Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Always Something There to Remind Me

Hey Duuuuuuuude,

{Remember that show on Nickelodeon?}

Not only did I lose my best friend, but I lost my confidant.  I lost the one who knew me better than anyone else.  I've lost the man with whom I shared my hopes, dreams and fears.  Sure, I have my family, friends and coworkers to talk to, but it is not the same.  As one of our friends said, "You and Mike had such a strong connection.  Your bond was evident to everyone who knew you, even if they barely knew you".  That's so true.  We did and sometimes I fear that I won't find that again.  Mary reminds me this is not the case and I have nothing to fear.  God will take care of me. That strong bond is an incredible blessing, but it also means that there is always something there to remind me that you are not physically here anymore.  I miss our conversations.  I miss planning adventures or fantasizing that one day we will fulfill all of our wildest dreams.  I miss talking about everything and anything and nothing.  I miss "the poop icon" on gchat.  I still don't know how to create it.  Italian lessons.  Late night conversations that would put me to sleep because they were calm and peaceful not boring.  I miss reminding you of things you might miss because you were always late or sometimes overbooked yourself.  Chatting about sports, challenges, how much food I can eat, our families, friends, politics, work, school, dogs, my crush on Justin Bieber (100% false), The White House, the list could go on and on.

Lately, there have been so many days I have just wanted you here.  Right here.  Where I can physically see you, end up wrapped up tight in your arms, or at the very least, talk to you on the phone. I talk to you all of the time. Sometimes it is out loud, sometimes through blog posts like this one, sometimes I pray to God and ask Him to give you a message.  At times,  it feels like you are close to me; like you are holding my hand or telling me to "Calm down, Killer" or reminding me that "God's got this!"  It could all be in my head.  I don't know.  I won't know until I get to see you again.  It makes me feel better, so I don't really care.  Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me and I think you are still here.  Then I realize you aren't. That realization is a big bummer when it happens, but I don't erupt into uncontrollable sobs like I used to when I finally woke up from those daydreams.  Progress, Dude, aren't you proud?!  Yes, I knew it.  Of course, you are.    

The trouble with being so close to you is that almost everything reminds me of you.  Frostys at Wendys, DQ Blizzards, cookie cakes, Ironman, the Steelers, the Pirates, the Penguins, anything Pittsburgh -- our weatherman always mentions Pittsburgh when he is delivering the weather forecast.  I am never sure why because it is not like "The 'Burgh" is remotely close to DC. Golf, Subaru Forresters, gchat....

I used to get terribly sad when I would see a car with a Steelers bumper sticker or a Subaru Forrester or when the weatherman would mention Pittsburgh.  Now, those things bring a smile to my face.  You may even hear me shout my nickname for you, Dude.  From my perspective, it's as if you are saying "Hi!"

I was reminded of you at work this afternoon.  I wore my new favorite pair of pants.  They are skinny and red -- bright red.  I was on a mission to find red pants to wear to my Christmas party.  I walked into Ann Taylor Loft and told the sales representative about my desire.  She was a big 'ole mama and brought me to the skinny pants section.  I gave her a puzzled look and said "I'm not sure my butt and thighs will fit into skinny pants!" "I wear them.", she said.  "OK, I'll give them a whirl!"  I had to go up two sizes for them to fit properly, but that just means they are big in the waist and make me feel skinny!! Win-win!

Now you know why they are my favorite pants. ;-) Anyway, so I was wearing them today and one of my colleagues said

"Hey Killer, whatcha doin' in those red pants?"

"What did you call me?"

"I said, Hey Killer"

"My best friend who recently passed away called me that all the time.  That was one of his nicknames for me. "

"Well, it's rather fitting", she smiled.

That little exchange brought a big 'ole grin to my face.

There's always something there to remind me that you are with me.

I miss you.  I love you.  Gonna bust!

xoxo, Killer

Monday, March 25, 2013

We Need A Beach

Last night I packed this:
Those colors just *scream* Summer! Mmmmm!
This morning I woke up to this:

In case you have trouble telling what that is, it is SNOW.  It is March 25, 2013 in Virginia!! 

It's a good thing that in a week, I will be on this:
The Bigbys are in desperate need of a beach, and our trip could not come at a better time.
Those who know us know that this will be a bittersweet trip for us.  We try to go on an annual family vacation.  It is one of the things I look forward to every year.  Last year, we went to Thailand and had quite an adventure!  This year, we want to be super lazy, so we booked a trip to Aruba.  It’s bittersweet for us, though, because it purposefully coincides with the anniversary of Mike’s death.

