Today would be your 28th birthday. You left us last year shortly after you turned 27. Your birthday always marked the beginning of the time during the year I always said was my favourite period. Because for 53 or 54 days, until my birthday in March, we were only one year apart. I remember thinking it was pretty stupid to take so much pleasure out of being so close in age. Maybe it was because I often dislike winter, and it gave me an excuse to get excited about something at a time during the year when the new and shiny-ness of fall and winter had worn thin. When it was no longer fun to wear my fall wardrobe, and instead just a convenient way to hide the extra holiday pounds behind turtlenecks…
But in hindsight I feel like somehow I knew that I would only ever get to have 27 1/2 of those periods with you, when we were one year apart, and I wanted to hold onto each one so badly. I turned 29 just under a month after your accident, when you left us. I didn’t think of it at the time as I was still too numb. But now that I am looking at 30 this year, it feels so wrong that my age will continue to increase, while yours stays forever fixed at 27.
Today would be your 28th birthday. Your first birthday when I won’t be able to call you and sing you a stupid birthday song in a Ren And Stimpy voice, or maybe the song from the Simpsons (Sis-ter it’s your birth-dayyyyy, ha-ppy birth-day Sis-terrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!).
I remember some years when you were disappointed because no one felt like celebrating on your birthday. January 13th falls in the odd lull when everyone is all partied out from December. Their bodies and wallets nursing a hangover from a month of parties and presents. I think over the years you adjusted your expectations. But one of my regrets is not making a bigger deal of your birthday when you were here. Throwing parties isn’t really my thing, that was always your area of expertise as our mini-Martha. But I wish I could have made you feel as special on your birthday as you always made me feel on mine. And that stings, especially today.
When I remember the subdued way you almost endured your birthday, it smarts all the more because you are also the person who threw absolutely everything you had into celebrating other people’s birthdays.
There are so many of my birthdays that you made special. Like my 25th when you threw me my first ever surprise party… And was I EVER surprised!!! And my 26th when you bough us tickets to see the Legally Blonde musical playing at the Orpheum and we sang “Gay or European” for months afterwards. You also made me a chocolate raspberry cheesecake, which in itself was an inside joke! So many birthdays made special for me, simply by your presence.
Your friend Katryna sent me this message on my birthday last year. It sums you up perfectly:
“I remember for my 20th birthday, I was working at the pool and Carley convinced me to go with her across the street to Mahoney’s for a drink afterwards. What I didn’t know was that she had planned a surprise birthday party for me. I walked into the bar and saw a table full of my friends, a Tinkerbell themed birthday banner, home made cupcakes, party hats, and presents. I honestly had no clue. That was the first and best surprise birthday I’ve had.
Another time, I was working the early morning shift with Carley and Natasha. It was Natasha’s birthday, so Carley found colored construction paper and made birthday party hats out of them for all of us to wear… Then she insisted we wore them the entire shift. I tried taking mine off at one point and was given a glare so expecting and demanding that I slunk back to the guard room to put it back on my head. I don’t think Natasha has ever had so many strangers wish her a happy birthday before. It was quite entertaining.
And yet, as much as Carley seemed to love celebrating other people’s birthdays, she never really planned anything to celebrate her own. In fact, she seemed to avoid celebrating it every year. I never really got a straight answer about that. I like to think it sums up the way she was: always caring for other people first. I wonder what her reaction would have been to a surprise birthday party.”
Today would be your 28th birthday. And it is also the day that Katryna leaves for South America on a trip partially inspired by you, and I know you will be there with her. She says in her travel blog, “[w]hile this trip is primarily for me, it is also for you, Carley. I will make it to the top of Machu Picchu, I will raft down the Amazon river, I will attend Carnival in Rio, I will explore the Atacama desert, I will board the sand dunes and visit the salt mines of Bolivia, and I will learn the tango and drink locally grown wines in Argentina. Because, simply, I can.”
[Here is Katryna’s blog, and specifically the entry where she talks about the part Carley played in her decision to stretch her wings and travel the world: http://journals.worldnomads.com/kat617/story/125278/Canada/Because-I-can. I’ll definitely be following it closely :)]
Today would be your 28th birthday. And along the same lines as Katryna setting off on her adventure, I want to tell you about some of the other good that has come, in the just over 11 months since you left us:
1. You graduated from the University of British Columbia posthumously with a Bachelor of Kinesiology. I had the honour of crossing the stage to a standing ovation to receive your degree.
