Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rest in Peace, Ring Dance

I heard about the University of Richmond Ring Dance as a prospective student. Being the girly girl that I am, I looked forward to this event the moment I signed on the dotted line and accepted my admission as a Spider. The opportunity to don a fancy white dress and walk down the stairs of The Jefferson Hotel with my dad then have a big party with my family and classmates was right up my alley!
As junior year approached, my mom and I mapped out all of the stores we would go to in search of the perfect dress. After scouring numerous racks, I settled on two dresses. One was a very inexpensive dress (under $100) and the other could have been worn as a wedding gown, if I so desired one day. Both were white and equally appropriate for the occasion. I couldn't decide which one I liked better, so I brought my dad in to break the tie. I happily paraded around in both dresses, showing off my good side so that my dad could make an informed decision. In the end, he chose the more expensive dress. Anytime he complained about the price, I kindly reminded him that he chose it! I plan to use this same tactic for my wedding gown one day.
 Friday night of the big weekend, my parents checked into The Jefferson Hotel and I decided to stay over with them. I wanted to take a bubble bath (I was tired of dorm showers) and wanted to practice walking down the stairs. Dad and I thought it would be so awesome if I walked down without my canes. We practiced and practiced the night before. The practice paid off and I was able to descend the huge staircase sans canes! 
It was one of the proudest moments of my life! As I walked down the staircase with my dad on my arm and a sterling rose in my hand, my classmates at the bottom cheered loudly for me! At the end of the procession, we all formed the Westhampton "W" (our photo got screwed up) and then went upstairs to party! It was one of my fondest memories of college. The next morning, one of my close friends and her family met my family downstairs for the most delicious brunch.  Then we said goodbye to our families and went back to reality at 28 Westhampton Way.
I realize my experience is one of someone who was privileged to be able to afford to have something so grand. While not everyone is going to be able to have all of that fuss, there is no reason why they cannot have some of it and enjoy the experience as much as I did. This article says that Ring Dance is expensive, a white dress is expensive and "bridal" or "debutante"-ish, not every woman wants to wear white and not everyone has a good relationship with their father so escorts are being done away with, too. I don't disagree with any of these points. While I was not in this position I can understand how they could be concerns. But, I do think there is a way to address the concerns without morphing the tradition into what is being proposed. There is a way to keep the tradition and make it memorable for all involved.
First of all, if you do everything I did for Ring Dance, yes, it can be very  pricey. But, how about creating a fund for women who cannot afford the tickets to the event to get scholarships for themselves and two family members? I believe this may actually already be in existence. Not everyone has to spend the night in The Jefferson. If you want to but can't afford it, chances are, you know someone who is staying there or in the surrounding hotels and can bunk with them. 
Now onto the dress...The dress I ended up wearing was not cheap, but remember I did find one for under $100 and was absolutely willing to wear it! You may not be able to find a white dress in the winter, but you know this is coming the moment you enter as a first-year student, so shop early! Another option would be for the sororities to organize a "dress drive" and the senior women could donate their dresses. Sororities could also organize a fundraiser to pay for tickets for women who could not afford their own. All of the funds raised and dresses donated could be given to the Dean so there is some privacy for those using the funds. Not to mention, the dress is not *required* to be white. There are so many formal dresses lying around in our closets from formals that could be donated, too. Richmond students are big on community service, so why not help out those amongst us? Unfortunately, I cannot donate my dress because it has turned yellow over time, but I would have been happy to if it looked nice. I would also be willing to donate to a fund to help other women have a wonderful Ring Dance! (As for the color white, yes, it is "bridal", but white also symbolizes transition to me and I think this could be one of the intentions as you transition to upper-class-women.

