I've struggled this past week with this post. I have so much I want to say, and every time I try to write it out, the words get stuck but the tears start flowing. And what words manage to get past the tears - while accurate and heartfelt - also sounded trite and hollow.
How do I describe Chris? If I had to chose just one word, it would have to be vivacious. She had such a joy for life, and she could be so enthusiastic over the littlest things. I could always count on her for a smile and a pick-me-up whenever I felt down.
At the same time, she struggled so hard. Emotionally, she battled chronic depression. Her personal life - her marriage - was abusive in the extreme, and she fought to find the courage to leave. She fought severe anxiety disorder that made certain things - like filing paperwork - incredibly stressful.
Financially, she had been dealt one of the worst hands in this country of plenty, often feeding her four children with only $50 a week. Yet at the same time, if someone needed help, she was usually the first one there, giving her all to aid others in need.
Physically? When I first met her she had weight issues - I thought she looked fine but she was not comfortable or happy with how she felt and looked. Later, when Chris became a Zumba instructor, she dropped pounds fast and was thrilled with her appearance. She had chronic pain issues, which was a subject we bonded over. And shortly before her death, she discovered she had food allergies. Cutting things like gluten out of her diet gave her a rush of energy and health that she honestly didn't think she'd ever feel again.
As a parent, she was an inspiration. Chris home schooled all of her children, and was active in a local home schooling co-op. I loved reading the stories of how she taught her children, especially when she had groups to teach. She was so creative and made learning fun, not a chore. More than once I wish I had known her when I was a kid, 'cause she would have been a fun adult for me to hang around with! She included her "little demon monkeys" in nearly everything she did, from errands to Zumba, cooking to gardening.
And speaking of her garden - oh boy, could that woman grow a seed or what?! When we first met, she was living in a little trailer on a small lot in a trailer court, and the amount of food she managed to grow on that tiny little speck of land was truly awe-inspiring. Her garden, and how she used that produce to supplement her family's food supply, was so impressive she was even showcased on a news report about the impact of food stamp decreases for dependent families.
She was an advocate for so many things, for so many people. She fought for the right to grow food in the yard, not just for herself but on behalf of others as well. She stood up for those in severe poverty and spent countless posts on her blog sharing ways to support a family with pennies. Every year she made certain to dry extra seeds so she could give them out to families to wanted to garden but couldn't afford the seeds to do so. I still have some of her seeds here and treasure them. Her fight for religious freedom was a quieter battle, but still one she fought with passion.
Chris made me feel lazy...and I mean that literally. I would sit at my computer after having done housework, feeling productive and a little smug, only to find that she had outdistanced me in every way. But she had a way of never making it feel like she was competing - rather, she seemed to be saying "Look, I lead by example - you can do it! Don't give up!"
Earlier this year, she made the decision to leave her abuser. She created a secret group on facebook to get support in her decision and help during the process...it was a good group, and it helped her a lot. We shared so much on that page - horror stories, funny anecdotes, legal advice, words of encouragement, and so much more. And when her abuser used his wiles to get her to take him back, those of us in that group were able to comfort one another and renew our commitment to help her leave when she was ready.
Which she did, a few months later. She admitted she was glad she had gone back in a way, because it eased that nagging little voice in her head that accused her of not trying hard enough to save her marriage. That second time she left, that voice was quieted. The first time she had known in her mind that it wasn't her fault, but the second time she knew it in her heart, and she was at peace with the decision.
She moved on. Those of us who loved her were so glad to see her personality return. She was happy, laughing and celebrating life in ways I hadn't seen in a long time. She posted on her facebook page, "It is wonderful being me. I can look in the mirror and smile at myself everyday and I can enjoy the company when I'm all alone."
She cut her hair. She started wearing make-up again. She splurged on some new clothes and genuinely liked how she looked in them. She even started dating again. Everything that went right just made her joy soar higher, and anything that went wrong was handled with grace.
I am glad that she got to have those last couple months of joy. Nothing makes her loss easier to deal with, but at the same time, knowing she was happy? It makes me happy.
I didn't know her oldest son, Isaac, well. Since I tend to discuss a lot of adult-themed topics on my facebook page, I have a general tendency to not add minors as friends. But I did read posts from Chris about him, and I did see his comments on her page many times. My general impression was that Isaac was a lot like my teenage son, still growing and facing that confusion and angst that all teenagers experience, but at the same time he had a wry sense of humor and a genuinely wicked wit.
The one story that stands out in my mind is when Chris gave him the chore of folding laundry, he asked how she wanted the sham-wows folded. She was distracted and told him "Oh, any which way is fine." So he folded them into origami boats. She was tickled by that.
Our world is richer for having known them, and our world is infinitely poorer for having lost them too early. Rest in peace, dear ones, and know that your memories will live on in the hearts of those who knew you.