NaBloPoMo – If you had to switch your first name, what name would you choose and why?

(Disclaimer for my Dad: **Spoiler Alert** Dad, when you read this, just know that sometimes I go for comic effect, but I really like my name. It’s grown on me. HAHAHA I’m so funny. But really. It fits me perfectly. Also I’m glad you spelled it right.)

Growing up, I always wanted my name to be Elizabeth. Princess Elizabeth sounds SO much better than Princess Rachel.

Rachel is not a princess name. It doesn’t even rhyme with anything. The only thing it’s good for is winning the alphabet name game. It’s so ORDINARY.

There are so many of me! The worst was when one of the Rachels in half my classes in high school also had blonde curly hair. Now there was no way for people to tell us apart.

I know you Sarahs and Emilys can understand me on this. But at least your names mean Princess and Hard Working. I would take either of those.

Rachel means Ewe. As in, Ew look at that bug.

Ewe. Like the sheep.

What.

My older sister’s name is Heather. That’s a perfectly princess name. Princess Heather rolls right off that red thing in your mouth. It has the added benefit of being a type of flower. Who doesn’t love flowers? Even if you’re allergic, you have to admit you like looking at them.

Then there’s Savannah the Younger. Vast desert wastelands aren’t your thing? They weren’t my dad’s either. He only agreed to use the name after one of his favorite football players used it first. That’s such a cool reason for a name.

I approached my dear dad one day, demanding the reasons behind my terribly boring name. It was his call, after my mom named my older sister, and he had full responsibility for this atrocity.

“Well,” said Dad, “I always liked the story of Jacob and Rachel from the Bible. Jacob loved Rachel from the moment he met her, and he was devoted to her her entire life, and long after she died he remembered the love he had for her.”

If you ignore the Leah person in the tale (and how Rachel treated her in a very selfish jerk manner, and how Jacob was very ungracious with the situation, and how her dad Laban forced her into a lifelong lesson of learning that a man’s love does not complete you (which is a great lesson, but the situation was pretty awful)) it’s a heartwarming love story.

Cool! I’m back on the Princess track!

One day, a gallant gentleman is going to spot me from across a room or mountain trail or beach or whatever, be completely smitten, take me out for a seafood broil or a nice salmon steak as he falls in love with me based on my ability to read a menu, propose under a waterfall as a cello plays in the background, and whisk me away for a Grecian honeymoon. Because, you know, he got really rich off of his uncle and has sheep money to spare.

Greece was totally in the undertones of the Biblical story. They were close-ish.

Well.

Well then..

Not only did Boyfriend not completely fall for me after our first conversation – which I don’t know why not, I’m sure I was ravishing – but his name is not Jacob, he did not work for 14 years to earn me (the nerve!), he couldn’t hack it on a farm, and he most definitely will not add me on as his second wife after he makes a drunken mistake.

He wouldn’t be opposed to 12 kids, but we are not only not having that many, we are doing it the old-fashioned way which is not the same as the Old Testament way of using your handmaiden as an alternate wife in the bedroom.

When you get down to the nitty gritty, I’m pretty glad I haven’t taken after my namesake too much.

Although the jury is still out on that life-long devotion part. And the wealthy part. I like both. Both favorites!

OK one is clearly more favorite than the other, but I had to throw in some Brian Regan for when Boyfriend reads this.

The point of this post, I think, is that I’m going to more than likely name one of my daughters Elizabeth.

She’ll probably hate it. And when she comes to me demanding why I laid this atrocity on her, I will patiently explain that I am trying to live vicariously through her and when she is old enough to get a job she can pay to change it.

As for the rest of my life as a plain old Rachel, you know what? I don’t have to have a rhyme-able name to be happy. I don’t have to have a name that is only .01% of the population to feel unique. I define my name, my name doesn’t define me.

Yeah, that’s definitely just a bunch of hooey balooey I’m saying to make myself feel better.

Whatever. I’ll totally dominate you at the alphabet name game. My middle name has four letters.

BRING IT.

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“Why would you jump out of a perfectly good plane?”

I think those were my Aunt M’s words.

It’s a fair question, really. One my sister S and I didn’t really think about when we agreed to do just that.

Let me tell you something about skydiving. If you talk to bunches of people–like I did–who tell you that skydiving is no big deal because you don’t even feel like you’re falling–like they told me–don’t believe them for a second.

S and I got all dressed up in our jumpsuits, and everything was fine.

We went through the basic instructions on how to bend your legs and put your arms back, and everything was fine.

