Tribute to Rachie
For those who don’t know me, I’m Christina, one of Rachel’s closet friends. If you read her blog then you’ll recognize me by the disputed nickname she gave me “Our Lady of the …yada yada yada.” I firmly maintain that it was ALWAYS the baby (or maybe Eddie our dog)! Rach and I met in middle school and like she had a way of doing with so many people, we became fast friends. After high school is when our best adventures together began – we traveled across Europe together, we had epic visits to see each other throughout our college years, we went through the horrors of law school simultaneously in different cities, and eventually we both ended up living in New York City as roommates for many years. The best memories with her from our decades of friendship will sound familiar to many here today: they involve dancing like crazy loonies to blasting music, laughing so hard that we would literally pee our pants, coming up with the most insane pranks that we could pull on our dads (sorry Terry, sorry Peter), quenching our wanderlust for travel together with numerous trips to Miami, New Orleans, Atlantic City, DC, Greece, Israel, and Puerto Rico. And sometimes just sitting around on the couch, the bed, or on the phone yapping for hours about who knows what. She was my person.
I. WHO WAS RACHEL TO ME?
I think it makes sense today to start by talking about the most important thing that Rachel would want us to give priority to and focus on — and that is LIFE. Even if you didn’t know her very well or only met her briefly, I think pretty much everyone who knew Rachel can unequivocally agree on one thing — that girl knew how to live. And man, she lived remarkably. When I think about how Rachel lived her life, these are the things that come to mind.
She was FUN. What a silly sense of humor and just pure joy to be around. And that LAUGH that we all keep talking about and can hear ringing in our ears! I remember so many times when we would be out with new friends, people we had just met, and Rachel would burst out laughing about something, everyone would just stop and be taken aback for a moment — it was like something waking them up and forcefully grabbing their attention, and then of course there was nothing else to do but laugh along with her because it was so freaking contagious.
Rachel was always up for an ADVENTURE, whether it was doing something interesting or weird in the city like going to a singles Valentine’s day event at Jay Z’s club in Manhattan (this was pre Dan and Pre Oryan of course), taking Greek dancing lessons with a crazy teacher who kept reprimanding Rachel in Greek because she was trying to incorporate ballet moves into the Greek steps, or being the only person willing to wait in line with me for hours to meet yoga girl. Sometimes our adventures were just a dinner out with friends, a walk in the park, a day trip to a lake or a mountain, or some more elaborate expedition to another state or country. She was my go to buddy for anything and everything — whenever I had an itch to go somewhere or do something, she would be the first phone call to see if she was interested and her response was very reliable: “Yep! I’m in!”
She was KIND. Rachel was perhaps one of the most thoughtful, kind people I think many of us have ever met. She would send sweet messages and cards just to let you know she was thinking of you. She was always concerned with the well-being of others, and this extended to animals as well. I can’t count how many people have shared stories of how they were going through a difficult time in their life and they received a message from our sweet Rachel reaching out to them, providing them comfort and words of wisdom, letting them know she was there for them and that she cared. She was so smart, funny and easy to connect with. She had a way, even in the midst of her own struggles, to put others at ease. Even if you knew that she must be worried and scared, she was thinking of other people and making them feel good about being with her.
She gave the best ADVICE. I know I’m not alone in that she was that person so many of us turned to when we had a problem, something wasn’t going our way, or we were just having a bad day and needed to vent to someone. She was the mediator in disagreements and a trusted confidant for so many of us. She would listen, never judge, and come back with the most sound advice that would sometimes make you wonder …. How does this girl who I Was just out with last night, who was dancing with random people she’s never met, who peed her pants on the way home, who stole an ashtray, a stuffed parrot and a lamp from the bar, overslept and missed her flight this morning, and left her cell phone in a cab in Queens … how does she now today give me the most brilliant life guidance that I’ve ever received?? That was Rach.
She was OPEN, CARING, and CURIOUS. She had a genuine interest to know the deepest details about other people’s lives, even sometimes when it was someone who she just met 5 minutes before. Whether she was learning the names of our cab driver’s children and extended family members in Botswana and discussing how the politics of the country affected their ability to go to school or vote or have access to clean water or whether she was asking her nurses what subway lines they have to take home at night and how long it takes them, she asked these questions because she genuinely cared to know the answers and she honestly treasured the people.
She was FULL OF LIFE and lived LIFE to the fullest. She was the type of person that you feel very grateful that you got to know for whatever amount of time you got to. She would leave you with a feeling that you were just so happy that you knew her.
