Thursday, May 14, 2015

Almost 36 years ago, my mom gave birth to me in a hospital in Grand Forks, ND. She shared a room with a gal from another town who had a baby girl two days after me. That baby's name was Rachel.

I didn't see Rachel again until primary school; she had been attending a rural co-op and her parents moved her to the "bigger" educational institution, i.e. Larimore Elementary, where our grade had a whopping 48 kids. We became fast friends.

Our formative years were a blur of sleepovers and basketball and braces and general hijinx. Rachel was a feisty little gal with an appetite for risk-taking. There was this wooden go-kart that my dad had built and I'd spray-painted gold and named "Thunderbolt." Dad's rule was that we could only pull each other around in it or ride it down the 4-meter-high, gently-sloping bunny hill in the front yard. But of course, this proved to be too vanilla for my playmate and, when no one was looking, she covertly shot down the very steep, much-taller sledding slope nearby. We heard the decrescendo of her squealing as she hurled downward through tallgrass, so we raced to the edge - just in time to see her make an epic, somersaulting crash. Alas, Thunderbolt's plywood body was crumpled and all of its wheels were cockeyed, but Rachel emerged - albeit with splinters - from the bowels of the wreckage, hollering "That was AWESOME!!!"

And that's pretty much how she approached everything in life.

To say Rachel was a childhood best friend would be an understatement. In our youth, we had the same perm; we played point guard-post on the court; we shopped for prom dresses; we cruised backcountry gravel roads; we had Dorito-eating contests; we sang in Pop Choir; we gave ourselves orange streaks with self-tanner; we camped with friends in our own yards. We dissected frogs in Biology class and threw the eyeballs at each other and I got the only detention I ever served in high school.

I remember her driving to my job one summer evening at Larimore Dam; I was manning the pull-up window at the entrance to the outdoor recreational facility and I was thankful the sun was setting because my arms were biting with sunburn from painting picnic tables all day. Rachel sped up to the booth like she always sped everywhere, hopped out of the car with the engine still running, stuck her head in the window, and gasped, "Markaskedmeforaride...andIgavehimone...andIthinkhelefthissweatshirtinmycar...onpurpose!!!" Now, Mark was a likable dude in the grade above us that just about everyone had a crush on, and we had to spend the next hour deconstructing what the sweatshirt-left-in-the-car meant, what she was going to do with it, and where she would plan another "chance" encounter (as these were the days before cell phones, you know).

Mark and Rachel got married seven years later and had two beautiful babies :)

To say Rachel was an adulthood best friend would also be an understatement. We cohabited in our last two years of undergrad, and along with our third Musketeer, Holly, and often Rachel's sister, Melissa, we relished sushi happy hours; we shopped for wedding dresses; we critiqued each others' resumes; we cried when she got pregnant; we brunched a lot; we bought homes and helped each other move; we cycled through multiple hair colors; we went to concerts, museums and sporting events; we FaceTimed and texted when we lived far away from each other. We celebrated the good - kids, marriages, graduations, promotions - and we held each other through the bad - her mother's passing, my divorce - and I thanked God I was blessed with such brilliant friendship.

Rachel loved design and all things beautiful - she had an impeccable sense for aesthetics. Aside from always looking like she'd stepped out of a catalog, she and Mark bought a grubby little 2-bedroom starter home in NW Minneapolis and overhauled it into a warm, jewel-toned stunner - she loved decorating with candles and hydrangeas and art from her travels. I don't remember a time when they didn't have house-guests; some sibling or friend was always living with them or coming to visit for a few days. When Holly and I painted the smaller bedroom as a nursery, Mark plied us with beer and between that and the paint fumes and giggles, I'm surprised we didn't drink the pastel lacquer and spread Heineken on the walls.

(Tired of reading anecdotes yet? Because I've got hundreds.)

Last year, Rachel found out she had breast cancer; there was this lump she noticed while changing at the gym. Always the courageous girl, she fought it with everything she had and then some, circling through endless appointments and needles and scans, treatments and surgery, hours in cars and hotel rooms... and then it was in remission! It made perfect sense; she was young and strong and sparkling with moxie - too vibrant of a person to be ill too long, and too important to all of us who loved her.

Among other things, there were plans for a trip to Prague to celebrate her regained health; Mark and Rach had come here years ago, the first time I lived in Europe, and this was going to be the coup d'état of the cancer. We chatted online excitedly about what she wanted to see and do - Spain? Croatia? Austria? She absolutely loved to jet off on a plane somewhere new. 

* * * * *

And then, out of nowhere, it was back. And she fought it again.

I flew home for two weeks this Easter to be with her. We polished our nails; took her daughter to swimming lessons; read books to her son; went to chemo; ordered sushi; had a couples' massage; baked cookies with my mom; zipped around in a convertible; talked for hours about how to process what was happening and continued to make plans. But there's never enough you can do, never enough you can say. 

* * * * *
Rachel joined our Creator not even a week ago, enveloped by friends and family at her aunt and uncle's house in Arlington, VA. (Thank you to Holly, Matt, Jody and Mark for staying in touch.)

I am going to sidestep writing about the anguish I feel here and tell you instead that Rachel was an exceptional human being.

She had a million-watt smile.

She was a phenomenal mother.
She made excellent spaghetti. 
She laughed constantly, especially at Mark. 
She relished a good workout. 
She genuinely cared about how you were doing.
She was a role model to many.
She could sing all the lyrics to "Baby Got Back".
She loved people fiercely.
She adored fresh flowers.
She was gorgeous, even on awkward-angle FaceTime.
She enjoyed socializing.
She was unfailingly loyal.
She gave invaluable advice.
She could accessorize anything and anyone.
She had strong convictions.
She cherished her husband.
She enjoyed her career.
She glowed all the time.
She was always that feisty girl who sped ahead for the fun of it.
And I could write so, so, so much more...

Nothing can take away the impact Rachel had in her time on this Earth, and I am grateful to have called this remarkable woman my best friend. 

Matthew 5:4
"Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted."

(For another post on Rachel, read her niece's blog HERE.)


  1. Beautiful images, Em. I loved reading about your cherished sisterhood.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. I wish you and her family the best. You wrote a lovely tribute.

  3. A brilliant tribute, Em. I do hope that writing & publishing it was therapeutic. It's good to have you back in the bloggersphere & this post more than explains your recent absence. May Rachel rest in peace & rise in glory.

  4. Such a beautiful tribute for someone who sounds like an amazing woman. So sorry that you are experiencing such a devastating loss.

  5. Oh man, this made me teary eyed. I'm so, so sorry for your loss :((( I can't imagine what you must be going through, but I am so happy you got to spend some good quality time with her last month.

  6. Many thanks for your warm wishes, Elizabeth

  7. Lots of thanks and hugs, Leah; really looking forward to seeing you


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