On the trip down I also got to spend more time with Gramma then I have in a long time! Me, Mom, and Gramma took a road trip together to Vancouver for your degree presentation. Three generations of us women… I know what you are thinking ;p We stayed with Cathy. I love that lady, and late night shenanigans. You can only imagine…
2. The inaugural “Carley ‘Kitty’ Rosaline Kennedy Leadership Award for Aboriginal Students” was created in your memory on your faculty’s initiative!! Can you believe that!!?? An endowment now stands in perpetuity to help others continue the work you began with raising awareness around Aboriginal health issues. This year the outstanding recipient, and leader in the field is your friend, Willow. Mom proudly presented the award to Willow in November, and there was not a dry eye during Dr. Warburton’s speech in your honour.
3. Losing your presence has affected me profoundly. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect on whether I was living to the fullest. I felt it was important to find a way to incorporate building our dream of opening a healthy fast-food restaurant into my life. Do you remember all of the emails back-and-forth between us when we were talking about our longer-term goal of doing this together? Well, I put those to good use when I formulated my initial business plan for our idea, and eventually decided to open a Freshii franchise with Davin. We are on track to open in late spring/early summer of this year. That is one hell of a 30th birthday present, and it wouldn’t have happened without your nudges. Again, you make my birthdays so special Sister ❤
I still have difficulty dealing with my emotions (what’s new!). But I have spent a lot of time since your accident examining how I feel about your passing. I’ll tell you more about it when I have more to say. But for the time being, you will be happy to know that I don’t hide from my emotions. When I am sad, I let myself be sad, and cry. As someone who at times has acted allergic to emotions (yeah yeah, I can hear you laughing at my emotionally stunted self…),that’s positive, and all prompted by you!! 🙂
I am trying to learn from you and have more “spirit” to celebrate around the holidays. Davin and I carved pumpkins for Halloween this year. And I even made you, me, Davin, Mom, Randy, and Davin’s parents Christmas stockings. That’s right. I said MADE. Like with a sewing machine and everything!
Also, I now accept your proposition that red onions are NOT a perfect, less expensive substitute for shallots. Also, not a scam: paprika. You win on both fronts. So you would consider that very positive in the development of my pallet, which normally will just drown anything in yellow mustard and call it a day…
4. Besides the fact that Mom is sad a vast majority of the time, she is doing so well. You would be very proud of her Car. We have always known that she is a force of nature. You and I have often marvelled at her intelligence and beauty. And just how lucky we were to get her as our mom, with the unwavering love and support that goes out to all of her friends, but especially us as her daughters.
For so many years she was “Libby and Carley’s Mom”. Your accident has been so devastating for us. But out of the ashes is climbing a woman who is unstoppable, and I swear can move planets!! She says that if she can endure this, she can do anything, and I believe her. I see her everyday claim more of herself as Rose. While I know she wishes it didn’t take a life altering experience like your accident, and would happily go back to being just our mom, if it meant having you here… she is different now. And it is so good! This year she read the Mother’s Prayer during the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle-Lighting Ceremony. A support group she joined for grieving parents. And we all lit candles along with her in your honour. [https://www.compassionatefriends.org/home.aspx]
5. Dad has found a wonderful outlet to share his love for you on Facebook. His posts are always bang-on, I know you would love them.
6. Your personal Facebook page is now set to a memorial status. It, along with the WeLoveCarley page continues to be littered with everything cat, tea, baking/cupcake, and awesome-party related. Because lets face it, your parties are the best.
And the WeLoveCarley group on Facebook remains such a wonderful place where we can all go to share memories. Your friends from Vancouver made it for you, and I am so thankful for it. I get so much comfort out of it, and I absolutely LOVE all of your friends! I can’t believe I didn’t meet so many of them until after your accident. They have done so much for me and mom and I am extraordinarily proud of you for choosing to surround yourself with such amazing, grade-A people. Just to name a few of the many special things: they have given us a book full of “Secret Saturdays” they wrote, pictures of you doing your lifeguard duty, notes your little students wrote saying how great a swim coach you were, and awards you won. They also raised money to go towards the cost of your funeral. I am literally blown away, and humbled by their kindness and love for you.