II. THE DIAGNOSIS: MY UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE ON THOSE 3 YEARS
It makes sense, then, being that Rachel was so full of life that when she was diagnosed she chose to continue to focus on LIFE. No matter what the next three years threw at her, she kept living, as strongly as ever, almost ignoring the line that was drawn in the sand that day in late 2015.
She continued to work and move up within her company, she traveled the world with friends, family, and Dan, she planned and had a legendary wedding in New Orleans, and she continued to be the life of the party wherever she went. She even somehow managed to become more beautiful by the day. To many, her diagnosis wasn’t reconcilable with the Rachel who we were seeing every day.
Now don’t get me wrong, if were Rachel were to describe this time period she would probably say something like “this sucked balls yo.” As roommates in unimaginably tiny New York city apartments, there wasn’t much room to hide from each other. I saw how shit she felt after her chemo infusions every week or every other week. I heard her screams of pain after the massive surgery in late 2016. We cried together on her bed when the doctors confirmed she would never be able to carry her own baby. We were alone in the apartment one day when her port got disconnected and blood started spraying everywhere and we had to rush to the emergency room. I saw her stay in bed all day on too many days. We spent what felt like endless hours together in that damn waiting room at MSK waiting to get bloodwork done and see the docs for appointment after appointment.
But what was truly phenomenal throughout all of this, was that she was NOT complaining. And on the days when she wasn’t in bed or at the hospital, our Rachel was not doing something mundane like sitting at home on the couch watching tv…..No, she had treatment on a Wednesday and by Saturday she was in Atlantic City with Michaela at a Pitbull concert, or she was meeting Dan in Dubai and England, or she was with me and Nicole and Oryan in Puerto Rico trekking in a rainforest during a torrential downpour, or she was flying to Louisiana to visit her cousins and nieces and nephews, or she was in Manilla for work. For every 1 or 2 days of the week that were shit, she grabbed those other 5 or 6 days of the week by the balls and said “Let’s do this”, probably with her thumb up. No matter the curveball that life threw at her, she would swing no matter what. She would take life on anything.
Through everything those years, she continued to focus on LIFE.
III. Rachel’s Revelations
May 2018 brought Rachel back to us in NYC, after she had been spending more of her time at home the year before. We were so excited that her and Dan were going to be living just a 5 minute walk from us after a lucky turn of events with our close friend Rob’s apartment being vacant at the right time and we had grand plans for what that was going to be like. But it wasn’t long after they got settled into their new place that I noticed a change in Rach – it was a minute change, maybe, but I noticed that she came over to visit us less frequently, and when she did visit she talked a little less and stayed a little shorter than she would usually have stayed. She was getting more tired by everyday things and she was declining more of my random offers to do things than she was accepting.
At the same time, a metamorphosis was gradually happening within her. We would chat frequently about staying positive and how the body follows the mind and that if she kept focused and if she kept visualizing that she was going to heal then the body would soon follow. We both read and reread Anita Moorjhani’s books and we listened to podcasts by Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra, among others. We would share with each other what we thought were the main points in each and often times we would be surprised, though I don’t know why, to find that we had underlined or circled the same parts of our books.
She was heartbroken each time she got kicked off of one of the immunotherapy studies and when she didn’t get accepted into the study at the National Institute of Health she was crushed. But she kept trucking along – she would take some time to be sad and disappointed and then she would pick herself up and she would move forward. What’s the next step? What’s the plaaaannn? She would ask. This was a difficult and uncertain time for Rach, but I believe that it was this part of her journey — these emotionally and mentally challenging times — that caused her to start the transformation within that ultimately led to her complete and total spiritual awakening. There’s no doubt that Rachel was always strong, but it was these months in mid to late 2018 where she turned inward and somehow she started tapping into a DIVINE strength, something otherworldly. This was happening slowly but surely…
And then, November 18th. We had just been over to her apartment the day before visiting with our moms who were both in town. Rach was still not feeling great and I could tell things were not well but she kept a brave face and kept showing up like she always did, never giving in. She called me mid-afternoon and said she had a terrible headache and was feeling confused so she and her mom were going to go to urgent care and she would keep me posted. Rach describes best how that day unfolded in one of her beautiful blog entries — but for me that was the moment, that late Sunday evening in the ER with Rachel and Pat, that was the opening of the portal, that was the beginning of the monumental shift in the universe that took place over the next 2 months. All of the internal fortitude and strength that she had been silently acquiring for months leading up to this, it just started flowing out of her like lava from a volcano.
