Dear Rachel,

Today is your birthday. I know you know that already, but I’m just down here reminding the rest of the world. You did a great job of that while you were here, but you’re not now, so I’ll need to carry that torch from here on out.

Anyone that knew you, knew that you were the most selfless person on the face of the planet and that for 364 days a year, you’d put everyone’s needs before yours. But each year, on this day, your birthday, it was about you and no one else. And I loved that about you. I loved how much you loved your birthday.

For most of us, as we get older, we stop celebrating our birthday.

We don’t like to keep count of how old we are getting. But not you. You welcomed it. Heck, you even celebrated your half birthday. Most people stop doing that at like 5 1/2 years old. That wasn’t how you rolled. And from what I remember, we had a heck of a bash when you turned 38 1/2 last November.

I hope you know that just because you’re not here, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be celebrating you. You’ve been in Heaven for 75 days now and not a day has gone by that we haven’t celebrated your greatness. Each day looks a bit different. Some are just really hard and are filled with a lot of tears. It took me a couple of months, but I’ve recently learned that that’s OK and to embrace those days.

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One thing that surprises me a bit, and that I think you’ll be really happy to know, is that many days see lots of laughter. Yep, despite what some people think, we still laugh. Maybe not quite as hard as we used to, because, well, I’m not as funny as you and the kids don’t get a kick out of me like they did you. But we still laugh. And we laugh often. And I know that makes you so happy.

We talk about you a lot. We tell stories about Mommy and all the fun things that she did when she was here. We’ve come to the realization that on most days, you were the “fun” in this family, and without you around we have to work a bit harder to entertain ourselves. You were for sure our entertainer. And that’s one of the million reasons we miss the heck out of you.

I just hope you know I’m trying my best each day to be better. I gave up on the idea that I could ever be as good as you were. I just can’t. I’m not sure anyone can. You were the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT), and that’s a lot to live up to.

I mean, if you can’t be the GOAT, you may as well marry her. And that’s exactly what I did.

I’m trying to be a better listener, because you were so good at listening to the kids tell their endless stories, even when it had no point or was super boring.

I’m trying to be a better dancer, because you were such a good dance partner for Cooper. So far, she hasn’t been impressed with my moves, but I think we are getting somewhere and with a little more practice, I don’t think she will be embarrassed of me anymore.

I’m trying to be a better cuddler, because you were the best cuddler that Macklin could ever dream of having. As you know, that’s not my thing. I’ve always been the one who likes to sleep when it’s time to sleep and doesn’t care to be touched. Macklin doesn’t know that. I haven’t filled him in on that. And I’ve done my best to play your part there. I’m not doing as well as you did. I have a tendency to push him away when his foot hits my face. But I’m working on it and eventually I’ll embrace the foot in the face. Maybe.

I’m trying to “nerd out” more with Hadley and to be more excited about her rock collections and her science experiments. It’s just that some of those experiments are such a mess and so much to clean up. Yet, you never complained about them. You encouraged her the entire time. And then you cleaned up her mess when she was done. Every single time.

I’m trying to be a better friend.

When you went to Heaven, a lot of people lost their best friend. I’ve never known someone to have so many best friends. I can’t fill the role that you held for all of them, but I’m doing my best to love them all and love them well. I don’t think they expect much from me, so I think we are doing OK there. But man, they sure do miss you.

I just wanted to make sure you know that even though you’re gone, today is about you. Today is about finding ways to give you the things you asked for, even after you’ve passed. You wouldn’t believe how many people are celebrating you today. We even made these cool shirts that say “Love Like Rachel,” and there are about 1000 people wearing them today. It’s amazing. So many of them have never even met you. Everyone is honoring you today. People are striving today, and every day, to love people more like you did.

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I want to reassure you of something really quickly. You had two big fears when you got sick and especially when we got the news that you weren’t going to get better:

  1. You were afraid that people would lose their hope and their faith in Jesus. I just want you to know that that didn’t happen. Not even close. Girl, the way you did life, even when you knew you were going to die, led so many people to Him. People that never knew Him now know Him. People that had strayed away from Him, have come back to Him. People that thought they knew Him, know Him even more today because of you. You did so well Rachel. Gosh, you did so dang well.
  2. You were worried whether the kids and I would be taken care of. I just want you to know that we are so loved. And not a moment goes by in our day where we don’t feel that. No one has tried to fill your role. No one can love us the way you did. But people are loving us so well. I want you to know we are OK. And just recently I realized it’s OK to be OK. For a while, I thought there was something wrong with that. That I wasn’t supposed to be OK this soon. But then I realized that that’s all you wanted for us. To be OK.

Today is about celebrating everything that made you special and so deeply loved.

But the truth is, today is hard. It’s so hard not having you here.

It’s not the same without you here. We miss you so much. But today isn’t about us, it’s about you and we are going to celebrate and celebrate big.

I must mention that there is one small problem. We aren’t really allowed to be around people right now. There is this pandemic thing going on. Yep, right after you went to be with Jesus, the entire country shut down. It’s the strangest thing. I wish you could see what’s happening. I’d love your take on it all.

Everyone is wearing masks if they go anywhere. Most people are being forced to stay home. There is no school. Yep, that’s right. The kids haven’t been to school since mid-March. I think I’m supposed to be teaching them from home but that’s not happening. So they may get held back. Who knows? There is no church. As in, there are no services on Sundays. But as you know, church doesn’t need a building to happen. There are no sports. Yep, no baseball. I think your dad is taking that one kinda hard. I know I am. There really is no anything. It’s so weird.

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And of course, half the world thinks we should open back up and start partying in big ol’ groups, while the other half thinks we should stay inside for the next two years and not even make eye contact with our immediate family. I’m not sure who is right. I’m thinking probably somewhere in the middle. But you wouldn’t like it very much because you aren’t even allowed to hug people unless they live with you. We all know that just wouldn’t fly with you.

All that to say, I just need you to know that we will try our hardest to be joyful today, for you.

We will look at pictures of you. We will talk about how incredible you were. We will share stories of all the times that made us laugh, times that surprised us, and times that we’ll never forget.

We’ll gather together today. Not a bunch of us together like we’d like to, but hundreds of small gatherings, all across the world, will come together and honor you. I hope you can see us. I think you can. I sure hope you can. You’ll see that you aren’t forgotten. That you’ll never be forgotten. That we will never forget your love, your kindness, your generosity, your patience, your hugs, your beauty, and your grace.

Selfishly, I hope we all feel your presence today. I’m pretty sure we will. It’s rare that a day goes by that we don’t. But on the really “important days,” like today, I find myself searching for you, even more than usual.

Rachel, you did what so many people spend their entire lives trying to do, yet never accomplish. And you did it in less than 39 years. You made the world a better place. Not just when you were here, but even now, after you’re gone. The ripple effect that your life has had is something only seen in the movies. Until now. Until you.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Rach.

I really hope that you’re dancing up there today. I bet you are. And I hope that all of the love and the birthday wishes from down here make it up to you. I think they will. I’m pretty sure they will.

We love you. We miss you. And things just aren’t the same down here without you. But you’ll be so pleased to know that we are all doing our best to love just like you loved. #lovelikerachel


This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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Brandon Janous

Hubby of 1 | Daddy to 3 | Serial Entrepreneur | Speaker | Writer | Storyteller | VP @getfaithbox

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