We got in a plane and enjoyed a nice scenic view of the Blue Ridge, and everything was fine.

Our wrist monitors showing our altitude slowly climbed. 1,000 feet, then 2,000 feet, and on up. At around 5,500 feet (a.k.a., just over a mile), the ‘parachute tester’ in our plane jumped out. And that is when the choice words started coming out of my mouth.

He just fell. Out of a perfectly good plane.

Typical jumps are from 9,500 feet. He was testing a new parachute though, so he jumped right at 5,500 feet, which is where you are supposed to open your chute. Because of course, if the parachute doesn’t work, it’s much safer to fall from 5,500 feet than from the whole 9,500.

via Google Images

(via Google Images)

At 9,500 feet (almost two miles, just so you’re aware), it was our turn. S fell first–‘diving’ is definitely a better term than jumping for this sport–and then I was up.

We scooted over to the open door, my tandem jumper and I, and then I was just dangling in mid-air looking out over the tops of mountains and at the mini-houses and roads below me and the almost two miles of empty air between me and them.

My tandem jumper sat on the very edge, so I was on hanging out off the edge of his knees. Let me tell you, that does not feel safe or secure in any way. I am getting mini adrenaline rushes just remembering.

I tried, like so many people before me, to grab the sides of the door. Then I remembered I had to hug my chest so I didn’t lose a hand when the instructor jumped.

I screamed the whole time. I’m not even going to front like I was brave. I wasn’t worried or scared, I was just flat out freaked the you-know-what out

These last three paragraphs took only about as many seconds, mind you.

And then we weren’t in the plane anymore. And then I was SO MAD at anyone who had ever told me skydiving doesn’t feel like falling.

YES IT DOES. You fall for 4,000 feet BEFORE YOUR PARACHUTE OPENS. That’s almost a MILE. Of FALLING. Of COURSE you feel like you’re falling!

The first 1,000 feet was the worst. When I left that plane, my stomach stayed seated comfortably in the door jamb while the rest of me fell for half a mile.

Then I started to remember all the leg and arm bending I was supposed to be doing.

Then Tandem Jumper opened our parachute.

My screams had turned to laughing somewhere between 8,000 and 6,000 feet, so by that time I was just flying high.

Pun semi-intended.

The ride down was better than any carnival ride. We would yank down on the right hand steering handle to make us go into a tight tale spin. We would turn far to the right and then far to the left and then back again so we swung around and around in circles.

I might be tempted to dive again, just for the parachute part of it.

S landed perfectly…until her instructor fell on top of her. Geeze.

My landing was beauteous. Just stepped right up onto the grass.

It really was a gorgeous day for it, too. Couldn’t have asked for better weather, or a better jumping partner.

Any skydive that ends with you in once piece is just peachy keen in my book.

Falling and loving it

Falling and loving it. Thank you Blue Ridge Skydiving Adventures!

Getting ready to land!

Getting ready to land!

After the jump--gotta look fly to fly! (I'm so funny today, bahaha)

After the jump–gotta look fly to fly! (I’m so funny today, bahaha)

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Mourning the Loss of a Loved One

(*this was written a month ago, just for reference.)

I can’t remember when I found out Aunt W had cancer. It was several years in; she did not want to worry anyone.

She fought for 12 years.  She tried everything. From chemo to herbs, from FDA approved treatments to those sworn by naturopaths, and everything in between. The last several years she traveled to a nationally renown cancer center in Philly. Every few weeks, my mother would drive to Aunt W’s house and jump on the train with her. They once sat next to some famous woman who worked on Clinton’s staff, or something. Great story, I know.

Everyone at the cancer hospital loved her. Fellow patients looked to her to encourage them. She gave people hope.

How unfair, then, that in her passing we need her to comfort us the most.

I could go on about how beautiful she was in spirit and body. I have memories of the dresses she made for us, the games she played, her old dolls she let us play with in her apartment, and my friends who got just as excited as me when she was coming to visit.

But this post is about how to cope when I am left only with the memories. She will not be Aunt W to my own children. She won’t make any more Easter dresses–I really can’t write anymore or I will cry too much to be able to leave for work.

I want to share how I mourned these past few weeks. I want to share because part of it surprised me.

First, I am very grateful for my co-worker from Korea, Rae. Rae came to visit the States a few months ago, and I MegaBussed to D.C. for a day to spend time with her (minor aside: MegaBus is awesome). While there, Rae’s boyfriend generously drove us to my Grandma’s house, and we spent part of the afternoon with Grandma and Aunt W. It was so happy and fun, and the last time I saw her healthy. I didn’t know we had so little time left. Cancer is like that.

