I met Rachel when she came to visit the Beta Sigma Phi sorority group that I was a member of. Beta Sigma Phi is a non-academic sorority with chapters all over the world. It was really a way for women to get together and do stuff that women love doing...the main thing was talking and laughing! We also did fundraisers and were were involved in charity activities.
The main thing that I remember about Rachel back then was her contagious smile. She was always super friendly and always more concerned about everyone around her then she was about her self. And I remember her talking about her girls and her husband Dave. All nice things, of course! She loved her daughters Danielle and Hannah so much and always included them in conversation.
Rachel and I connected in some way that I just don't think I could ever adequately explain. We talked about our families and our plans for the future. She shared her intense desire for a third child and I shared my history of infertility and treatments that we had gone through to add to our family. It was around this time, that my husband and I conceived twins via invitro fertilization. We were ecstatic to know that we were going to have twins. And Rachel shared that joy with me...in spite of her own personal longing for a new little baby of her own.
Being pregnant with twins was about the time that I became a really bad sorority sister, missing meetings and events and not being able to follow through with my duties. I loved being a part of the group. I loved the ladies that were in my chapter...but I just didn't have the time/energy to be a part of such an organized group with officers and group minutes and required fund raising events. Our chapter was also experiencing growing pains so it just seemed like time to focus on my family vs my social life.
Rachel and I continued to stay in contact even though we were no longer in sorority. I used to volunteer at the Yates YMCA and I encouraged her to apply for the part time job they had. She got the job and ended up loving it. And over the years of my on-again, off-again membership there I would always stop to see if Rachel was in.
I found out I was pregnant again in the fall of 2004. It was completely unexpected since we didn't actually visit the Florida Institute for Reproductive Medicine for conception like we had for our twins. Rachel again shared my joy. And it wasn't too much longer that she found out that she was pregnant, too! At this point, we didn't get a chance to spend much time with each other but we stayed in touch to compare our pregnancy joys and woes.
I gave birth to Nolan James, on May 6, 2005. Rachel gave birth to her baby, Sophia, somewhere around that same time but I'm not sure of the exact date.
When Nolan was 6 weeks old, he died. He was a perfectly healthy baby who was a perfect addition to our family and he just stopped breathing on the night of June 17th, 2005, another tiny victim of SIDS. That was the day that my world crashed around me and I ceased to exist. No, I was still here but there was nothing about me that was the same. EVERY SINGLE THING in my life changed because I changed, even the minutest thing ran through my new 'Nolan' filter and the world was no longer the happy, safe place I knew. I learned that I was not protected from tragedy. I suddenly started to hate the God that I had known and loved since I was a child. My God, a god of fairness and mercy and a prayer answerer, would have listened to my prayers and the prayers of the strangers in the emergency room that night and he would have saved my son. He choose not to do anything...and that made me angry, very angry for a long time.
I think I used to be a lot more like Rachel in my years before Nolan's death. I always had a smile and I was definitely a glass is half full kind of gal. After his death, I lost friends. I know that many people don't know what to say when someone loses a loved one...so they sort of withdraw and don't say anything. Or they are afraid that you will cry when you talk to them. The funny thing is that crying is actually the best thing. It releases those intense feelings and then leaves you sort of empty so that you can continue living.
Rachel was not afraid to reach out to me. I will never forget how she came to visit me during the darkest time of my life, in the weeks immediately after Nolan's death. She brought us lunch, Chinese food, and she also had newborn Sophia with her. We talked and cried and cried some more. Somehow, just opening her heart and crying with me allowed her to take some of my pain. At some point, she asked me if I wanted to hold Sophia. I mean, who would do that? Put a newborn baby in a grieving mother's arms? But somehow, with Rachel and with Sophia, it *was* OK. Sophia was so teeny tiny compared to my chunk. And she had a ton of dark hair, unlike my almost bald blondie. She was just beautiful and I rejoiced in her...in spite of my own sadness and longing.
And then life just continued. I was learning how to survive me new cruel reality. We eventually had another baby, Lily.
On June 15th, 2007, I took my children to Chick-Fil-A. It was just 2 days away from the second anniversary of Nolan's death so he was on my mind. A lady was there with 5-6 kids herself. I saw a lady with a t-shirt that had pink footprints so I immediately assumed it was another loss mom and I got up the nerve to ask her about her shirt. It turns out that it was something related to being a sign language interpreter. While this conversation was taking place, one of the girls looked at me and asked me if I was her mom's friend. It was Hannah, one of Rachel's daughters! I told her I was and I immediately asked how her mom was doing. Hannah looked at me, frozen with indecision. I could tell that she was trying to figure out what to tell me. She looked away and mumbled something about her mom being at the doctor.
I called Rachel immediately and found out that she was at the hospital, getting a chemo treatment for breast cancer. I felt the air sucked out of me. She told me that her cancer was spread to several locations and was considered to be between a 3 and a 4. I recall these details because I wrote about our encounter in my journal.
I am so sad that Rachel spent the last 2 years of her life fighting cancer and that she didn't make it. Yet again, it makes me angry that God didn't swoop in and intervene. I love Rachel and although I am sad about the loss of my good friend, I am heartbroken over the separation of Rachel and her daughters. They need her. It's unfair for them to continue life without the mother who loved them so much.
I have regret that I didn't get to do much to help Rachel during her battle. I was busy raising my 5 children and she was busy raising her girls...and fighting the blasted cancer. We visited a few times and we talked to each other on the phone from time to time. I was deeply honored when I got to watch Sophia while Rachel went to a couple doctor appointments recently. But again it was not enough.
Rachel died on Wednesday, May 6th, on Nolan's birthday. What a strange coincidence. I can't help but think there is some connection. In my mind, it's Rachel's way of telling me that she will be looking after Nolan once she gets to heaven. I don't know exactly what heaven will be like but I do get a tiny bit of peace at the thought of Rachel sitting in a grand rocking chair and holding my youngest son and giving him the blessing of her great smile and her loving manner.