Her heart and her mind were cracked open, and perhaps most shocking to all of us, so was her mouth. She finally started TALKING about everything – she starting SHARING her thoughts, feelings, emotions, dreams, fears, hopes, and she never stopped sharing and expressing her love for almost every single person whose path she crossed. How liberating it was for her to say it to the whole world – to shout it out loud, not be afraid any longer. I asked her one day if she felt free and light now that she was sharing everything so openly. She responded: “So much, it’s like this magical blanket of love is encapsulating me.” She deeply felt all of the good energy and love from everyone here – it brought her to tears on many occasions.
Part of what drove her to open up more was that she really wanted to help people in whatever way she could; she wanted to find something in all of this that would be able to help people. The entire experience had ripped her open and made her vulnerable and scared and drug her through the darkest times but on flip side she had some of the most beautiful, expansive, spiritual moments of her life.
And this is when the magic started happening.
It was during this time after Rachel had opened up that the people in her life started to see and feel the very real movement that she was creating. The most amazing SYNCHRONICITIES started happening and it quickly became undeniable that there was something miraculous transpiring here that was emanating from within our sweet, powerful Rachie. We had front row seats to view the miraculous evolution of her soul. There is no other way for me to say it except that Rachel became truly enlightened.
Like Dalai Lama enlightened. She was operating on a higher vibration, a higher frequency, and a higher consciousness. She said she could feel the energy of every living thing. She felt connected to it all – every particle in the air, every cell in her body — she could feel their vibration.
Rach started having very strong and real experiences with her Grandpa Larry who had passed the year before. I remember her telling me how her body, her hand, was physically warm after she felt him touch her. She started talking about how he was sending her dimes, — she told the story in one of her blog posts about how Grandpa Larry would always tip Grandma LaVina 10 cents on a 5 cent cup of coffee. And then out of nowhere (because seriously who uses coins these days, much less DIMES?!), we all started seeing dimes. After a visit with Rach, a dime fell out of our friend Tina’s pocket. The exact same thing happened to Pat on another day after she left the hospital They were everywhere. It was like Grandpa Larry had broken his piggy bank full of dimes and they came flying into our world.
Then, hummingbirds started appearing everywhere. Rach was on the phone one day with a friend and a hummingbird flew into the window of her kitchen. Shortly after visiting Rachel in the hospital, another friend received a card from someone and Inside was an inscription about how hummingbirds represent the life spirit. Instantly, she sent it to Rachel. Rach was thrilled, and recalled the hummingbird that had flown into the house just a few days prior. The next morning, yet another card was sent to another friend with a hummingbird on it. Then without knowing the full details of a conversation between Rach and one of her friends a few days earlier in the hospital, Becca sent Rachel a hummingbird picture with a quote on it that was from the exact same author they had just discussed.
Many of us would reach out to Rach during this time with information about alternative therapies that we were looking into. I kid you not, every time we told her about something she would respond saying she was just reading about the exact same thing and wanted more information. Within an hour of Rachel mentioning the idea of Arizona for the first time to us, we received a picture of friends who were in Sedona that very day. We had no idea why they were in Sedona and even more no idea why they randomly sent that picture.
Every day that went by, she got higher and higher. She had reached a level of existential clarity that was hard for all of us around her to understand, but we were along for the ride. Our friend Tina visited her over Christmas in the hospital and she messaged me after their visit telling me how amazing and special it was and that Rach had reached a very high level of alignment with her spirit and soul. She had transcended. I believe her exact words were, “She was literally a ninja turtle by this point.”
Rachel always understood that we are more than our bodies on this earth – she always had a connection with a spiritual world that is beyond the comprehension of most. She was an intuitive and an empath for sure. As conversations with Rach became more and more spiritual in the last months, it was clear that she believed that our souls have a purpose to accomplish in our time here. She had an understanding of our souls as spiritual entities and that we come here to learn very specific lessons that our soul needs. We talked about this frequently – about how our souls know what they need to experience, that we choose when to be born and who to be born to, we live the unique experience that our soul needs, and then, the soul knows when it has accomplished what it needed to in this lifetime and it accepts its transition.
As if to reaffirm these conversations even more, just a few weeks ago I picked up our copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain, Rach’s favorite book that she gifted Oryan when his dog died a few years ago. She wrote a sweet little note on the inside cover, including her favorite quote from the book which was this: “She died that day because her body had served its purpose. Her soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”
I have found this to be particularly comforting in all of this. To know that Rachel had a purpose, a path that she herself chose, and that she fulfilled that purpose. In those very early days of January, it was hard to reconcile Rachel’s intense certainty that she was going to heal with what the doctors were telling us. She believed it with all her being, and so we did also. At some point in those blurry days, I had the realization that healing does not always mean physical healing but spiritual healing too. At some point, I stopped telling her “Rachel you are going to heal from this” but I started whispering in her ear “Rachel, you’ve already done it, you’ve healed.”
And I know she knew that she had. She had been furiously reading Anatomy of the Spirit, which reminds us that “Healing does not always mean that the physical body recovers from an illness. Healing can also mean that one’s spirit has released long-held fears and negative thoughts towards oneself or others. This kind of spiritual release and healing can occur even though one’s body may be dying physically.” I think that she reached almost the highest state that was possible while physically still in this realm. It was in her eyes, it was in the room, you could feel it. It was palpable. Her spirit was aligning with something much greater than her.
In one of our very last conversations, I told Rachel that I thought she had figured out the meaning of life in the past months and by her doing that and talking about it and sharing it in the way that she was that she was bringing others closer to finding it as well. She responded saying she felt the same way, that this was her life’s purpose, that it was all supposed to unfold like this, and that her path to healing was “amazing” and just as it was supposed to be. One of the things that she learned in this that she wanted to leave behind for us was not to be afraid, not to be afraid of life, not to be afraid of moments that are intense or scary or painful because if you stay in it, if you live in it, then you will experience these moments of amazing beauty, of pure light, of universal love that she was telling us about. Rachel kept saying “this process is beautiful” and she wasn’t afraid of it; dying was beautiful; dying wasn’t the scary part — in true Rachel form, she was worried about us. She was most worried for her family, for how they would be without her.
In those last weeks, when a mutual friend of ours asked her if there’s one thing she could leave behind what would it be, she said this: “be your truest most authentic self no matter how weird you think you might be or how stupid you think you might sound, be your truest truest self.” She felt like for the first time in her life she was able to do that. She also expressed frustration that people seemed to lack commitment with their lives and with themselves — she wanted to see the people around her be committed to themselves and their dreams , to knowing themselves, to loving themselves, and living their lives to the fullest.
The story of Rachel is the story of all of us. It is a wake-up call. It is a demand that we check in with our souls to face ourselves honestly and see how authentically we are living with our higher calling. In the end, she herself got into alignment with her higher self and purpose. The story of her is therefore the story of all of our lives and how our lives and fates are truly intertwined and connected for some greater purpose.
And now, after her passing, Rachel’s spirit is as strong and magical as ever. I have to share a few stories about how she’s been showing us that she’s still here with us now.
On Monday after she passed, she showed up all day for so many of us. I started texting someone in the morning, I don’t remember what it was about, but all of a sudden the BEE emoji popped up in my text screen and I know I was NOT texting about bees. Pat found a dime in her pocket that morning. Another friend of ours who didn’t ever hear the story about the dimes was pleading with Rach to send her a sign that she’s ok and she said “I don’t know, Rachel, send me a dime or something!” Ann picked up her coffee in LA from Starbucks and the cup right next to hers was for Rachel (and it was even spelled correctly, which as you probably know is BIG).
We went to our old neighborhood in Nolita and walked around all day going to Rach’s favorites spots. One of our first stops was a makeup store (we all know how Rach felt about her makeup) — I walked in and the first thing I saw was a shelf of boxes with hummingbirds on them. Hummingbirds represent the greater life force that moves everything. That’s why they kept coming into her life in those last few months and why they keep coming into our lives now. Because she didn’t “die”, but rather she became a part of the greater life force.
We went to Old St. Pat’s Cathedral and the most angelic boys choir was singing a beautiful hymn and we were getting teary eyed because that in itself was such a special moment. And as if Rach could sense us all getting a little too somber, — they all of a sudden started singing “What should we do with the drunken sailor?”!!! In a church! I mean, is that even a church song? We all burst out laughing and knew it was her, trying to get us to laugh and lighten up a bit, letting us know she was ok and she still had her sense of humor.
We went out to dinner at one of her favorite places and we all toasted to her and took a picture with our thumbs up, as she always did. A few days later, Oryan was trying to gather his pics of Rachie on his phone by using the face recognition feature. All of the pictures it pulled were correctly her, but you guessed it, that picture that we took the day after she had passed was in the folder also. This is impressive even if only for the fact that my techie husband, who has a mechanical explanation for everything, can not figure that one out.
And it continued…
About one week after she passed I had been feeling glum and sad all day and when I was walking home that night, I said out loud “Rachel, this is so hard. We miss you so much.” And I immediately felt a warmth start in my chest and then spread over my entire body. This was the same actual physical warmth she had felt from her Grandpa Larry months before. I instantly felt peaceful, light, and even happy because I FELT her and I KNEW that she was more than ok.
A few weeks ago, the doorman of our building randomly handed our son a dime and just last week a co-worker left a dime on my desk. Pat was going through an old box of pictures and on top of a baby picture of Rach was a DIME.