WC'04 Ring Dance was also memorable because we had TLC's Makeover Story film our event. Two women in our class wrote into the show, they liked their story, picked up all the expenses for the event, and came to film the big night! This is unlikely to happen again especially since the show is no longer on the air, but you never know, if another show might not latch onto the idea and help another Westhampton woman or two.
The author also discusses that not all women have a good relationship with their father. Again, no requirement to have your father walk you down the stairs. And, chances are, if you and your dad don't have a good relationship, it probably started long before your junior year of college. Have your mom, boyfriend, uncle, favorite professor, best friend walk you down! Not a show-stopper.
The over-arching issue is about inclusion. Ring Dance is perceived as being exclusive because it is expensive and not everyone wants to participate.  If not participating is a function of cost, I offered suggestions above. If you are championing the inclusion idea because you are concerned it singles out women, I hope you aren't in a sorority. We all know sororities do not champion inclusion as we sit in a room and decide who we want and don't want to call our sisters! And, how much money did you spend on dues, t-shirts, social attire and gifts for your littles during your four years in college? I am not sure how the new proposal is going to solve this problem because the focus seems to be on rings which not everyone buys, and academics, of which not everyone earns some distinction.
 I know this might seem like an over-reaction to be upset about the changes. I am upset because not only was Ring Dance one of the most memorable nights of my life, it was tradition.  I chose to come to UR because, not only did I think it would provide me with a wonderful education, but the school is rooted in tradition. Richmond's strong commitment to tradition is one of the things that sets it apart. If you don't like that about the school, you don't need to participate or you can choose another place to further your education. You could argue that they're not eliminating the tradition, just changing it, and it has had a few changes over time. Yes, that's true. But, they are taking away the crux of Ring Dance - the white dresses, the escorts, the stairs -- the things that make it unique. In an effort to be more inclusive, Richmond is moving away from what made it so special and unique. I'm not saying we shouldn't aim for inclusion. The more the merrier, but be inclusive within the framework of who you are as a school.
My senior year at UR, I took a class with one of the past Presidents of the University, Dr. Richard Morrill. We talked a lot about how institutions have stories and what the UR story is. I am an alumni recruiter and the proudest Spider you will ever meet! I get the opportunity to tell Richmond's story often. What do I say? We are a cutting edge school with a strong commitment to academics, study abroad and community service. But, what sets us apart is that we are grounded in tradition. It is truly special when you reflect on the fact that generations of Spiders have participated in the same experience. I am sad to see this one, as so many of us have known it, go.

WC'04, Thanks for the memories! OH, WHAT A NIGHT!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Are you there?

Ever since you've died, I've become more and more interested in heaven. I've studied Revelation in small group and know that heaven is even more amazing than I can imagine. I certainly wish you were still down here, but I know you must be having a blast up there! After your death, two of my friends gave me the book Heaven is for Real. It is about this 3 year old boy who while having surgery goes to heaven for a short period of time. Months later, he starts recalling all of the details to his parents. His parents are shocked at what they are hearing and verify the details they can in the Bible. The book recounts his visit. I tore through that bad boy in a matter of hours! Your mom read it, too, and sometimes we discuss it together. Now, I know it could all be sensational and I could be a sucker. I won't know til I get to see you again. In the meantime,  it brings me great comfort to imagine you sitting in Jesus' lap, looking down on all of us and watching Jesus answer our prayers.

What's it like to hang out with Jesus? Do you echo my prayers into his ears? If so, I could really use some help with the LSAT. I tell the Big Man everyday, but it'd be nice to have some backup!! And, how 'bout the Nats!! Whoa, Dude! And, the Pirates, too. The Redskins and Steelers could use some divine intervention, Dude. Things aren't going so well and I know how much you loved football.

Do you see me? Can you see me when I cry? Sometimes I start to cry and then all of a sudden stop. I get a little annoyed because I wasn't ready to stop, but I remember you want me to be happy. You used to get such a sad look on your face when I would cry. You loved to smile and loved for me to show my smile, too. Is that you and Jesus halting those tears?

I miss your touch, but sometimes it feels like you are so close. Are you? I like to think you are. My questions won't have definitive answers til I am where you are, but this poem will satisfy for now.

A Gift from Heaven

I am with you always
I live in your heart
I speak to your soul
We are not far apart

When you feel a light breeze
Hear the songs the birds sing
Know that I see every smile
Your kindness can bring

I see you building your dreams
With wisdom and grace
And asking His guidance
With each challenge you face

I am more than a memory
You will feel our love grow
I am forever your angel
Some things you just know

Please tell me your thoughts
Your hopes and your fears
And know that through faith
He will heal all your tears

For today, I can share
That in Heaven above
God has taken my hand
I am complete, I am love.

Your voice is in my head. Your smile in my heart. I know we aren't really that far apart. I wait patiently for the day I will see you again. I've much to do here, but I know you are near.

Hey, look I'm a poet and didn't even know it! HA!  Stay close.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

She's just "Age" to me!

It all started one week in September 1998 on Martha's Vineyard. I attended my first overnight camp with three of my high school friends. I had no idea what to expect, but that week ended up being one of the most memorable of my life! I slept in The Barn, made new friends from all over the country, sang praise and worship songs, gallivanted all over the island, ate "Oh baby" bars, learned what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus and asked Him to come into my heart. As if all of that wasn't enough for five days, God brought a woman named Amy Julia Truesdell into my life. Ever since I understood what siblings were and that being an only child meant I wasn't ever going to have any, I began praying for siblings. I'm convinced that God answered that prayer when He forged my relationship with Amy Julia (AJ/Age).