About a month later, I learned she had been hospiced. I dealt a lot with denial. The next few weekends I was “busy,” and didn’t cancel things to go see her because she wasn’t going to die. Even Aunt W herself kept saying phrases like, “When I get better,” and “Well next year I’ll…” She always had hope.

Finally, thankfully, Boyfriend and I traveled south to visit. I feel guilty, because I was shocked at how she looked. She look gaunt. She looked like she was dying.

We could only visit for a few hours, before she became too tired to entertain anymore. That was the weekend we visited Boyfriend’s new baby niece (only a few hours added to our drive, and why not take the opportunity, as I had now learned). The irony of watching one life ending and another life beginning in the same day did not escape me.

I talked regularly with my mom for updates, who would drive up every week for Friday and Saturday. I sent her pictures to show Aunt W, and we had speakerphone conversations.

The week of Thanksgiving was very stressful, as W’s condition began deteriorating faster. We had lost another much-loved and well-remembered Aunt (and mother and sister and daughter) on Thanksgiving day, from the same cancer, a decade and a half ago.

That Saturday, I sent a picture of my Christmas tree to Mom to share with Aunt W. She enjoyed the picture.

Saturday night, I broke down. I forget what led up to it. I just remember sobbing into a pillow for however long it was. I didn’t want to lose another person I loved. Especially W, who always lived close and the only person more involved in our lives was our own mother. I mourned the loss to myself and to a future without her in it.

On Tuesday at 3:36pm I texted Mom, “How is today?”

At 3:43pm she responded, “It will be very very soon.”

At 4:45pm my dad texted me, “W just passed away.”

Then I got angry.

My current job involves a lot of coordination of a lot of different things–most of it over the phone. From 12:30pm until 9pm. I received this news in the middle of my work day. I didn’t want to have to be pleasant and helpful for all these people who needed me. I needed my aunt, and I didn’t have her. It wasn’t fair.

I actually yelled at a co-worker before I realized how heightened my emotions were. I took a break, walked to the water fountains, leaned against the wall facing the atrium, and let the tears come for a minute.

I vocally told myself, “I am angry right now. I’m just angry. And that’s OK. I am allowed to grieve.”

I am angry because why do some people beat cancer and other people lose the battle? Why do some families get to keep their loved ones, but mine keeps losing theirs? Why us? Why me? Why? I know it’s selfish, and W definitely wasn’t, and I’m trying to be better at this, but we will all miss her for the rest of our lives.

At her funeral, my dad choked up a bit as he gave the sermon–how else could he say goodbye to the woman who loved his children as much as she did, and who loved his wife as much as a sister could?

Aunt W chose “I Will Rise” and “What a Day That Will Be” as her songs, along with Psalm 23 as her Scripture. Hopeful, faithful, and loving until the end, she even ordered a catered meal for her family after the service, so we would be taken care of for our long trips home. I still cannot fathom how or why she thought of doing that. One of many reasons we miss her.

My two brothers, her two brothers/my uncles, and two of my cousins were the pallbearers. I sobbed the most when they lifted the coffin into the hearse; and then again at the grave site when they, one by one, placed their boutonnieres on top. I think it was the finality of it. My sister, who dislikes showing emotion, leaned into me and I held her as we missed W together.

My mother cried when she saw the unending line of cars in the funeral home parking lot pulling into place to accompany us to the grave site. So many people loved her so much, because she cared for them so evidently.

She chose a plot fitting to her: away from the busy roads, near the forest line where she liked to go hiking. To the last, she was so thoughtful. Everything she did had her heart in it. She even started a crost-stitch for a very-soon-to-be-expected grand-niece (who is now healthy and beautiful, and will hear stories of her Great-Aunt W). Aunt W was unable to finish it, but her niece, the new mother, will. We all want to remember her in as many ways as possible, and cherish every act of love she offered us.

There is one part to this story I cannot share now.  But I hope to soon.

In closing, there was a moment during the graveside service I stopped my tears. With one arm around my sister, I looked down at the woods Aunt W laid near. I resolved to put more energy in to loving people like she did. I focused on how she is now free of pain and full of joy. I resolved I would see her again one day.

She is gone from us, but she is reunited with her father and sisters–just as we, one day, will be reunited with her.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God, fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

“I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin