That’s not to say she never changed. There was a time, after all, when I would not dare eat anything my sister cooked. It shocked me to hear that she had started taking cooking shifts at work. She was proud of what she’d learned. We were proud of her, too. Even better—I would actually eat my sister’s cooking!
She never gave herself enough credit, did she? She was—like everyone in our family, it seems… she was very, very hard on herself.
Last Christmas was the first time she made Mama’s famous chocolate pecan pie for the family. She was so nervous—she wanted to get it just right. She didn’t want to burn it, and she wanted to make Mama proud. Actually, I think she wanted to make all of us proud. I think she felt like it was the most important pie she had ever made.
Of course, she pulled it off perfectly.
When I think about my sister, a lot of adjectives spring to mind: stubborn, hard-headed, strong, curious, charming, loving, smart, outspoken, daring, fearless, optimistic, proud, hopeful… I could go on.
One word stands out above all the rest, though: fierce.
Everybody knows that she loved animals fiercely and had a way of attracting the mangiest, most pathetic, rejected, homeless cats and dogs to her door. That started long before any of you might have guessed.
The first time was when she was a little girl. The next door neighbors bred sheltie collies, and she bonded with one of them in particular. She’d lie down in the grass, stick her arm through the chain link fence, and pet the little dog.
Well, the dog wasn’t quite fit to be a show dog, and the neighbors ended up giving her to Wendy.
That’s how we got our dog Sally.
The next time it happened was with a big black tomcat who “just jumped in her car” one day. She brought him home and begged to keep him. We named him Tummy, because he constantly ate. Tummy was a really great cat. One of the best cats ever, really, and he and Wendy had a special connection. Even after she moved out, he welcomed her anytime she came to visit.
And then there was the tiny white Siamese cat she discovered on the way home from high school one day. She was just lying there in the street, and Wendy thought she was dead. She pulled over to move her over to the side of the road and when Wendy approached this little cat, she perked her head up and meowed. Wendy brought her home and begged Mama and Daddy to keep her.
And that’s how we got Cricket.
Wendy was like the patron saint of all the lost animals. Even when she first moved out on her own, she would at times move from friend’s house to friend’s house, with nothing but a suitcase and her cat, Spunky.
She constantly drew animals to her. It’s like they just… knew… that she would take care of them.
She took care of everyone in her world… animals, friends, and of course, family.
Wendy and I were so different—in fact we joked a lot about being “city sister” and “country sister.”
(I’ll let you guess which is which.)
But the love between us was also fierce. A lot of times that meant we fought—constantly. Understandable, with the 8 year difference in our age, especially when you factor in that we shared a bedroom that had been Wendy’s domain for the first 8 years of her life.
Not surprisingly, you could draw a line down the middle of our bedroom. My side was all neat and tidy, and her side looked like a tornado had hit.
(Some things don’t change.)
Not only could you draw a line down the middle of the room, but if I dared put anything of mine on the dresser, I would invariably come back into the bedroom later to find that item tossed on my bed.
Whether it was a brush, a comb, or sometimes just a hair pin—she’d somehow find it in all that mess on top of the dresser and throw it right back on my bed.
So of course—being the twirpy little sister I was—I would often put something on the dresser just to see how long it took her to notice.
We couldn’t even be in the kitchen at the same time. She washed and rinsed dishes, and I’d dry them and put them away. Or, I would wash and rinse, she would dry and put away. But we could never work together, or it boiled over into a fight—every time.
It was the same with house work. Saturday morning was cleaning day. I dusted, and Wendy vacuumed. Mama cleaned the bathrooms and mopped the kitchen and dining room floors.
The argument was the same, every week. God forbid we dust and vacuum at the same time in different rooms. Nope. Her argument was, she should vacuum first, because that stirs up dust, which is going to settle back down onto the furniture. My argument was, I should dust first, because the vacuum would suck up whatever dust was left.
Guess who always won that one!
(It wasn’t me.)
In fact, Mama told us we even argued in our sleep. She would walk by our bedroom, hear arguing, and just before she stepped in to fuss at us for still being awake—she’d realize that she couldn’t understand a word we were saying, because it was all indiscernible mumbling.
But it was angry mumbling!