When my friends and I returned home from camp on the Vineyard, we brought AJ home with us. She stayed for a year with Grace Barnes' family. Throughout that year, my friends and I "Experienced God" with AJ, she and I single-handedly kept Maggie Moos in business, and she sat beside me every day for a week while I was in the hospital getting some painful injections. At the end of the year, we sent her off to become Amy Julia Becker and pioneer the GRAFOCUS region.

Little did I know that just one year later, I would join Age and Peter down in Richmond, Va. It was such a blessing to have someone I was so close to in a place unfamiliar to me. As I embarked on my college journey, I wouldn't have wanted anyone else by my side. During my time as a Spider, I volunteered with GRAFOCUS and continued to strengthen my bond with Age and Peter. We were in the same city for 3 years and that was the last time we would live so close to each other. But, the distance hasn't broken our bond.

When asked who I would consider one of the most influential people in my life, the answer is easy. Amy Julia Becker, of course! She has taught me what it means to have a relationship with Christ and how to live that out in everyday life. She's taught me how to have faith, strength and grace in the face of adversity. I've increased my vocabulary thanks to Age, and have learned the "proper balance" between Diet Coke and water during the day! Just a few months ago, I spent the day with all of the Beckers and learned a little something about parenting that I can hopefully use in a few years. AJ has influenced my past, present and future.

For the last 15 years (and counting), Amy Julia has been such a blessing in my life. I watch and I learn.
Not the most flattering photo as I had just had surgery, but it's our most recent

Now, the rest of the world is in on my secret. Amy Julia Becker was just named "One of the 50 Women to Watch" by Christianity Today!! An accomplished author, blogger, and advocate for people with Downs Syndrome and other disabilities, she is sharing her faith and talent beyond FOCUS and her other spheres of influence. If you are interested in learning more about AJ or in reading her books, go here.
There she is in the top left corner!

I am SO proud of her! But, no matter how famous she becomes, she'll always be Age to me!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The hall pass to grieve

Remember when you were in elementary school and had to not only ask to go to the bathroom, but had to get a hall pass and maybe even a buddy to go with you? In most cases, you were perfectly capable of making it there and back on your own. Still, you were forced to ask permission to do what you needed to do.

Grieving feels that way, at times. People, under the guise of trying to be helpful - and they probably are sincerely trying to be helpful -- throw all of this information and judgment at you. Some will discuss the stages of grief and comment on what stage they think you are at and whether or not it is healthy to be at that stage. Others will put a timeline on your grief based on where they think they would be if they were in your situation and judge you against their hypothetical standard. At times, friends and family have implored me to stop happy...focus on the good times...remember that he would want you to be happy.

I've heard:

"Do you know how many cupcakes you have had today?"

"You've had a glass of wine EVERY DAY this week!?!?!"

"Maybe instead of what you are doing to help yourself, you should do _____ or _______ or _______ because that helped my friend.

It is human nature to do and say all of those things. I'm confident I have said some combination of those things to another person grieving. It is human nature to try to "stop the bleeding", or at the very least, put a band-aid on the situation. Nobody wants to see someone they care about in so much pain, and they will do what they think is right to stop the pain.

The truth is sometimes the griever does not want to stop the pain. They want to work through the pain. Working through the pain means doing what is right for you, and this is different for every person. It may mean crying, writing, laughing, getting angry, stuffing your face with sweets, individual counseling, group counseling, talking in circles with people who understand the situation best, or just asking a person to sit beside you even if you don't say one word to each other. It takes different forms at different times.

There is no timeline to grief. You can have a really great week and then be slammed with grief and pain for a day or two. One thing you know is that you don't know and there is no definitive end. Unfortunately, grief can resurface years later at a birthday, anniversary or significant event. What I've learned is the key is to work through grief early on so that if it does return, it is not as intense and you know what works to manage it -- to manage it and not stop living your life.

But sometimes you just need the hall pass to grieve.

Monday, September 10, 2012

If we could tell you one thing...

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I wish I didn't have a reason to know that, but I do. As family and friends of Mike, if we could pass on a message in light of what we have experienced, we would tell you this:

Depression/mental illness can affect anyone. It does not discriminate. It is an illness.  It is not your fault. If you found out that you had cancer, you would go to the doctor and get treatment. Please do the same for your depression or mental illness. 