7. And on the subject of your friends, so many of them came to your funeral when we laid a portion of your ashes with the earth as I know you would have wanted. Your friends and our family came from all over BC, and aunty Karen came from Ottawa. Everyone packed into squished carpools, took Greyhounds and flew. Just for you Car.
Many have remarked, and I share the belief, that there is significance in you leaving us on Family Day in B.C. In the days following your accident, our family really needed help to honour you properly with your funeral. Nothing could have prepared us for that shock, and it is only with family, friends, and community that we were able to put together a ceremony fitting your high expectations! We had family we had not seen in years, show up on our doorstep. Cousins Rosanne and Monica literally took reins, and worked so hard to make your last Fancy Hat party come true. Community members made sure that you had drummers to help your spirit reach it’s next destination. Jackie, Nancy, Ken and Harper made sure there was food. And Cherie was the ever constant level voice in my ear helping me through. In short, it was a true family and community effort. So as in life, you went out bringing people together, uniting family and friends, and re-kindling friendships where the bonds had grown dormant over time.
You should have seen your funeral service! Standing room only in the little Coyboy Church at Head of the Lake. I know that you are protected and safe where you are laid to rest next to Great-Gramma (also a tea lady, I know you two have shared a fews cups o’tea already), Great-Grampa, Uncles and Aunts. And it is exactly where you should be. With our ancestors, overlooking Okanagan Lake where we spent so many summers as kids (the invisible Barbies are coming!!!!), and the beautiful weeping willow tree we love so much. Mom keeps your gravesite so beautiful with everything that you love. We have finally decided on a headstone, and that will be something I can tell you about next year 😀
Car, Davin also gave you an absolutely beautiful eulogy. I know you would have loved it and felt so special!! 😀 He captured your essence perfectly, and I am so proud of you for giving him such great material to work with! He spoke for our family, before we were able to find our voice. I know you are proud to have him as your brother. And his mom and dad came for support, and I feel so fortunate to have found a family as loving and supportive as ours in them. And they found new friends in your Ilonka and Claude!
And Davin, always my rock, walked our family through the difficult period following your accident. He dealt with all of the technical, and very difficult aspects of the aftermath following your accident. Originally they told us that we would not be able to view your body. But Mom and I really wanted to see you, to hold your hand. He was insistent in his gentle, yet firmly persuasive manner and found a way to make it happen. You were wrapped in beautiful white cloth, with only your perfect hands exposed so that we could hold your hand one last time. That was such a healing process for me. To be able to sit with you, cry with you, hold your hand, and know that you were alright and where you were supposed to be as difficult as it is for those of us left behind.
Angie came to stay with us for a week following the funeral. The timing was perfect as there was so much activity leading up to your funeral. And then a sort of lull. But we still didn’t want to be alone. She was such a healing, wonderful presence and helped us perform a few beautiful ceremonies on a more private level with just the three of us (and you of course) 🙂
8. Then your friends held another memorial for you in Vancouver the week following your ceremony in Vernon. The turnout was amazing, and I cherish the pictures. It looked like a party you would have been proud of, complete with dinosaur paraphernalia and cupcakes (of course…)!
9. We also held a sunset ceremony for you at your favourite place to go running while in University, Spanish Banks. We let a small portion of your ashes go into the Pacific ocean at sunset on the Summer Solstice to signify the sun setting on this portion of your soul’s journey. Again, the turnout was amazing, and you couldn’t have given us a more perfect sunset. In all of the pictures from the evening we can see little orbs of light perched on our shoulders. Call it what you will, but I like to think that these are the camera picking up flashes of your spirit there with us. Laurie brought beautiful white lei’s for you, me, and Mom. We let yours get taken by the tide while we played the ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow as the sun set, a song that will forever remind me of you.
So we committed your body to fire through cremation. We laid a portion of your ashes in the earth, with our ancestors, a portion of them were sent to the water with the sunset ceremony. And next time I am back in the Okanagan, Mom and I intend to hike up the Enderby Cliffs (your other favourite spot) to send a small portion of your ashes to the wind. We hope to do this at dawn, to symbolize the sun rising on your soul’s new journey. Fire, earth, water, wind. I think you would like it 🙂
And I would be loath to forget what Mom says is a VERY positive thing. We had planned to hike up the cliffs last time I was home in August. But the morning of the hike, at 3:30am (half hour before we were going to wake up to start hiking in order to be at the top for sunrise) it started to POUR rain! To the point that it actually woke us up. Now Mom may be aparently able to move planets and stuff now… But she is still hella afraid of the dark. And the lions and tigers and bears on the mountain!!! Hah!!! You should a seen her face! I have never seen her so freaking happy as when it started to rain, and thwart my plan to to strap a bear-bell to her, give her a flashlight, and send her up those damn cliffs 😀 Haha! So THAT is very positive in her mind!