And if anything is harder than sharing a bedroom with your sister when you constantly fight… it might be hardest of all to be stuck in the back seat on a long road trip between Dallas and Albuquerque. I think that’s just about the most boring drive in all of the US. It’s nothing but flat desert, and a whole lot of it.
We constantly kicked each other, sighed loudly, pouted, and grumped. And this was, of course, way before cell phones, iPads, portable DVD players, etc. We were just stuck in the car, lucky to have one Walkman between us for a road trip that never seemed to end.
The love between us was often hard to see in those years. Of course, as we got older, it got better.
There were so many times in my college years when I struggled with money. I was a typical poor college student. And Wendy was going through a rough time, too, having two small children and trying to make ends meet.
But she was proud, and she loved me fiercely. And during the countless times she needed some money to help her get through, she refused to ask our parents for help. It was more important to her that they help me and give me money. Even if our parents offered her money—she turned it down. “Give it to Linda,” she said.
She’ll never know how much that meant to me.
In truth, the love between us was fierce.
That’s the way Wendy loved everyone, though: fiercely.
I have a few words to say directly to Wendy’s kids. I think she would want you to hear these words and take them to heart.
Leigha: the legacy she leaves through you is her spirit. You are the very essence of your mother. You are proud and stubborn, just like her. You’re also resourceful and strong, just like her. You know more than she knew at your age, and you’re more grown up at 21 than she was at 21. I know you feel lost without her. I know this is a hard road ahead. I know that first hand… but when you are searching for answers and deeply needing to talk to your mom… look inside yourself. You’ll find the answer, like you always do, because it’s already there inside. Her blood is literally in you. Your mom spent a lot of time talking to your Grammy and me about you. She fiercely loved you, more than words could ever say. And I know she is proud of the mother you are, the mother you have become.
Alexis: the legacy she leaves through you is love. She loved you unconditionally, and she always regarded you as hers. It broke her heart to have to let go of you when she walked away from your dad. But she instilled in you the knowledge—deep-down, all the way to your core—that you are loved, just for being you. I can feel it emanating from you, too, and I am so glad you’re back in all of our lives. I know it made her feel validated and purposeful as a mom when you showed up by surprise that Christmas. She told us that she suddenly felt like she had truly made a difference in this world—that she had done something right—because you turned out ok, and you came back.
Aaron: the legacy she leaves through you is faith. The depth of your faith, and your love for Jesus Christ, is visible to the point of being almost tangible. Your faith is representative of where your mom’s journey led her over the last several years. I observed as she explored agnosticism, Paganism, and then slowly walked towards God. It gave me joy to watch her faith come alive, and it gave me joy to watch yours come alive, too. She also loved your stories. She loved your music and drumming ability—she was very proud and protective of you. Watching you grow and transform over the years into this young warrior has been a true joy. Not just for your mom, but for me, and for all of us. You are already a much better man than most of the men who have been in your life.
Kasey: the legacy your mom leaves through you is hope. To me, you represent the sweet, feminine, fun, and soft side of Wendy. Watching her mother you was truly a joy. She so thoroughly enjoyed you and your firsts. She loved watching you discover everything around you and take it all in. She truly appreciated your sense of wonder. I’ve never seen her so relaxed and happy to be a mom. She fell in love with being a mother because of you, and she learned to accept and respect your siblings even more than she had before, because of you. I hope you never lose the sweet, tender, curious parts of you, Kasey.
The legacy Wendy leaves for us all is one of hope. She never gave up, no matter how dire her circumstances. She held her head up and kept walking forward—one foot in front of the other.
Her sudden passing makes no sense—especially so soon after our mother’s passing. I know we’re all still in a state of shock, and asking why is natural. The tragedy of losing Wendy so suddenly, when she was so young, makes no sense to anyone, and asking why yields no answer—it just makes you feel crazy.
So instead of asking why, I want to challenge you to find a way that works for you to keep her legacy alive. Take on a piece of her hope, her optimism, or her perspective. Take on a piece of her tenacity or her perseverance. Or maybe, take on some of her love of animals, or her sense of humor, or her charm.
If you’re up for a real challenge, though, then I dare you to love the way my sister loved.
I dare you to love fiercely.