Today would have been my niece Jody’s 50th birthday. There would have been fanfare. There would have been celebration. There would have been hugs and kisses and great joy…but there isn’t.
Jody didn’t make it to her milestone 50th birthday…49 is all this world allowed her….oh and what a time I’ve had this week missing her.
For you long time blog readers, you know some of the back story with Jody. For those of you don’t, let me tell you.
Jody came into my life, 50 years ago. I was four in May of 1970 when she was born to my sister Judy and her husband George. My sister was the oldest in the family with me the youngest and a span of 16 years between us. My sister always felt more of an aunt to me…and Jody, she felt like my little sister.
I didn’t meet Jody right away. It was the early 70s. The Vietnam War was on and George was in the service. They were stationed in Biloxi Mississippi when Jody was born…then in Maine when their next kid Jeremy was born. Shortly after that, George was sent to Thailand and Judy and kids moved into a mobile home on my parents farm. It was then that Jody and I really forged a relationship that spanned her whole life. She must have been about 3 or 4 years old and me around 7. We became inseparable. That’s me reading the book.
We spent so much time outdoors playing. Dolls were our favorite. We would drag every doll we had between the two of us outside and we played and played. We made houses on my parents front porch. We rode bikes. We made houses in the trees. We had forts behind the chicken house. If the weather was nice, we were outside playing. That’s me in the back then Jody and her brother Jeremy.
I would be at their house and stay for supper. She’d be at our house and we’d be playing. If the weather was bad we were inside playing school in the “play school” my mom set up for us…or we’d play Barbies. We were together all the time.
That’s me in the red. Jody has the pigtails and Johanna, Jody’s little sister, is on my lap.
I was so happy when Jody was old enough to go to school and ride the bus with me but that was short lived. By this time George was back from the service and working in a nearby town. Jody’s younger sister Johanna came along by then too. When Johanna was about a year old, George got laid off and was looking for work. Sadly, he took a job near Mason City Iowa and that meant mine and Jody’s long days of playing and hanging out every day were over. Jody and my sister’s family moved off the farm and the mobile home was sold.
What a change in my world. My little “sister” (niece) wasn’t there anymore.
I vividly remember counting down the days until they were coming for a visit. Jody would sleep in my bed with me…the little sleeping we did. We spent so much of the night talking and chatting like we were having a big kid slumber party. We talked about boys we liked, being frustrated with our parents, the ills of brothers, clothes, fashion….everything. She was my confidant. She was my safe person. She was the person who knew me best.
Jody’s family came for visits once a month at first….then George’s job changed again. This time it took him to Cedar Rapids Iowa…and that was much further away. Now the car trip was a 4 hour ride and gradually the trips happened less. Jody was in school- as were the next two siblings and then the family grew so there were two more brothers. The changes of life made it harder for them to come home…and me, I was a teenager by now.
Summer’s were a sanctuary for Jody and I. Jody came for weeks at a time then and we were back to our usual selves. There weren’t dolls anymore but there were those late night talks lying in bed both of us trying so hard to catch each other up on all the things we had missed while we were apart.
By the time I was in college and had met Kramer, Jody was having typical teenage angst at home. She wanted to date someone and my sister and her husband said no. She had other grievances and decided to run away. Who did she run to, me. She caught a bus. At one of the stops along the way she called me and told me to meet her at the bus station in my town. I did. I was the person she could trust. I was the person she thought understood her best…she ran to me.
After that all got resolved, our lives took a bit of turn…before long I was getting married and having babies…she was headed to college in Texas. We were both at a drifting stage..though we drifted because of life circumstances, me rushing into adulthood and her enjoying college years, we still wrote letters and stayed in touch.
Jody was a quilter before I was. She made this quilt for me for my wedding present.
About four years after I married, Jody got married to a guy she met at college. After her wedding, she moved to Georgia. Then our relationship moved to phone calls. I would talk with her for hours. Although close, life circumstances made some things hard. I was hunkered down deep into motherhood. I had five kids…Jody, she was struggling with infertility. She was married 10 years before they had kids and when they did, it was triplets.
Needless to say, life circumstances had us drifting even more. But hour long phone calls kept us close and the bonds we had way back from childhood held us tight and never allowed us to drift far away in spirit.
Fast forward again- Jody and her husband David along with the triplets moved back to Iowa. I was so happy. What a blessing to have her closer. Again, our individual families had us both in the thick of our own lives. By now Jody added two more boys to her brood and me, I was chasing around and chauffeuring my own five kids.
Through it all, no matter what, Jody always made time for me. She always called. She always sent notes. She always loved on me just like the little sister she was to me.
In 2013, Jody got some of the worst news. After a routine mammogram, she found out that she had breast cancer. At the time it wasn’t thought to be much. It was considered stage 0. At the time, I didn’t even know stage 0 was such a thing. But after surgery, they discovered there was more cancer than they thought and the doctor’s recommended a double mastectomy. Sadly, this was the first but not the last bad news she got from a doctor regarding breast cancer.
I have no idea how but Jody did all she could do to live for her family. At times over the next six years, doctors and tests would lead her to believe her cancer was in remission….that she was cancer free, but two more times, cancer reared its ugly head. Jody always handled it with grace and dignity, never doing what so many of us would do asking “why me?”. Jody always countered “why not me?”.
In 2016, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, who was my biggest support?….Hands down it was Jody. She didn’t come and visit…her busy life with the kids prevented that. But ALWAYS, ALWAYS she was there with a text or a call or a card checking up on me. She was my safe person. She was the one I could talk cancer to and she got it. She knew what a PET scan was…she knew what tumor markers were. She knew the feeling of uncertainty. I could talk about every crazy thing that enters the mind of a cancer patient. She was my girl.
