Today I slept in. Normally, it would have been a luxury; to take a day off of work and just snuggle under the blankets. Not today though. This morning I lay there wondering how I would navigate what would have been Hilary’s twenty-eighth birthday and then come up for air long enough to dive back into grief two days later to acknowledge the second anniversary of her Homegoing.
Finally emerging from my bed, I saw the sunshine creeping through the split in my curtains. Bittersweet, although I’m glad it was sunshine that greeted me rather than grey skies, or worse yet, a blizzard.
I put on the coffee before I looked at my phone. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the onslaught of “I know this is going to be a rough day, but…” messages that awaited me. Finally, with coffee in hand and a lump in my throat, I waded in. The supportive messages from sisters were there as I’d anticipated; we’ve gotten really good at having one another’s backs in the last couple of years, but there was another message that caught my eye:
“Happy birthday, Hilary!! If you are up to it, I would love to get to know your daughter. Can you tell me five things about her?”
I smiled and cried at the same time. The message was from Tina, a friend I’ve had since kindergarten. Even at the age of four or five, she had a way of making you feel special and heard. Today was no different.
I purposefully did not over-think my responses to her question; I wanted my answers to be what came right from my heart, not my head. It was only after answering her message that I reviewed my responses and had some “aha” moments when I considered their origins.
- Hilary had a headful of corkscrew curls which she decimated the moment she mastered a flat iron. Why was that? It came to me during my walk later in the day that the reason she was so driven to flatten out her curls, was to rid herself of one of her most prominent features of her youth. It was during that time that her self-image took such a beating. Being bullied and harassed at school, abused at the hands of a babysitter, the break-up of the family unit; perhaps she wanted to erase the person who had bore and/or witnessed all of this trauma.
- She would probably be “Number Nine” on the enneagram. Always pursuing other’s peace and generally at the expense of her own. (sigh) Tina and I had been talking about this personality test and she herself had lamented that being “number nine”, the Peacekeeper, was akin to having no distinct personality at all; it was all about making sure everyone else’s wellbeing was tended to. This described Hilary to a T. Although she made attempts to be selfish, she really couldn’t pull it off very well. Even when she was the one being hurt or maligned, she rarely shot back; she absorbed the pain and it bled out in her creativity and passion for serving others.
- She could wear clothes. That may sound obvious, but seriously, you could put her in a burlap sack and she could accessorize the crap out of said sack and make it runway material! Hilary saw herself as plain; burlap, if you will. But her spirit, her exuberant personality and passion were the accessories. These traits illuminated whatever she tried to hide under a self-perception of insignificance. (You were always meant to shine, girl.)
- Despite her anxiety, she tackled things fearlessly. She built over twenty tables for a tapas restaurant and had never taken as much as a single carpentry course. She You-Tubed, Googled, and wasn’t afraid to ask for help from the experts. This answer epitomizes her courage; courage I wish I had. I watched how her anxiety and depression could take her down, but when she’d emerge, damn, it was like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. She did it afraid. But she did it.
- She learned to forgive. For much of her short life, she wouldn’t hold a grudge when she’d been wronged, but I know it took its toll on her. She told me months before she died, that she’d had an epiphany on the importance of forgiveness and its eternal impact. I guess she was getting ready to go. The fact that I was one of the few people she had no problem reminding of their failures; it was a relief and a blessing to know she had finally found a way to release me. Hilary’s aha moment regarding the whole forgiveness thing is what solidifies my absolute knowledge of where she is now. She actually “got it.” The years of her beating me up for my failures, would always be met with a firm yet compassionate, “I’m already forgiven, Hilary. I would like yours too, but if I never get it, that’s okay. That’s something you and God have to work out. I’m good.” In the moment, I think this pissed her off that I wouldn’t grovel and beg, even though I’d already acknowledged the ways I had hurt her/failed her, asking her forgiveness. When she finally realized that forgiveness was the key to her own freedom, it was like a light went on and she was blown away by the revelation.
- (I know you only asked for five, but this popped into my head) She absolutely adored her brother, Cameron. She was the only one who could call him on his crap and not suffer the consequences (although, sometimes she did.) They were like two peas in a pod and I miss their relationship as much as I miss her. Hilary was the picture of loyalty. These two could hurt one another like no one else could, because no one loved them as much as the other. Hilary would go to the gates of hell and bring back the head of another’s enemy as a trophy for them. She was fearless and fearful all at once.
I thank you, Tina, for mining for these nuggets of truth worthy of much celebration. You are a treasure and I’m so glad that our paths have crossed again.
And to Hilary–
Happy birthday, Hilly Bean. Until we see one another again–hook-a-feet.