Ever since Mike died, I have been dying to go to a beach.  It’s always nice to have the warm sun hit your face and seemingly take away your cares (even if temporarily and superficially); to feel the sand between your toes.  I have mostly wanted to go to the beach to be near the ocean.  The ocean has always been very symbolic and significant for me.  It reminds me of God, and the beach is where I feel closest to Him.  Being that this tragedy has ripped me apart and I’m experiencing the most difficult time of my life, being close to God has been my only and best option.  I guess I could have turned away completely, but I didn’t really consider that for more than a few hours.  I yearn for the ocean.

To me, the ocean is representative of God.  It is strong and powerful yet calm and beautiful, too.  It is life giving and can take your life away.  It can get angry, but is peaceful and tranquil and provides a loving shelter (for all of the fish).  I can’t wait to be face to face with such power and beauty.

If you remember, please say some prayers for us next week -- for sun and happiness; comfort and healing.  Prayers are particularly appreciated on April 3rd.  Mike was very much a part of our family, so this is not only difficult for me, but for my parents, too.  Dad still gets mad at the fact that despite all that he did, nothing could help Mike.  Walking by his golf clubs in the garage makes him particularly sad since Mike had planned to teach my dad how to play a game he loved so much.  My mom misses him spending many a weekend at our house and the bowling challenge that was always discussed, but never materialized.  My parents also hate to see me sad, so that can unnecessarily complicate things.  Above and beyond my family, Mike’s family and friends also covet your prayers.  As one of his college roommates told me the other day, “It will never make sense and it still hurts”.  To some degree, it will always hurt, but April 3rd might be a doozy.

All of us directly affected by this tragedy know deep grief and intense pain.  We also know incredible love and unwavering support.  For me, the beach will hopefully ease some of this pain. I’ll speak for all of us, family and close friends alike, and say that we greatly appreciate the support. We move forward with faith, strength, courage and love knowing nothing will fill the void in our lives and the hole in our hearts.  But we will make it.

For more than weather related reasons, we need a beach.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Never Said Goodbye

I listen to the radio all day at work.   It is the only thing that gets me through the day.  I need the music and “noise” to keep me going and to help me be productive.  The day we were informed that we are now required to leave our iPods in the car or a locker was a sad one.  The day I discovered  iheartradio was not blocked by our firewall was a happy one.  I think I may have actually done a dance because I could finally jam out to some tunes even though they weren’t my own.  The fact that I can listen to all genres and stations nationwide is just a bonus. Lately, I’ve been listening to 106.7 in NYC.  It is “soft rock” but not that cheesy elevator music junk.  It is good. I like it. It makes me happy.

Earlier today, I was working away and glanced up to see what tune was playing.  Sometimes I don’t pay attention to what is actually blasting through my speakers.  I just know that there’s a beat and/or a melody. Sometimes I forget that I am at work and bust out singing….ooops…HA!  Anyway, this time, I just glanced up to see what song was playing.  It was Bon Jovi’s “Never Say Goodbye”.

The title of the song caught my attention (after the beat, of course because it was for that reason that I glanced at the title in the first place).  All of a sudden I thought, you know, Dude and I never actually said goodbye.  “Bye” was not how we ended our last conversation with each other.  That seems a bit strange because normally we would say “Good night, sleep well, talk to you tomorrow, bye”….but this last time, we didn’t.

A little bit of me is sad that I never got to say goodbye to him in person.  Some people had the opportunity to visit him when he was in the hospital.  I asked to do that, but didn’t get a response, so I didn’t go up to Pitt. We were not permitted to talk to each other on the phone (although, he would hop on the computer to send me a note when he could), so I figured I wasn’t allowed at the hospital either.  I didn’t push the issue.  After he died, I wished I had, but then again, I remember the last time we saw each other in person was probably the most fun we’ve ever had and he was happy and smiling and excited!  That’s how I want to remember him!  Hospital, shmospital! Maybe the lack of response was actually God’s protection on my memories.

Back to the last conversation -- I don’t remember the date of it.  The whole last year has been much of a blur to me, but I do believe that it was right around this time last year.  It might have actually been a year ago today.  Regardless of the date, it was the night before he left for his brother, Matt’s, bachelor party.  Dude was excited about the camping/river weekend he had planned in North Carolina in celebration of Matt’s single days drawing to a close.  I don’t remember all of the specifics of the conversation.  It was at night and it was pretty long, but that was typical.  Towards the end, he was crunching on Cheerios in my ear and I was falling asleep. Again, him eating, my falling asleep (or talking to him in my sleep), pretty standard. The starkest detail I remember are our last words to each other:

Me: I love you, Dude.

Dude: I love you, too, Jess. Thanks for everything.

Me: Of course. Have fun and remember I love you.

Click.  And that was the end.

We never did say goodbye.  And I kind of like that.  If it had to end, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.

Life is not as fun without him, but I hope he is having fun up in heaven and does remember that I love him.

Thanks, Bon Jovi, for the reminder.  You made my day.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Meltdown

No, this has nothing to do with grief.  Are you surprised?

This has to do with one of my favorite topics -- sports -- particularly college basketball.