For a short while, we both had clean bills of health….but in the October of 2018, my cancer numbers started to flair. Who was my support? Jody- always just a text away. Always.
Then in November Jody got the news that her cancer, despite all the experimental medications she was on to prevent it from returning, had in deed returned. I was devastated. This was the third round of it. Why oh why did it have to come back? It was some of the worst news ever for me. Jody, always the trooper, said, “I guess we’ll do this together”.
Two months later we got the news that Kramer, my husband, had lung cancer. How can this be? Me and the two biggest supports in my life all were dealing with cancer…and who was my support. Again, Jody.
At first, things with Jody didn’t seem bad….but over the months while Kramer was dying, little did I know that this time, Jody wouldn’t make it through either.
Jody spent a lot of time in bed with this round of cancer. The treatments were hard on her….but what was she busy doing?? Being a support to me and to Kramer. We weren’t in my double bed at my parent’s farm having a sleepover, but we were having so many of the same conversations but now the conversations involved our kids and for me, even grandkids-BUT this time, I was old enough and smart enough and had lived enough to know that we weren’t always going to be there for each other. At some point one of us would be left…and I feared it would be me.
The conversations we had were always about tests…her cancer test, Kramer’s cancer tests, my cancer tests. Everyone else in our lives were so sick of hearing about it all. So many people didn’t understand us. She was my safe haven. I could tell her anything. I could tell her I was afraid…I could tell her my worries. She got it all…and she never backed away. She never pushed me to feel happy when I wasn’t. Not once did she make me feel bad for not feeling strong.
Even though sick herself, she was one of Kramer’s and my biggest supporters even wearing a “Kramer Strong” shirt to her chemo treatment.
By the time Kramer died in June, Jody was going downhill. Her tests showed that although she was doing treatments, her cancer was actually growing. I started to really fear that this time, this cancer was too much for her. I feared I could lose both of my greatest supports all within the same few months.
I remember a conversation we had about her trying to get her siblings and all the kids together for a big hoorah at Wisconsin Dells. It was so important to her. I think she knew her time was coming. She wanted to make memories while she still could. Happily she got her wish and everyone spent the week together. That meant so much to her.
Much of her summer was spent in bed trying to be the mom she longed to be. As August came last year, Jody tried to rally and jump into all of her kids excitement over school starting but it got hard for her. I could tell by her text messages that her body wasn’t letting her mind do what it wanted. Then at the end of the month, her temperature spiked, and she landed herself into the hospital.
I went for a visit. Kelli and some of my other kids went to. For them, Jody was the cousin they likely knew best. She was glue to the family. She made a special effort to know and love them all. She made the special presents…she talked to them and made a point to always catch up with them. My kids all loved Jody.
As we drove away from the hospital that day, I told Kelli, she’s dying. I knew it. Kelli knew it. We both cried. I had seen Kramer going through the same thing Jody was only 3 1/2 months earlier. I felt the hugest weight on my chest knowing that I knew but also believing that her family didn’t know our days with Jody were numbered.
Jody made it home but that was only short lived. A few days later she was back in the hospital and this time, she wasn’t going to leave. I went to the hospital to see her on the Sunday before she passed. Earlier in the day I had texted with her. I told her I was coming and I told her, we were going to have the hard conversations.
She was sleeping a lot that day but still put on a smile when she saw me. She was still my same sweet little sister.
The doctor’s hadn’t told the family that Jody wasn’t going to get better. I knew they needed to know and requested that a doctor come and talk to the family. After they were told, one more person had to be told and that person was Jody. It was time for the hard conversation. I told her that the doctors said she’d likely only live a few more days. She needed to know. She needed a chance to say or do what she wanted. I knew she would only have a day or two that she would be able to communicate her wishes. Telling her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But wasn’t it fitting? We were both in bed…this time not the bed at my parents farm…this time it was her hospital bed. This time we were still talking about boys. Me telling her what a marvelous man she married and telling her he would take care of the kids. Me asking her to take care of Kramer when she got to where she was going. All of our best, most heartfelt, conversations happened in a bed.
I feel so blessed that I was there that with her. I feel so blessed that I was given the chance to tell her goodbye and tell her what a friend she had been to me. Although so hard, and so painful, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
She was the best mom. She was in the thick of everything the kids did always cheering them on and helping them the best she could.
She raised the best bunch of kids and she would be so proud to see them.
50 years ago, on this day I was only four when Jody was born. Little did I know on that day, that little baby niece of mine that was born, would be more like a sister to me. Little did know that she would be my biggest supports. Little did I know she would love me so much no matter what I did. Little did I know that cancer would shape the paths our lives took. Little did I know, she would pass before me and I’d be left missing her and the little part of me she took when she passed.
As sad as I am that she’s gone, I will forever be thankful that she was a part of my life. I can’t count the number of times I pick up my phone to text her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a picture with plans to send it to her and ask her opinion on thread colors for a quilt I’m longarming. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to text and ask how the kids are…or what she was busy with.
Every time I think of her part of me is a little sad…but it’s not for long because I know she’d hate that. She’d be sending me a card, or a text or little pick me up. She was always doing everything she could to be a comfort for me….so much so, that when I do get sad and am missing her, I can still feel that comfort from the many miles we are apart…and before long I’m back to those whispered conversations in the bed at my parents my house when we were just kids and didn’t know how big the world was or that the paths that cancer would one day lead us on. I’m so glad that my mind can take me back to days when we were both so innocent.
So Jode…thanks for the 49 1/2 years you were there for me playing the part of my little sister…I so wish you were here and we were celebrating your 50th today!! XO