birth to Beth and Becky. And then 25 years later Tracey had me.
In and out of crises, The Women get themselves to each other. They make it to the big stuff – surgeries, kids graduating, births – but they also do holidays, they send packages, they play Bunco. Carole learned how to use an iPhone in her 70s. They are inseparable in love even when divided by land. I’ve witnessed this my whole life: when one has a need they all meet it. They rally. They show up. My grandmother, my mother, my aunts are on each other’s team. Across years and distance and generations they built a sisterhood for me to toddle into.
Being the firstborn of my generation, I had no example of what it looked like for me to go from girl to woman, but I carefully watched The Women. I took lessons on fashion from Becky, watched Kelli wear motherhood for the first time, learned about the world from Beth, picked up hospitality skills from Carole, and got everything else from Tracey.
At 18 I walked awkwardly down the aisle and didn’t feel as I’d expected; marriage didn’t make me a part of them. At family gatherings I felt unsure of my place – the oldest kid or the youngest adult? My role had always been the guardian of my cousins, the leader of our games, the mediator of their spats while the adults talked and laughed around the fireplace or kitchen island. I shuffled along in shoes too big for a while and tried to find my in. I had my own children and that helped – there is some natural clout that comes with motherhood – but I still felt in-between. Still warmed well by our quilt, but I wanted to help with the stitching.
When Tracey was diagnosed with cancer The Women made shirts, they bought plane tickets, they sent care packages. She fought the cancer with courage and humor and incredible strength, but after 20 months it took her.
Tracey was the cheerleader, the brave optimist, the firm believer. Those 20 months, while awful, were a masterpiece to the kind of life she lived and the way she inspired others. She handled the unimaginable with grace, humor, courage, and hope. She brought us together and reminded us that the most important thing is Love – both in her attitude and in her directions to take care of each other.
And quietly, in the shadows of the action, she inaugurated me into The Women.
Through many visits and extended stays, through FaceTime calls into doctor’s appointments, through hand-holding at bad news, my mother ushered me in. Alongside my grandmother and aunts, I made insurance calls, I coordinated appointments, I set up meal trains. I had the incredible honor of getting to show up, too. I walked confidently on paths they had set before me. Carole and I stayed up long after the kids went to bed and ate Salt and Vinegar chips while watching Hallmark movies. We talked weighty and trivial, laughed and cried over glasses of wine. I learned I’m a lot like Becky – we bonded over talking about the scary stuff, the things not everybody can talk about in the middle of a crisis. We indulged in bad attitudes and sour language and then laughed at ourselves for it.
Tracey’s strength and generosity allowed us to walk her through the last months of her life. The Women stood up, I among them, and carried one of our own. My mother gave me many gifts, not the least of which this legacy. I found my place in it and learned that losing Tracey would not mean fully losing her. She’s still here in Beth’s laugh, in Kelli’s faith, in Carole’s open arms, in Becky’s sarcasm. And I wonder if my daughter will hear her voice in mine.
In the interest of getting to know my reader (that’s you) better, I want to start doing some polls. I am taking a cue from Blair over at The Shameful Sheep – you should definitely go read her blog because it’s hilarious and awesome. And I do not know her personally so this is not a winky plug, I just like her stuff.