Thursday, February 27, 2014

365 days of drawing ~ day fifty-eight ~ Trees and Tents with Leigh

The last pencil stroke has been made.  I am so glad to share with you this portrait.  The abundance of love and pure joy radiates from this photo of two beautiful souls.  This marks the beginning of more portraits on the way that you can read about here .  When I repeatedly witnessed the love and light my friend Angela holds for her sister Leigh, I was touched.  Touched because I have a brother and we are not close as I would like.  But I know just how much pain, anguish and sorrow I would feel if he passed before his time.  So that led me to begin this portrait that started on day seven that you can read about here.  It was an amazing trip filled with so much healing, love, light, sadness, remembrance, friendship, and resulted in a masterpiece.  

I wanted Angela to have the last word and tell you about her sister.....

A simple click of a camera on a sunny day captured a fun moment at the park. Springettsbury Park in York, PA. I took many pictures that day, but the significance of this certain picture would not really show itself for a couple years. I thought there would be tons more to come, just like this one. I did not know at the time, that this would be it, and I am beyond grateful to have this memory forever caught on film. And now, this memory has been caught through the eyes of a true friend, and talented artist.

The embrace shared in this picture is between my sister Leigh, and my then two year old daughter, Kaya. My daughter is now a happy, healthy six year old. Leigh is forever 28, having received wings on April 27th, 2012. After a long battle with addiction, my sister lost the fight, and is now an angel watching over us. Kaya will never see her Aunt Leigh again, never hug her, never play with her at the playground on a sunny day. But, we do have this picture, forever.

My sister was a loving, caring, spunky girl. She was smart, and fun, and she had the most contagious laugh you ever heard. This is the way I choose to remember her, and this is the way I wish Kaya to remember her. Leigh had an extremely caring and wonderful boyfriend named Ryan. Ryan took such good care of my sister and I know they loved each other very much. I am grateful to Ryan for all that he did for my sister, and all the love he showed her through the years. I am blessed to have Ryan still a part of my life. Leigh also had a loving Uncle Mike who supported and loved her. She had two brothers, and was even lucky enough to have 2 mothers who loved and cared for her. Our mother passed away this past November, and her father, who loved her very much, passed away two years ago. His funeral service was the last time I saw my sister. Of course Leigh had many family members and many friends who loved her. She always wore a smile, and was always ready to give life all she had. Unfortunately I have discovered, love is not enough when you are dealing with an addict. I wish it had been. All the love in the world was not enough to save my sister.

The first time my sister lived with me was so cool. Having a sister to talk to all the time and go shopping with and be silly with....... She worked at Red Lobster and she would call before she came home to see if I wanted any coconut shrimp, which was always a YES! We would sit at the table in the kitchen drinking Twisted Teas and getting a little loud and rowdy, but all in good fun! And when she decided to chop off her long hair, I went with her. (She was always the brave one. lol) She looked absolutely beautiful after the cut. She was always spontaneous. Where I was the thinker and worrier, she was the 'lets just do it now' kind of person. To me, she seemed so confident and so sure of herself, and never cared what anyone thought. She was a free spirit. She once called me from the car to leave me a voicemail message: wanted me to know that while listening to Rusted Root in the car she thought of me, and she loved me. Wish I still had that message.

Leigh was active in her addiction when Kaya was born. It was not until Kaya was two, that Leigh had been clean and in recovery for awhile, that she was able to meet her.  When Leigh would pull in the driveway, Kaya would shout "Aunt E! Aunt E!" My sister had a way of drawing people towards her, no matter the age. She loved her niece with all her heart. Shortly after, Leigh ended up moving in with us, and my husband and I tried to keep her sober and on the right path towards a bright future. After about a month, my sister fell into her old habits, and I was forced to ask her to leave out of safety concerns for my daughter. That was one of the hardest decisions to make, and one that will forever riddle me with guilt. Heroin made me choose. It made me choose between my beautiful daughter, and my beautiful sister. Although I know when my sister was in the grips of heroin, she was not really the sister I knew, I had always kept hope that one day she would win her battle with addiction and I would have my sister back. Kaya would have her Aunt Leigh back. At this time, Kaya knows that Leigh was very sick, and that she is an angel watching over her. My heart breaks to know that one day I will have to explain to her why and how Leigh was sick. I am not however, ashamed. I am not ashamed of my sister, or her addiction. I was so uneducated and not aware of the support and proper tools to really help my sister and make a positive difference in her life. Since her death, I have tried to learn all I can, and I continue to learn more everyday.