Last Thursday, as soon as I got home to my parents house, my dad busts out with

"You will never guess what happened!?!  It is the worst I have ever seen!!"


"Richmond had a total meltdown.  They were up by 3 points and lost the first round of the A-10 tournament in the final 4.7 seconds due to technical fouls!!!  Charlotte won by 5 points!!!"

"So, you are saying Charlotte scored 8 points in the last 4.7 seconds?"

"Yes. CRAZY!"

(Cardiac patients should not be watching games like this!!  Dad is still alive and well, though.  Whew!!)

My beloved Spiders had a complete meltdown in the last 4.7 seconds of the game.  It was over a "questionable" call.  One foul led to a technical, which led to another technical, and another, and Coach Mooney gettin' tossed!  In 4.7 seconds,  Charlotte scored 8 points, a player and Coach Mooney lost their cool, we lost the game, were eliminated from the A-10 tournament, and lost a potential opportunity for a bid to The Big Dance!

Talk about a meltdown!!!  We sure made the headlines of ESPN Friday morning, but not in the way we would have liked.  

Fast forward five days and I am filling out my bracket for The Big Dance (sans Richmond, sad.).

I always enter a pool for football and money is on the line.  Last year, I ended up in 4th place out of 30.  I just missed a prize by one spot.  Bummer.  This past season, I placed dead last.  Big bummer.  I fill out a bracket for March Madness, but I don't enter the same pool as I do for football because they don't have it and I've never really sought out another pool.  Typically, I just fill out my bracket for kicks.  Last night, though, my dad sent me an email to join his office pool.  All that's on the line is bragging rights, so I jumped at the chance and sat down to fill it out.

It's no secret that March Madness is unpredictable.  It always seems as if heart and desire somehow outshine athletic ability in The Big Dance and that is one of the reasons I adore college basketball.  They play with such heart and energy.  Considering my failure in the football pool, I decided I wasn't going to do any real research.  I had done a lot last year for this tournament and my bracket was trashed when Duke got knocked out in the first round.  In my family, we are Carolina fans, but I had confidence in Duke and didn't expect them to let me down so early.  I did research for football and you know how that turned out.  I blame the replacement refs for some of that, but I really should have hit the "random" button and probably would have done better in that pool.  SO, my March Madness method, no research.

I instituted what I like to call the "girly girl" method.  I can say that.  I am one.  The only difference is I actually do know a lot about sports, love sports, and could trash talk or engage in an intelligent conversation with the best of 'em.  What is the "girly girl" method?  It goes a little something like this:

"Oh, I like the color of their uniforms, I'll pick them.  I like their mascot.  I know someone who lives there....or went to that school"  Those were my thoughts when I was making my picks last night.

TWO games in and I am already in trouble!!

I picked Pitt to go to the championship game.  Totally a sleeper pick, but who would have expected Duke to get knocked out in the first round last year, RMU to beat Kentucky (Congrats Jeremy!) in the NIT this year or George Mason to make it to The Final Four? Pretty much nobody.  I picked Pitt to go to the championship for those reasons and because Dude is from Pitt, so it was a bit of a nostalgic pick.  In my bracket, Pitt played Georgetown and GTown takes the cake!!

But then comes this team from Wichita State.  WHO THE HECK IS WICHITA STATE??

And, can someone please tell me why Kansas has THREE teams in the NCAA tournament?!  WICHITA STATE, Kansas AND Kansas State!!  What is going on in Kansas!!  Apparently all they do is play basketball (and make me mad.  Let's not talk about the time in 2011, at the Sweet Sixteen when Kansas wiped the floor with the Spiders.  Just don't mention it.)
 The "Shockers" (as they are called) screwed up my bracket already!! 

So, here I am, research or the "girly girl method"....No matter how I select the winning teams, I end up with the same result.  Done.

This time I am glad there's no money on the line.  My bracket is about to meet the trash.

Thanks a lot, Pitt.  I had confidence in you.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

This Will Never Make Sense

Most of the time, if I write a grief post, it is because something has been swirling around in my head for too long. If I write it down, it is out of my head.  If I see it in plain view, it makes more sense. The curse of being a suicide survivor is that you deal with lots of questions, images, what if scenarios. As part of my healing process, I write down everything.  It is a tremendous help.

No matter how many times I write about it, I don’t think your death will ever make sense.  Why did you have to go?  Anytime anyone says maybe it was a part of God’s plan or that God needed you, I want to slap them!  God didn’t want you to take your own life.  It doesn’t help to hear that.  At all.  In fact, it hurts. It feels like God punished me with your death, which He would never do.  I didn’t do anything to deserve this pain.  None of us did.  You didn’t deserve your pain either.  I saw so many opportunities for you to get better and for your healing, but you didn’t see them.  You only saw one way out.

