It will be one year tomorrow since you died.
This is what I've realized and learned within the past years journey...
You were the most vibrant, full of life and loving person I'd ever met. Strong and strong willed, yet shy and withdrawn into your shell when frightened. Hard working and honest to a fault. Intelligent, creative and insightful. Affectionate and kind, quick to laugh, sweet natured, but with a wicked sense of humor. Generous and beautiful both inside and out. Most of all, you lived life to its fullest from the first time I met you.
Cancer changed your ability to live life the way you wanted. It was a shock, physically and emotionally, to comprehend the changes happening so quickly. You were thrown into a tailspin of hospitals and treatments all the while dealing with your own mortality. You found a way to deal with the changes in your body and found a way to adjust to a life in which you had so little control. Sad and frightened in the beginning you slowly found a way to fight, a way to endure, a way to accept and finally a way to let go. You rarely complained, despite the pain. You drew from an inner strength and faith I could only admire. The peace, acceptance and pure love in your eyes during your last days reassured me I could let go too.
I was a very different person before I met you. Closed off from myself and most of the world, not confident and not very happy. Our relationship changed me. I learned how to live, how to truly enjoy each day and appreciate what we shared. I grew into someone I could finally live with and for the first time, finally happy too. You brought out the best in me. When you were diagnosed with cancer it was devastating. The very thing I most feared was happening, unfolding before my eyes and there was no stopping it. I became a warrior, a caregiver, a nurse, I fought doctors and insurance companies and anyone who stood in the way of you getting better. I gave myself completely to the fight and became someone I didn't know existed inside me. I kept fighting until your eyes told me to stop.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
And now a year has passed. I'm not the same person I was before I met you. I'm not the same person I was before you were diagnosed. I'm not the person I was the day you died a year ago. I'm someone I didn't know existed inside me. Losing you was so hard, but the experience and the good I've gleaned from it has made me stronger and wiser. Our friends and family have carried me when I couldn't walk. Your memory and my willingness to honor it has pushed me forward when I was afraid. Strangers have found me, through this blog or through my art and left me messages of profound love and encouragment. I didn't do this alone. These connections and conversations woven with others is what sustained and taught me the most these past months. I've learned life is still worth living and joy is still possible. There are times of deep sadness, but I'm slowly healing and learning my heart is bigger than I thought. A little scarred, but bigger.
I'm finding ways to gently pack up the memories, find a place to keep them, find a way to honor and draw strength from them. They're gifts you and the life we shared have given me. I need to find a way to move forward with my own life now and I know, because we talked about it many times after you became ill, you would want me to do nothing less. You wanted me to find a way to be happy again. You brought me home, here to New Orleans, because you knew I needed a place to grow. I've felt your guidance, sensed your presence and honored your memory as best I could. Somehow, I knew I couldn't let either of us down.
You taught me a year ago how to accept, to let go, to find peace. Today I understand.
Dear sweet Ellen, I will always miss your laughter.