Riley’s Gift

How do you give the gift of hope? I think that’s a valid question, is it not? And can you really gift it? A little over a year ago, I discovered that you really can gift it meaningfully and in a variety of ways…but can you fit it in a box?

Hope means so many different things and can only be defined by what we consider it to be, which is unique to each of us. It’s a weighty word, shaped and formed by an unimaginable expanse of experiences and situations, making it so infinite that it’s merely unexplainable and can only be defined vaguely to invoke any thought as to its meaning. To me, the word seems too plain or simplistic to describe such a powerful feeling.

Perhaps it’s more of a state of being rather than a feeling and maybe that’s why I see its immense significance. Maybe it’s because I’ve realized that there are no guarantees in this life and in order to stay afloat, you really only have hope. Hope may float and for me, this was the only thing I had some days that kept my head above the water, powerful indeed.

The ability to turn any word into a curse word

I suppose this is also why I feel like it’s a curse word at times. The emphasis that I’ve placed upon this word and the feelings associated with it are probably best understood when I’ve lost it or things just didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped. That’s when the hurt and disappointment tied to it, reaffirm its gravity. I don’t usually lose hope, but it sure can disappoint sometimes.

It’s funny how it works that way. Easy to have and hard to lose but when things don’t work to the positive side, well that’s a kick to the bits that drops you to your knees. The only other thing that I can think of that does that, is karma. Funny thing that hope.

Last week, I breezed through the telling of what I think was a pivotal moment in my sister’s journey. Yes, that many pages were, unfortunately, a breeze through because the amount that happened in that one day alone would’ve taken a few chapters to explain. Hence, the breezing. Anyway, there’s a little part that I had to pass over within that story that I really wanted to share, so this week, I’m backtracking a little.

Riley

A little while back, I introduced an incredible human being by the name of Riley. If you’ve read, Riley was my sister’s friend and someone that I am very grateful for. If you’ve ever experienced a certain someone who just happened to fall into your life at a time when you needed them the most, then you’ll understand that this is how I’ve come to think of how Riley entered the picture. She just seemed to have happened and fell into my sister’s life one day and in hindsight, I definitely think it was for a reason.

Laugh if you want, but I feel like Riley is secretly some angel in disguise. She seemed to appear from out of nowhere but served a purpose beyond anything I could’ve imagined. Miracles…they can and do happen…angels…I actually have to say that perhaps the concept is valid, as I seem to know some personally. True story.

Riley’s personality is exactly like my sister’s and many of those who would merely just see the 2 of them at first glance, wouldn’t recognize their invaluable gifts of selflessness because they’d probably dismiss them before giving them the chance. We live in a shallow world, unfortunately. Some of the world’s greatest offerings are buried deep, and only the most patient and willing will ever experience them. That’s something I’ve definitely learned over the years, and this sums these 2 up neatly.

Lea’s pigheadedness

If that doesn’t make you stop and perhaps appreciate the next human you find in front of you instead of looking and dismissing them as something you believe they are but they really aren’t, I don’t know what will. I don’t have contact with Riley these days (my kids are older and go to the middle school now and because of Covid), but I think about her often. At some point, I’d like to reach out but I just need to figure out how, if we’re not able to meet at my nephews’ birthday parties anymore. She reminds me of Lea in many ways, and there’s some kind of feeling I get when I’m around her that’s familiar in some weird way.

Anyway, as I’d written earlier, Lea didn’t really want to put herself out there after finding out that she was dealing with lung cancer and had an expiration date in the near future. Knowing Lea, she was trying to protect those around her from the hard fall they’d experience if or when things went sideways. Lea was very selfless that way and always seemed to worry about us and how we were feeling when the focus should’ve been on her. Despite all of that, I’m happy that Riley managed to make her way into Lea’s life.

So, I am going back a bit in Lea’s journey, and the reason that I wanted to do this is because Riley gave Lea one of the most thoughtful gifts I’d ever heard of in my life. I’m certain that there are many others who’ve gifted these types of amazing offerings but I hadn’t encountered this kind before. Thankfully, I’ve received many meaningful gifts, but this one was very unique and something that will stick with me for the remainder of my days.

We all have something to give

I don’t know if it sticks out to me because it was Lea’s last Christmas, or maybe it was because I feel like it made an impact down the road. Perhaps it was the fact that what was gifted was something we’d all been trying to tell Lea all along and as per her usual, she didn’t want to hear it from us and it needed to come from someone else. No matter what, I wanted to share.

I wasn’t there to witness and Lea never told me about it either but my mom filled me in with what little information she’d had later on. As I have no solid details, I can only relay so much but I was touched by this gesture and what it stood for. In the end, this was an act of kindness that has made me consider more about the gifts we have to give, from within ourselves.

If you read last week, we hadn’t had any bad news before Christmas yet and Lea was still on the mend. I’m sure that by this point, Riley understood more of what Lea had gone through and I think she had also filled her in that this was the last optimal treatment option before chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a promising avenue at the time (I highly doubt that’s changed here) and it was something Lea desperately wanted to avoid. Chemo scared the shit out of her and it signified (to her) that the end was near.

A friend for life, no matter how short and shitty

After Lea nearly died that summer, I think that Riley had made it very clear that whatever kind of shit hit the fan, she wanted to be there for her. I’m certain that Lea tried to bargain and perhaps even try to push Riley away because that’s what she would often do to those that cared about her when she felt that things were going to be difficult for them. She always tried to shoulder the burden and never wanted anyone to have to feel the pain that she would. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Riley is just as tenacious as Lea, now that I think about it.

