Disability, Reflections

November 22, 2020

Sharing Her Gift pt. 2

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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Editor’s Note:

In Julie’s last weeks, our daily texts were always filled with three main themes: Julie would ask me if I had been working on her book and then she would fuss over me – was I getting enough rest? was I working too hard? Then she would always be sure to let me know how much she loved me. Gosh, I miss that girl so much. I wrote the following little piece that was supposed to serve as an intro to her book. Julie passed away before that could happen, but I’m sharing it with you here. Following it are Julie’s own words from the book she printed and that I introduced you to in Part 1 of Sharing Her Gift. It pleases me so much that you are taking the time to read this. Julie is very much with us right now and I can feel her shining bright. Please join us every Sunday as we post her book in sections, lesson by lesson. It is my honour to share her gift with you and we hope it brings light to you in your own journeys and struggles. 

– Stacey aka WillowjakMama

Between these pages are invisible threads. They curl and wind, stretch and bind each word, each page together. Like a spider’s web that is nearly invisible until someone takes the time to peer more closely, to see its strength. The way it firmly grabs hold of whoever crosses its path, so too do these threads that link these words together. And what first might appear to be a thread, suddenly reveals itself as something even stronger. These stories are not merely fables about Mother Nature; they are the heartsongs of a woman whose strength is firmly planted in these pages. These threads could be better described as roots. So it’s no small irony that these roots are the very essence of who Julie is. Julie Racine. Racine is the French word for root.

In spite of her somewhat broken English, Julie has a way with words. She has a way of painting an image and breathing life into everyday scenes that we all take for granted as just another day’s backdrop. 

My friendship with Julie has spanned nearly two decades and began when we were both taking our first steps into adulthood. Paying our own bills, trying to find our own way and trying to prove our independence to our well-intentioned families. Born into two very different lives, into two different Canadian cultures, we somehow found each other and found in each other une amie pour la vie (a friend for life). In the late 90’s, Julie was a sunflower that hadn’t yet found the sun. She was always searching, twisting and seeking out the sky’s sweet spot to find her place that would help her grow. Her life up until then had already seen more heartache and challenges than anyone should endure, but for Julie, it had only strengthened her. She was brave and bold and passionate; up for any adventure and without ego – a trait that served her well when she found herself the butt of many jokes because of her broken English. She loved to learn and always had a new idea or contact on the ready to explore a new opportunity. She was kind and sweet and almost naïve in her innocent approach to friendship. She loved her friends without apology and wanted only best for the people she loved. 

As often happens in life, relationships hit a crossroad where the shared path splits into opposite directions and so it happened when my life took a turn that led me away from Julie. We both moved on with our lives and crossed into different time zones. Last year something drew me back to reconnect with this girl I had missed so much. Many years had passed and we had each seen many challenges. But upon our first contact, it was like no time had passed at all. A little wiser, a little more grounded by life’s harsher realities, yet softened by the knowledge that we were both warriors, we slipped back into the easy comfort of our friendship that we wear like a favourite sweater. 

Julie surprised me with a request and told me she had been writing. She had written a short essay and wanted my opinion. I gasped out loud when I read her words and realized she was telling the story of a cancer diagnosis. I didn’t know. My heart was so full with heavy ache for all that she had been through and I wept with regret that I hadn’t been there for her. But Julie’s essay didn’t end with an ending, but with the promise of a new beginning because she had survived this temporary stumbling block. 

And in her words I could see that the sunflower had found her sun. She was in full golden bloom. There was a new confidence in her tone that her younger self that I had known did not yet possess. And there was something else – something so strong that I could almost see it – it screamed out from her writing and rooted each sentence on to the page. I saw love. I could feel it. 

Prelude To Who I Am

How do you align your heart so you know that what you do is right, has a purpose, a meaning; will heal you and take you where you need to be. I asked myself that question so many times without being answered.

I am the second child of four. I have two brothers and one sister. We grew up with loving parents in a small town called Brigham (Quebec). Even though I was the second child, I always ruled the house like the first; I was the big sister watching out for my family. I was always a good little girl for my mom and dad; I had good grades and behaved well in school. I wanted my parents to be proud of me.

At forty, my dad passed away from brain cancer. I was fifteen at the time; my dad was my hero, my role model. I was devastated. Two years later, my sister also died of brain cancer; she was fifteen. I felt like crumbling into pieces, but immediately thought of my mom and stood strong for her; I did not want her to worry about me on top of everything she had to handle. She was facing a cruel reality and still had to raise the three of us on her own. I don’t know how she did it; she held the fort strong like a rock. I truly admire her, and salute her courage. She is an extraordinary woman.

Julie with her beautiful mother, Hélène

It is Sunday afternoon, January 6th, 2014. Two days earlier, I was called into my doctor’s office to get test results. Diagnosis: Woman, age 41, rectum adenocarcinoma (rectal cancer). Now, I have to tell my mom about it. How am I going to do that? It took me two days to gather enough courage to call her. ‘Hi Mom, it’s Julie’. I was trying to keep smiling, but I burst into tears and let out ‘please sit down; I have to tell you something’. The words came pouring out of my mouth not loaded with emotion, but rather guided and inspired. Something strong within was telling me that it was going to be different this time: ‘Mom, it’s going to sound terrible, but I see this cancer as a gift’.

A gift?!?!

Yes a gift.

An incredible chance to transform the experience we had into something positive, to get closure on Dad and Geneviève’s passing. I also feel that I have a mission to help others around me to see it and to live it like a gift as well.

A month later, my mom moved in to help with what was coming. She was on board with the gift; we were going to be warriors of life and love. We were going to transform, to see things differently. She harboured a huge smile when she saw the welcome basket and the card that I had left on her bed.

The card reads:

Mamizoo, I don’t have your beautiful way with words, but from the bottom of my heart I am forever grateful that you took the time to come take care of me, of us. You play a very important part of my healing; you are the coach of our winning team. If you want, let’s transform this step in our life into a beautiful flower garden. So welcome to your beautiful country house, settle in like you are at home. Please, accept this basket of goodies to remind yourself to take care of you.

I am extremely happy that you are here. I love you like all to the moon, the sun and the stars.

Julie

I am now standing on the mountain top looking down at what I have achieved and, as far as I can see, there is nothing but beauty and the immensity of a grand journey. I have reached the top and all I want to scream is “Yahoo, I did it!”

Does it really matter how I got here? I aimed for the top and followed my heart. I imagined the road, had a few missed steps. But were they…? or the result of a calculated plan?

Julie Racine

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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