10. We gave away the last batch of wine and kahlua you bottled to our friends and family. There have been many toasts in your honour this year. I am saving mine, for now at least 🙂
11. Kristie and Paigy now find themselves looking up crazy cat pictures online, even though they don’t like cats. Because that reminds them of you. And now, despite my lack of affection for cats, I too am a cat-picture enthusiast. You would be proud. Three converts to the dark side!
Also Kristers is having a baby!!! Can you believe it!? Whether it’s a boy or girl is going to be a surprise, but the due date is March 1st. Another spring baby, and you bet I am gearing for a March 5th delivery date!
12. Kimmy continues to keep her priorities straight. With regular Supernatural binges in honour of her Carley-Car, periodic procrastination, and sporadic “Secret Saturday’s”, often on Sunday, or Wednesday. She does what she wants!! 🙂 She and Peter bought a house! I know, certified adults now! I know you would be so happy for them, and for the amazing, loving kind person Kimmy continues to be.
13. Meg is engaged! She has been so supportive, of course. She fills the intellectual void that is left without you to challenge my mind.
14. Heather and Jeff moved to Saskatoon and Heather received her doctorate degree!
15. Speaking of degrees awarded this year, Ed completed his!!! And his Facebook feed continues to be a bastion of intellectually stimulating debate on Facebook. I know you eat that up, Car!
16. Maxwell and Alex continue to be fabulous. It is an art as well as a science. They moved into a Swanky apartment in Yaletown. I know you would have loved going to parties at their new place.
17. You have inspired Kyle to reach new heights in his climbing, he feels you with him cheering him on to be his best. And he and Lucas remind us of your wonderful eclectic taste in movies and music. You are also with us all in our dreams 🙂
18. Christine, Queen-of-France, and Bryce got married! Her last fitting for her wedding dress was in the middle of a camping trip. So as she puts it “Why not bring the fanciest gown you will ever own with you camping! Today I will be dressed up for life!”… She also does what she wants. 😀
19. Victoria’s dad hand carved Mom the most beautiful Raven! It is so beautiful Car and I know how much Mom cherishes it. Besides that SO many of your friends have sent both of us hand written letters, emails, and notes on Facebook, telling us about the difference you made in their life, and why they were fortunate to know you. You are amazing Sister, and inspired people wherever you went!
20. Yelena had her little baby girl and she is such a beautiful mother! Her baby’s name is Kenley. They chose the name as a combination of your last name, Kennedy, and the name of her father-in-law, Lee. Such an extremely wonderful tribute to you, and Kenley is so adorable!
21. And now Mom will be celebrating your birthday at your favourite Italian restaurant, Andiamo, where Mom took you for your last birthday. It was the last place you two held hands and I remember you telling me how much fun you had! Remember when the owner serenaded you!?? Hah! We will see if mom and the rest of the ladies get serenaded tonight! She will be surrounded by wonderful friends, as she always is 🙂
So much good has come to pass in the just over 11 months since you left us, directly and indirectly because of how you chose to live your life. You lived in a kind, generous, unconventional, crazy, wonderful manner that touched people spanning many walks of life. You had a way of connecting with people the moment you met them, and unlike many of us, had few barriers but took no BS. You lived as your true self. And anybody who doesnt like that, be damned! And for that and so much more, I am extremely proud of you.
Today is your 28th birthday. Solely because you are not physically here with us, does not mean that you cease to exist. You exist in all of the good that you did during your life. In all of the people that you touched, and continue to impact.
So today is your 28th birthday. And I am 29. Today begins the time during the year that is my favourite because we are only one year apart for the next 54 days. And I’ll be 30 this year. I know you will be there with me. Singing me stupid birthday songs in a Ren and Stimpy voice, or maybe the one from the Simpsons.
I love you Sister. Happy 28th birthday!!!!
**I know that I have left so much out. Please feel free to add whatever great events or storeys you feel like sharing 🙂