At some point, my husband jokingly said to me: “Christina, not everything is Rachel!!!” But the signs just kept coming.
There was a song that Rach was listening to on repeat in those last weeks in the hospital, a song none of us had ever heard before. As Becca and Dan were pulling up to this place, the pines, to check it out many weeks ago for this event here today, that very song came on the radio. It was Rach saying that this was the perfect place where she wanted us to gather to celebrate her today.
Another morning we were in our bathroom getting ready and the light got really bright for just a second. It’s never done that before and It wasn’t a flicker or a dimming and then strengthening. It just got brighter. My first instinct was that one of the babies had messed with the switch or something, but then Oryan confirmed they hadn’t and the light just did that on its own. We both simultaneously said “hi Rachie”.
As Becca and Pat walked to their gate at the airport when they were leaving new york, the first thing they both saw at one of the airport shops was Rach’s favorite book, The Art of Racing in the Rain.
And perhaps my favorite sign that she’s given us to date…
Just a few weeks ago Dan was at the airport and he found himself alone in the lounge. Alone. With Paul. McCartney. They ended up having a beautiful conversation about their wives, both of whom had passed, and Dan showed a him pictures of our Rachie. When Dan asked him how he coped with it, Paul — can I just remind you, a BEATLE — told him that all kinds of things will happen and will continue to happen where you will feel her presence. And that you should embrace it, not hide from it, and you will find it will provide a great source of comfort. Unsurprisingly, Rachel’s ashes are going to be spread in two of the same places as his wife’s, in England and Arizona.
A friend and I were just laughing the other day about this, thinking about Rachel saying something like “WTF people, CAN I MAKE IT ANY CLEARER THAT I’M HERE?!!?!? UMMMM, HELLO, I SENT A BEATLE to Dan???” She is so powerful that she sent a freaking Beatle to make sure Dan believes, to quell any doubts he may be having that she’s still here.
And how is it that in the recent blast in Kabul, which destroyed all of Dan’s belongings and reduced his room to rubble and ashes, everything that Rachel had given him — cards, pictures, random memorabilia from Fargo — was perfectly fine and unscathed.
And finally, just yesterday in the airport as she was making her way here for today, my sister Nicole stopped to get something to eat and the menu listed two sandwiches, one right under the other: The grilled tuna (Tuna is a nickname of mine, long story) and the Grilled Rachel. Seriously. She ordered the Grilled Rachel.
I know you all have your own stories as well, ways that you’ve seen or felt her in the past weeks. We know it’s our girl, reaching out to let us know she’s ok and to check in on us, to see how we’re doing, trying to lighten our d ay, because that’s exactly who Rachie was.
I find myself thinking often about what the message is that Rachel wants us to take from this whole experience. She showed us how we can be better people, just by thinking and behaving as she would in any given situation. Be kind to everyone and to animals, live in the moment, love hard, enjoy this life to the fullest while we are here, and always always frame everything with laughter. Love ourselves – that’s a big one. Clean out “icky” emotions that we are harboring inside. Feel our feelings fully, express them, and then let them go, release them. Don’t let fear take hold of your heart. In any situation in this life, always choose to act out of love rather than out of fear.
I don’t have the answers to anything, but it certainly has redirected me and I know it has redirected many others as well. What has happened has moved all of us in the directions that we needed to go. She is the vessel for this change. This experience was a gift to Rachel and it’s a gift for us too. Rachel is a force to be missed and reckoned with. She is a quick, excited, magical spirit. She is now part of the bigger love. She is free and she wants to hang around and be with us, she wants to hug us with her re-energzied love, she wants to keep giving us life from beyond. She is smiling. I feel it. And knowing that she’s still here doesn’t mean that we aren’t sad about the readjustment in our relationship with her now. We should always communicate with her and she will respond in her way. Even though she can’t pick up the phone, she’s here. There will be moments when she will feel so close, other times where maybe she will be attending other people who she loved and others where she’ll just be busy getting her hair done. But no matter what, she will keep sending us messages. Our task is to be sensitive enough to see them. She is still watching over us and as part of a larger life force, she is taking care of everyone she loved. Truly, truly, we should be happy for her. She’s the lucky one. Rachel got to experience something most of us will never experience in this lifetime. Reaching her highest self. And we should thank her for all the beauty she is bringing even after her passing.
The closer we go to the love that Rachel is now, the closer we will be able to lose more and more fear and connect with anyone that God or the universe or whatever you want to call it puts in our path. All I know is that I long for the moment that I am in those woods with her. Where it is quiet. Where there is nothing to separate you from God and the greater love that she is now a part of.