There are two different types of depression - situational and clinical. Situational depression will improve as your situation improves. With clinical depression, this is not the case. Your situation can improve, but you may still feel depressed. Medication and counseling are key to improving and managing your clinical depression. Depression fogs your vision and fills your mind with a bunch of lies. The difficulty comes in separating the lies and the illness from who you really are.

If we could tell you one thing, it would be that there is hope for you if you suffer from depression. You are worth it.  You are worth it in the eyes of God, your family and your friends. We'd also tell you that God, your family, and your friends will stand by you and support you as you embark on the courageous journey to deal with your depression. You are not alone.

As a suicide survivor, I cannot even begin to explain the pain and devastation I have felt in the aftermath of Mike's death. I have experienced a lot of different types of pain and trauma in my life and this is different. I have not felt this pain before. Confusion, anger, abandonment, shock, deep sadness, and relief that he is safe and healthy again are all emotions I have experienced and will continue to experience throughout this journey to healing. However, I also cannot even begin to explain the pain that Mike felt in dealing with his depression on a daily basis. Excruciating, at best, I'd imagine.

I am in an online suicide survivor support group. Each week, the facilitator welcomes new members. Every time she posts a "welcome" message, I can feel myself getting agitated. Nobody wants to be welcomed to this group. We don't want to be a part of it, but are forced to be as a result of what has happened in our lives. I don't want her to have to welcome anymore members, so I leave you with this:

There is hope. Risk a friendship to potentially save a life. Encourage your friends and family to get the help they not only need but deserve. If you suffer from depression, as you seek help, know that you are embarking on a difficult but courageous journey. It is worth it.

You are worth it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Calm down, Killer

Hey Dude, It's your birthday, we're gonna party like it's your birthday, we're gonna drink Bacardi like it's your birthday, and you know, we don't give a ______ it's not your birthday! It was your birthday yesterday, though. I wouldn't say I partied, but I did make an effort to celebrate you in every way that I could.

I'm not going to lie. The day before and yesterday morning were rough. The intense heartache and sleeplessness returned. I decided to get out of bed Wednesday morning (I didn't really sleep that night), and my heart hurt so badly, I was worried I might get to actually celebrate your birthday with you. Then I heard your voice in my head.

Calm down, Killer. You used to call me Killer (because I have "guns" for arms), but only when you thought I was (dare I say) overreacting. Calm down, Killer didn't come out of your mouth too often over the last 12 years, but when it did, I paid attention and reassessed. All day yesterday, Calm down, Killer resounded in my head as if it was stuck on repeat. You knew I'd be sad to not be able to make a huge deal over your special day, but you wanted me to celebrate you, too. I did my best to maintain normal life while doing things just for you!

I started out the morning by enjoying some chai tea. I know you liked it iced, but I never understood how you drank that stuff cold! I love chai tea and drink it everyday, but I like it hot! So, hot it was! On the way to work, I listened to a few songs in Italian on the Il Divo cd. Every operatic note in a foreign language pained Dad, but he sucked it up for you and I enjoyed every minute. I sang right along, but I was also trying to see how many words I could understand given my Italian lessons from you (and my Spanish major. The languages are similar). Then I got to work and was so busy all day. I had to finish my performance appraisal. Remember when we used to pump each other up during appraisal time because we felt so silly attempting to say "I'm awesome" in professional language? I did the best to write how I awesome I was during the year. I made it sound like I was "King James great"!

My lunch consisted of some Chick-Fil-a and a serving of goldfish. I love that one serving is a whopping 55 pieces! Remember when you ate a whole bag of goldfish for lunch one day?
You had about 12 servings, Dude!!

After work, I went to the gym like I always do. I almost cancelled because I didn't think I would have energy, but then I remembered that Uncle Brian said working out makes you feel better. He's right, so I kept my appointment. Jen was super understanding and we got to do one cane walking OUTSIDE! You know I love walking outside. It's best when I try with no canes, but that's been more difficult since my surgery. One cane was a big step and so fun. You would have been excited to see me go! And, this guy approached us and decided to tell me I walk funny because I got too many flu shots --- that guy was on crack, so I said thank you, and merrily moved along.

