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A Tribute To My Sister, Audra

I never had a sister growing up, but I was blessed to have known and spent a majority of my childhood years with three amazing women who now have families of their own. Jen, Audra and Xenavee (Xen) and then there was me of course, Tracy. We even had a group name…we called ourselves JTAX! (If you haven’t already figured it out, we basically just took the first letter of our names and fused them together.) We went to school together, swam together, hung out together and basically fought like sisters together. We didn’t always get along, but we were definitely connected by the Good Lord’s choosing.

Friday, June 19th marked the 11th anniversary of my sister in heaven, Audra. Not many people can say they had best friends since childhood, but I was fortunate to have known this beautiful and courageous soul. Audra and I met when we were both about 7 years old. I grew up on an island called Saipan, which if you look on a map…they look like a little connect-the-dots activity in some sort of cross-word puzzle book.

Saipan is part of a chain of 14 different islands called the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Saipan, Tinian and Rota are the three most inhabited and populated islands in our neck of the woods. There really wasn’t much to do except, spend weekends lounging at the beach, work, school and swim in our case. (So this is the part where everyone trips after I tell them where I’m originally from, because who wouldn’t want to live in paradise all year long, right! Trust me I miss home everyday.) Anyhow, we were very active athletes once upon a time, and our lives consisted of swim practice, school and competitions. Looking back now, I wish I could go back in time and really engulf myself in those moments.

There are days I often find myself reminiscing of when I was younger and hung out with my crew, JTAX. I know, I know, pretty corny but for us 9/10 year-olds at the time, it was pretty amazing to have a group to hang with. You know just like every other boy and girl pop band that made it’s debut in the early 90’s. We were inseparable. Audra was if she didn’t know it, was sort of like the mother figure and we all flocked to her because she was such a gentle and caring person. It didn’t matter who you were, she always made time to say hello and introduce herself to any stranger. She was an incredible person, to say the least.

She grew up having three other siblings and I remember always asking my parents why I couldn’t trade my brother in for a sister. Looking back now, both my parents and brother knew I loved them and it was nothing more than your typical brother and sister rivalry, that drove my parents nuts, hence why I asked for a sister in the first place. To this day, we still talk about how I left my brother a note listing the things he could and couldn’t do with me, lol. Even though we are far apart, we are closer now, more than ever.

Audra and I were two peas from the same pod. We played together, called each other every day, went to the same school from grade school until my Junior year of high school. In the summer 2000, the year my parents decided to move both my brother and I stateside, was the year my heart felt a heavy weight. I was devastated. I was leaving the home I knew and grew up in, I was leaving my friends, my swim team, but most of all my best friends Jen, Xen and Audra. I cried and cried for weeks, and because I wasn’t very good at expressing my emotions, I hid from the hurt and pain it caused me. I didn’t know how to handle what I was feeling at the time. That summer, I hung out with friends, cousins and every chance I could with my girls. It was a turning point in my life, I will never forget.

At the same token, Audra was moving to Hawaii to begin her first year of college. Audra and I were the same age, but she had started school a year earlier than I did. We both were transitioning into adulthood and we weren’t ready for the world yet. However, regardless of distance, we promised to remain best of friends and still keep in touch. She was there through some rough times and vice versa. She was the person I told all my secrets to and the shoulder I could lean on if I ever needed one. She was the ultimate friend of best friends, if there is such a thing. She was my sister.

As the years passed, the calls came sparingly, but we remained best friends and stayed connected. Then one afternoon, while I was driving to work, pregnant with my daughter Audri, she called me to say hello and we had spoken for about 5-10 minutes. I was in a rush trying to get to work in time and I told her I had to go, but I would call her back the following day. Little did I know, that would be the last day I ever got to hear her sweet voice again.

On father’s day June 19th, 11 years ago, I got the dreaded phone call from my father letting me know she had passed suddenly in a car accident on her way home from work. I remember that night vividly, as my dad had called and left a message saying he had important news to share. When he had called, I was out with friends enjoying some live music at a local pub when I listened to the voicemail. I jumped out of my seat, 6 months pregnant and ran to my car. I told everyone I had to leave unexpectedly. When I finally arrived home, I called my father immediately and explained to him that I was out with friends that evening. He asked me if I was sitting down. I told him I was and that is when he broke the news to me about Audra’s accident. I couldn’t believe it. That night I cried myself to sleep and I booked off work the next day. I just couldn’t believe my best friend of 15 years had suddenly passed.

Audra’s service was held in Saipan a few weeks after her passing, and I was unable to attend. Second time in my life I was truly heart broken. I never would have imagined this happening to someone I had been so close with since childhood. The next few weeks proved to be one of the most difficult times in my life, on top of being pregnant with our first baby. I was at a loss for words. I sent my father a letter describing my friendship with this amazing woman who was called to her final resting place at the young age of 26. Her sister Tami read my letter at her eulogy. I wished more than anything in the world, I could have been there for her, for her family and for my fellow sisters who loved and adored Audra.

My grief came in waves and I wasn’t ready to accept that she was gone. I didn’t want to admit to myself that my best friend would no longer be just a phone call away. I didn’t want her to leave. Why her, I kept asking? Then one day I called my father a couple weeks after her service, and told him I missed her. He said something to me that day, that put a lot of things into perspective. He explained that Audra’s father had mentioned her passing as being of greater service to the Lord, and that her purpose on earth was fulfilled, but not yet in heaven. God needed her more than we did. My dad, mom and brother attended her service and commented on the fact that everyone who attended felt sad, but there was an overwhelming sense of peace and calmness in church that day. Audra was called home and she was smiling down at everyone.

Her smile was contagious. I remember growing up, we would pass notes to each other and at the end of every letter, there would be hearts and smiley faces so evenly decorated along the edges of the lined, notebook paper. She loved reading and writing and there was never a moment I couldn’t picture her without a book in her hands. She was beautiful, brave, loving, compassionate, but most of all, my sister. We may not come from the same family, but we were most definitely connected at the heart. There is no better description of who she was and what her friendship meant and still means to me today. I love you and I dedicate this memoir in your honor. I miss you friend, until we meet again.

An Eternal Memory…Until We Meet Again

“Those special memories of you will always bring a smile if only I could have you back for just a little while. Then we could sit and talk again just like we used to do. You always meant so very much and always will do too. The fact that you’re no longer here will always cause me pain, but you’re forever in my heart, until we meet again.”-Unknown

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