Addiction, and Heroin does not discriminate.
Heroin knows nothing of age, sex, race.
Heroin has no geographic limitations.
Heroin is in your backyard. 

Not a day goes by that I don't miss my sister with all my heart. Every year in January, on her birthday, Ryan, and our family, get together to celebrate at TGIFridays, where Ryan orders her favorite Jack Daniels signature dish. We talk about present day, and share stories of my sister. It's such a bittersweet evening. We would each give anything to have her there at the table with us, laughing and joking around.

The thought of Kaya growing up within this epidemic of Heroin has me scared. It has me fighting scared. I may not have known enough while my sister was alive to save her, but I will not allow her death to be in vain. I am currently a part of several anti-heroin groups, including my own personal fb page: Heroin Robbed Me. I initially set up the page to raise money to purchase a park bench in her memory. With the help of my friend and graphic artist at work, I designed and sold one of a kind anti-heroin apparel to reach the monetary goal. My sisters bench was placed at Rocky Ridge Park in York, PA. I chose the exact spot where she had a peaceful view, and during the Holidays she is under hundreds of beautiful Christmas lights as a part of the annual Christmas Magic at Rocky Ridge Park. I try to visit with her on the 27th of every month, her angelversary. My husband and I have also been active in several anti-heroin rallies locally. I have met some wonderful people who not only love and support me, but encourage me and blaze trails to fight this epidemic. By trying to raise awareness, I try to honor my beautiful sister as well. I do this for her, and I do this for Kaya.

One of my favorite memories of my sister was Thanksgiving many years ago. She had decided that WE were going to host Thanksgiving dinner. My extensive cooking skills really don't reach past toast or spaghetti, but she had her mind made up. We sent our invites and made our grocery lists, and my sister enlisted the help of Grandma Baxter for precise recipes. Grandma Baxter being the most amazing cook in the world, and her long distance help was truly priceless. (To this day, I make sweet potatoes every year for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, which receive rave reviews, courtesy of Grandma B's recipe given to us on that very day.) The cooking of the meal was well under way, the giant bird was in the oven, and we were happily proud of ourselves. Which was short lived. Upon the first check of our turkey, Leigh opened the oven to baste, and asked me for the turkey baster. It was only THEN, that we realized we did not own a turkey baster!! So, what do two clueless girls do?? We jump in the car and head to Wal Mart, the only place open at that time. I felt like a complete jerk for shopping on Thanksgiving! The cashier however, had a pretty good laugh at our Thanksgiving Day purchase. Pretty sure we laughed hysterically the whole way home. The meal ended up being delicious, and was hands down the best Thanksgiving ever!

Turning my attention back to this beautiful portrait. Since my sister passed, I have been through countless emotions. Good days, bad days, horrible days. I have had incredible support from friends, family, and strangers, and I have also been a part of some who choose to be not so understanding and not so supportive. The ones that have stuck by me through thick and thin will always have a place in my heart and I will be forever grateful for their compassion and care, and the lift they gave me when I was unable to lift myself. When you see this portrait, I want you to see the love. I want you to see the happiness. I want you to see a beautiful moment between two people that fill my heart. I want them to fill your heart too.

Words will never be enough to truly capture the thanks I have in my heart for the artist, Amanda Johnson. Through her kindness and generosity and amazing talent, she has given me such a bright light in my soul. Where some days the unnecessary drama and hurt caused by the death of my sister made me lose faith, this portrait instilled in me that there are truly beautiful people out there.  For all, I am blessed to know and appreciate true friendship.

"The Greatest Healing Therapy is Friendship and Love".
    Hubert H. Humphrey

Facebook support groups
Not One More Pittsburgh Chapter
Not One More
Substance Abuse and Family Counseling
Hope VS Heroin
Heroin Kills You
Lost to Heroin

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