I couldn't wait to finish the workout because I knew I had food waiting. Yeah, me and food -- in love. I wanted to celebrate you by going to the Japanese steakhouse. I pigged out there and sucked down a strawberry daiquiri (so I did have some Bacardi like the song says)! So good, Dude. And, the hibachi chef told dumb jokes while he was cooking. "What do you call a cow who visits the Vatican?" "A holy cow!" You'd tell jokes like that so he made me smile and remember you once more. For dessert, I went to the cupcake place right by my condo and got a cupcake. C'mon, you know I'd prefer to not let a day go by without a cupcake, but I especially have to indulge on your birthday! On Wednesday, the bakery gives away free cupcakes, if you know the password. I know the password, so I got mine for nada! I really do carry your spirit around with me. The last 5 months I have been such a bargain shopper! Yup, I knew you'd be proud.

The night wasn't that easy, but our friends have been so good to me that the hard times are made much easier. I know you are watching over me and Jesus is there, too. Although, I did have a thought. Since you died at 30, you will forever be a dashing young man. If I don't die til I'm ninety, you might be greeting a wrinkly old lady at heaven's gate. Keep watching over me. I want you recognize me when I see you again.

Remember me. I will always remember you.

Ti amo, Killer 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Happy birthday to the man who

  • was loyal, genuine, loving, funny, kind, thoughtful, and creative
  • had a smile that could light up the whole world
  • mastered the art of winking (he'd laugh at my attempts)
  • put others before himself
  • had google skills that were a force to be reckoned with -- no wonder he started off as an attorney doing electronic discovery!
  • started his workday mornings off with an iced chai
  • had a heart for helping the less fortunate
  • was the definition of a servant leader
  • was fearless and loved the time he went skydiving
  • could make a mean Fatigati lasagna, but was known to pass Stauffers off as the family recipe
  • was a sleep walker and still has all of us laughing at his late night shenanigans
  • had been known to rock out to Katy Perry and the Grease soundtrack (and would kill me if he knew I just divulged that in a public forum!)
  • had enviable dance moves
  • always got blamed for eating the last of everything because, well, he did!
  • never put the toilet seat down
  • enjoyed sending surprises
  • would never pass up a cannoli, a DQ cookies and cream blizzard, cookie cake or a frosty
  • liked parties
  • loved camping, kayaking, golf, and bowling
  • hated sleeping on air mattresses. the floor was perfectly comfortable to him.
  • traveled and studied all over the world
  • was never on time
  • would just show up in Big Blue -- you could see him coming from miles away!
  • bled black and gold
  • wouldn't think twice about opening up his wallet and giving money to the poor -- he was always generous in donating to good causes or organizations important to him
  • was prom king, class president, and most outstanding student in his law school class. he was most deserving of these titles
  • loved anything Italian -- the food, the country, the language, his relatives, his dual citizenship
  • influenced so many in his short time here with his love for Jesus, his family and his friends
  • was my very best friend and will be missed and loved forever
Michael James Clements
September 5, 1981 - April 3, 2012

I love you to heaven and back, JB

Monday, September 3, 2012

Better Luck next time - HTTR!

Thanks to the generosity of my parents' neighbors, my dad and I were in attendance for the big match-up -- Luck vs. RG3, the top two draft picks, the Indianapolis Colts vs the Washington Redskins. As it turns out, a good group of people from my dad's office were also going to the game and invited us to tailgate with them. We had such a blast - and the Skins won!!

We tailgated next to this guy.

 Redskins fans are serious. We have lots of pride. It hurts to be a fan most of the time, but we don't give up!
 Rain or shine, we are out there cheering for the burgundy and gold! And, we sure don't let some rain ruin our tailgate.
 Don invited a Cowboy fan to the game. He said he wanted to take her to see a winning team!  He got a little confused for a moment. HA!
 We all work together. Well, actually they are work in my dad's office and mine is just around the corner. I come and hang out sometimes because their digs are way more fun than mine!
 After filling up on hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausage we went in to watch the game.

Below are the marching band and the "First ladies of football". I think we are the only team with a marching band and I love when they play our fight song!

 A bunch of these guys are about to get cut, including Cooley and Hightower! Disgruntled fan right here! I didn't even get to wear my Hightower jersey yet!
 There he is, ladies and gentleman, the man we hope holds the key to some success!! RG3!!

 Hail to the Redskins, Hail victory!
Braves on the warpath, fight for old DC
Run or pass and score -- we want a lot more!
Beat 'em, Swamp 'em, TOUCHDOWN
Let the points soar!
Fight on, fight on, til you have won
Sons of Washington
Rah, Rah, Rah
Hail to the Redskins!
Hail Victory
Braves on the Warpath
FIGHT for old DC!!
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