Lea wasn’t much for hosting playdates and I think she and Riley did most of their hanging out in the park after school. I believe it was late November or maybe December (I apologize that I can’t remember exactly) when Riley asked Lea if she was able to pop over for a visit, which wasn’t the norm. All Riley told Lea was that she had a gift to bring over.

I’m sure that when Riley told her this, Lea would’ve done everything in her power to dissuade her. Good on Riley for pushing her way in. Lea was very stubborn that way.

Riley’s gift

As I’ve mentioned before, Lea had many friends back at home, but as life often has it, many were busy with their own lives and weren’t always around nor able to talk often. That’s completely understandable and no one should feel bad about that. So, when Lea and Riley found one another, I was extremely happy and grateful that Lea had someone in her life to perhaps make things a little more normal for her.

So, when Riley showed up that afternoon with her gift, I don’t think Lea had expected to find what she did. When she opened the door, Riley’s gift was…another human being. Isn’t that something?

Not just any other human being, no. A human being who had been asked if she was willing to share her story with Lea. A cancer survivor.

A gift of hope

It’s one thing to perhaps get to know another who’s gone through this horrible disease, but completely another when someone asks if they’d be willing to share their experience with a stranger who is dealing with it at the moment. Some have no problem talking about their experiences and others are very private about it. Lea was very private and as I’d mentioned earlier, hadn’t been forthcoming with many outside of her close circle of friends and family.

So, there was Riley, with someone that she knew who’d gone through treatment for breast cancer, and was willing to talk to Lea about her experiences with it and give her hope for what was possibly to come. Yes, breast cancer is very different than the lung cancer Lea was dealing with, but there are many similarities across the board in regards to the side effects of chemotherapy and the life-altering thoughts and experiences that happen when having cancer. Riley had brought Lea a gift of hope in the form of someone who’d been there.

I find that for as many people who go through cancer treatment these days, it’s surprising how unknown everything still is. There’s still much mystery shrouding this and I think that the more people talk about it, the more enlightened we will become. For some, it may be a walk in the park, and for others, it’s a nightmare from hell. It’s the unknown that’s terrifying, and Riley was trying to help Lea fight for her life by quelling the fear of the unknown with hope.

Sharing is caring…and powerful too

Lea invited them in, and this lovely lady sat down and spoke with Lea about what her journey with breast cancer and subsequent treatment was like and was open to any questions she had. She spoke about being kind to herself, asking for help when she needed it and how she managed to get through it all. She spoke of her fears about treatment, dealing with the side effects, and how she managed to live a fulfilling life throughout. Oddly enough, this is something that Lea needed to hear because she often neglected herself by putting everything and everyone ahead of her.

How Riley knew that Lea needed to hear this, is mind-blowing. Riley hadn’t really been in the picture long and had only just discovered the true situation a short time prior to this. For someone to be that keen, engaged, and fully aware while being kept to the outside is a testament to how Riley could read Lea. She truly cared about her.

That is an incredible and selfless human being. To have the ability to know what someone needs and be able to convince another to openly share their most vulnerable moments to a complete stranger who nearly died not long ago is definitely a gift. Riley is very gifted, connected, and someone we should aspire to be.

Gift-giving 101

Lea never spoke a word of it to me, indicating that this was a very private encounter that she held in high regard. I think that this sealed a cherished bond between herself and Riley too. In return, I hope that Riley knew how much she meant to Lea. I remain hopeful, that one day I’ll be able to convey that to her but I think Riley knew and understood.

Because of this, I think I now know how best to give the gift of hope. Riley hadn’t experienced this herself, but she knew of someone who did. Her gift of providing an opportunity to connect and relate to someone willing to express deeply personal details about their most vulnerable times and possibly quell the fears of an uncertain future went above and beyond a gift. This was something that eventually factored into Lea’s decisions which altered her course of action later on…that’s a very powerful thing.

You can’t just give this kind of hope in a retelling from someone you know, and Riley knew that this person actually had to be present and connected in order to properly give the hope she wanted Lea to have. It needed to be accompanied by a truthful and perhaps uncensored explanation conveying the hope behind it while exposing the feelings of fear and helplessness that surrounded it. I am thankful for this amazing human’s willingness to help my sister at Riley’s asking. Another angel in my book.

Connection

That’s deep and I think that’s why I find Riley’s gift so meaningful. It’s not easy to discuss the difficult things we encounter in our lives, let alone let others in on the secret thoughts and feelings behind it. I think I understand that much more now that I’ve been writing and sharing my experiences with people who may happen upon my telling and seek to understand.

It’s revealing to the point of nakedness and it makes you feel very vulnerable. For me, it’s worth it, especially if it gets to someone who needs it or maybe someone looking to understand. I know that when Caelan was diagnosed, that is exactly what I needed. I’d attempted to seek that sort of connection with someone who’d experienced what I was going through, but I never found it.

Connections that run that deep, make a world of difference. Knowing that you’re not alone with those thoughts and feeling no matter how personal and possibly revealing they are, could be lifesaving. Especially so, if you feel like you’re dying, if you really are dying, or possibly life-altering when it comes to making the tough decisions we may encounter in life. I know, that’s profound and until you go through something that takes you to this place, it’s difficult to understand let alone comprehend it.

Riley,

One day I’ll have the strength to explain the impact you’ve made in my life just from witnessing your actions from afar. Until then, if I am ever called upon to serve a purpose (such as yours with my sister), know that I’ve been inspired by what you’ve exemplified and could only hope to make an impact such as you have. Thank you for being there for Lea and for demonstrating that hope can be shared and that small acts of kindness can make all the difference. You are the biggest badass in my books with the kindest heart, you go girl.

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