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  • Cherie

Following the sun, the sequel.


If you follow me on social media or if you know me in real life, then you know that my sister, Julie Shill, passed away on October 9th. I posted about it on social media the following day, with a tribute to her, and the amazing, exemplary life she lived; how much she meant to me. I was touched by all the messages of love and sympathy from my friends and those who follow me. One of my friends sent a kind private message; but then they also commented that I had already posted a lot of things about my sister over the past 5 years of her excruciating battle with cancer. I wanted to say, “Sorry, not sorry.”

If you’re someone who is sick of hearing about Julie, I just need to let you know that I’ll be talking about her for the rest of my life.

When I was a little girl and she moved away from home to go to college, I cried for weeks. I talked about how much I missed her pretty much every day to my friends. One of my friends told me to please get over it and talk about something else. I guess some things never change; I’ve always been the same girl. If you get your fill, I guess it’s tough luck.

I’m sure I will post more about what I learned from her and specific details about her life as time goes by. Right now, everything just makes me think of her. I will be going about my day and then I will stop breathing for a minute when I realize my sister is no longer on this earth. It makes me feel a little weak in the knees. Everything makes a little less sense for a minute.

Today I looked at the forecast and realized it would freeze over the weekend, so I decided to pull out my garden. I’m not that great at gardening. I hardly ever pull weeds and I don’t take the time to hand water the spots the sprinklers don’t reach. But in spite of all of that we got some tomatoes, spices, and various peppers. I picked out the ones that were the ripest and then pulled out all the plants.





In the corner was a tall, sad looking, mostly dead sunflower. It had been the result of a mystery seed my 8 year old daughter got in a class. It was a miracle that it grew. It got taller and taller. It started drooping and failing a little and Audrey (my 8 year old) looked so concerned. I fertilized around it and Audrey poured a big bucket of water around the stem almost every day. “Mom, I really don’t want my sunflower to die,” she said. She’d go check on it a few times a day. It perked up for a while. Eventually, it bloomed. For just a few days, it was radiant and full of color and life. But whatever was ailing it became more powerful. Probably a bug. The leaves looked discolored and full of bites. The big flower at the top drooped like it was hanging its head. There weren’t even any healthy seeds we could roast or try to plant next year. I pulled it out of the ground today.

It is certainly Fall, but it all just seemed to be a little too soon to pull out those plants. Of course I thought about Julie. Life is like a mystery seed. Will it be radishes? Green beans? Watermelon? A sunflower? You take what life gives you. It is a miracle no matter what it is. And in the end it never lasts as long as you wish it would.

I always put off doing gardening work, but whenever I’m out there, there’s something about being in the dirt that is healing and meditative. It definitely felt that way today. I smelled the dirt and felt it in my hand. Dirt had helped me grow some peppers, basil and tomatoes.




In my faith tradition, we believe we have a Heavenly Father AND Mother. We never talk about the mother. That is a big point of contention sometimes for a lot of people. I won’t go into all of that. I have my own inner conflicts about it. I feel the most at peace about it when I compare Her to the earth. It isn’t exactly that I believe the earth is our Mother, but I feel like I understand things about Her when I’m focusing on the earth. This was comforting to me today as I pulled out weeds and plants. I thought about the things Earth had helped me grow. It was kind of her. She did things for me I could not have done all by myself. I feel a little frantic when I think of my sister’s body underground. But I take a deep breath and feel a little more at peace when I think of her embraced by the earth, like a mother. And I know her spirit is free. Her pain has ended.

Most of the time when I write these blogs there is some sort of grand, tidy message I try to convey. I’m sorry it’s not that way today. Maybe I just wanted to tell you that if you’ve ever lost someone and you’re in it with all the feelings, that I get you.

I’m still in the phase where no matter how fine I feel, I burst into tears if someone asks about Julie or asks if I’m okay. I took Psych 101. I know about the whole Elisabeth Kubler-Ross grief phases, and that I’m probably going to do all those. Last week I felt incandescently livid over some relatively small things. When I thought more deeply about it, I realized I was feeling anger that was tied to my grief. I still feel a few waves of that. But mostly I’m sad. I feel sadness for all the people who got to love her and who miss her now. Her grandchildren that she would have spoiled for decades more. Her dear husband. Her children. You never get so grown up that you don’t need a mom. My mom is in her 80’s and I still call her a few times a week.

I don’t feel angry at God. That seems both pointless and a bit misguided. I don’t know that He rubbed His hands together and said, “how about let’s test Julie by giving her a horrible illness. That sounds fun!” Nah. I think we just live in a fallen world. Weeds grow. And cancer. Crap happens.

Maybe it’s actual cancer that I’m mad at. Cancer is such a jerk. I’m censoring myself so bad right now. I have all the swears to hurl at stupid, freaking cancer.

I’ve said this everywhere else, but I’ll say it now, here. My sister didn’t “lose her battle” to cancer. Cancer will always be a pathetic loser. Cancer didn’t shape my sister into a better, stronger person, it just showed the world Julie’s true colors, which were brilliant. The strong, magnificent human she has always been. She was that sunflower, glowing for everyone to see, if only for a short time. She beat the living crap out of cancer. I just wish we all could have had more time with her. I’ll be wishing that for the rest of my life.


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