Ann’s Beautiful Life

[As originally featured on Huffington Post]

My sister Ann is living a wonderful life now. She had a horrifying scare and took the whole family down the path of illness with her. Ann was diagnosed with ALL, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, four and a half years ago. And in October, the five-year point, she will be declared cancer free! What an ordeal it has been. But at the same time, we’ve learned so much about each other as a family and we’ve become closer than ever.

How did we become closer? We celebrate everything! Every get-together is a celebration of life, and I ask everyone what they are grateful for and why. My 4-year-old grandson, Evan, and my three-year-old granddaughter, Juliet, even participate. Of course, they’re grateful for their parents and food on the table, but it’s good for them to say it out loud. It’s also good for their parents to hear that they are appreciated. So all in all, it’s good to communicate and share your thoughts no matter what age you are. It’s good practice to say what’s on your mind, so I ask: What are you grateful for? What makes you excited to wake up every day and put one foot in front of the other? My motto is, if you don’t know, make something up and pretend until you do know. Start saying things out loud and you will start believing it. Your life will start to change because everyone else will start believing you, too!

Photo: My sister Ann

Ann recently flew back to NY to celebrate the Kentucky Derby with friends and family. She helped to prepare the house and made some delicious dishes. Chee, our sister, made Mint Julips and they ate and laughed the day away. Evan’s birthday is Saturday and Ann flew back to Los Angeles to help him celebrate. We’re all going to go bowling for his party. Chee’s son James is going to celebrate his birthday with Evan. He’s a bit older (27) but we’re all kids at heart! Then my husband Gino’s birthday is next Saturday and we’ll all gather again! Our kids and their kids will be swimming, barbequing and creating lots of great music. That will be the theme of Gino’s celebration.

I’ll be joining everyone at the farm in June and I’m looking forward to partying, swimming in the huge one-acre pond, making pizza in the pizza oven, and hiking and shopping with Ann in Ellicottville, NY (our nearby ski village). Ann, Chee and I are going to do a presentation at the Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia, NY on June 22nd and of course another celebration afterward.

What do you do as a family to celebrate your loved ones? How do you let them know how much you appreciate them and love them? Can you even say the word “love”? Can you hug each other? One of the things Ann discovered and shared with us is that we didn’t grow up as “huggers” in our family, and after her ordeal with leukemia, she now has expressed that she wants to hug. I remember hugging our mom a few years before she died, and she stood there accepting my hug; but her hands were down by her sides. I told her “You can hug back you know,” but she never did. She just chuckled. Ann admitted she did the European double-air kiss to the cheeks for many years. But at a recent presentation at California State University Northridge, she announced to the students (after they asked her how she thinks she has changed) that she was now a hugger. They proceeded to stand in line to give her a hug and take a photo with her. It was so sweet, so awesome! It was truly a moment I will never forget.

I have always known, but I’m discovering it at a deeper level every day, that in the end it’s about family and the time you spend with each other. If you don’t have immediate family, cultivate deep friendships and treat those relationships with grace, honor and dignity. This African Proverb says it all: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I prefer to go far with my friends and family around me so we can share in life’s greatness.