I tried so hard to make you happy and to show you the life you wanted.  Your depression filled “glasses” fogged up reality.  I always knew ways to make you smile or to help you find more joy in life.  You did the same for me.  I tried everything.  I had to get pretty creative, but nothing worked.  Nothing.  Nothing anyone did could penetrate your illness.  Every time I think about blaming myself, I remember what your Uncle Brian said to me the day before your funeral. He said, “Jess, you did more than could have ever been expected of you. This is not your fault”.

It’s not my fault. It’s nobody’s fault, really.  Sometimes, I like to blame you for it.  You did it. You planned it. You got what you wanted.  You are happy and left those who truly loved you sad and lonely.  Then I realize blaming you is like blaming a cancer patient for getting cancer.  In most cases, it just happens.  You didn’t ask for your illness.  You didn’t do anything to get it.  It’s just tragic that you couldn’t be helped.  But, I did all I could do and I think you knew that.  In the end, you showed you cared for me.  Only you knew it was the end.  Had I known maybe I could have done one more thing, but eating one more apple doesn’t cure a person of cancer.  It was much the same for you.

Now, we are two weeks away from the anniversary of your death.  You know me, I am anticipating it.   The heart ache has returned.  The sadness.  The confusion – all stronger than it has been in awhile.  But, you also know that I have to have some sort of bright side.  I will be on the beach for the anniversary of your death.  The ocean and sand and sunshine might ease the pain, even if just temporarily.  And, I will come back with a tan.  I always feel pretty with a tan.  And, I am working with your mom and brothers to plan something special in your memory.  I can’t wait until I get the go-ahead to unveil it.  I wish you were still here.  I wish I didn’t have to do any of this. I wish April 3rd was not a significant date for me.  I wish you had been healed and life went on as planned.

I’m sure God has a plan for me, but this….

THIS will never make sense. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Lesson from a Two Year Old

I just spent five days with the Fentons.  I love the Fentons.  Carmen and I became fast friends when we were in Bible study together.  We were randomly selected as prayer partners.  That meant we had to meet outside of our weekly meeting to pray together.  We did that, but always found ourselves spending extra time doing things we enjoyed. We just hit it off!  Four years ago, she and her husband, Jason, moved back to the homeland aka Texas.  While I was sad to see them go, the distance hasn't weakened our friendship.  In fact, it may have strengthened it.  I look forward to my yearly visit to see them.  It is so fun, so easy, full of laughter, sometimes a few tears, and lots of Mexican food! This year, Ella, their daughter, was old enough to hang out and get in on the fun.  I'll do another post on the specifics of my visit and the rodeo, but I wanted to pause and write about a lesson I learned from Ella, age 2.

Ella spends her days at a Christian preschool. At school, right before eating, she repeats this prayer. The prayer goes like this:

"Thank you, thank you God, for our family, friends and food." 

Each time we would eat "Thank you God" needed to be said.  If we picked up our forks without singing the prayer, Ella would remind us that we forgot something.  "Thank you God!  Thank you God!", she insisted.  Oh right, "Thank you God". We dropped our forks, bowed our heads and folded our hands in prayer.  One time, I even caught a glimpse of her singing "Thank you God, hands folded and all, in her car seat.

Ella's insistence on thanking God was a stark reminder to me.  Praying is something I like to do. I love to talk and praying is a form of talking to God.  However, lately my prayers have been: "God fix this." God take this pain away".  "God help".  Rarely do my prayers revolve around thanking God for things He has given me and the blessings I've received even in the darkest time of my life.  I am in the most difficult time of my life thus far, but I still have much to be thankful for.

I am thankful that God is my ever present help in times of trouble.  I am thankful that He provides peace beyond my own understanding.  I am thankful for my family and friends.  And chocolate.  And friends who surprise me with chocolate.  I am thankful for love even though I lost it. I am thankful that I am never truly alone. And I am thankful for all of the Fentons, particularly to Ella for teaching me/reminding me of something so important.

I love this sweet little lady.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful
Colossians 4:2

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Beware: Grief Brain

What is grief brain, you ask?  It is a term I made up (I think).  It basically means my brain is missing and I am just waiting for it to return.  My mind is about as mixed up as my life is right now. I remember in the early days, weeks, and months after Dude died I could not concentrate on anything but the loss. I went to work the day after he died (yes, some people think this is crazy, but I needed something to do. I needed to have a job – no pun intended). I left work when I got the call that he was gone, but didn’t skip a day between the April 4 and April 10 – the day I left for the funeral. Then I went back to work right after the funeral and haven’t taken any vacations since. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to jet-setting down to Texas on Thursday and then off to Aruba in a few weeks.  The days, weeks and first few months after Dude died were my most productive.  I was a machine.  It was sort of a defense mechanism because if I sat there and thought about what had just happened, I would launch into ugly, gasping for breath sobs and that is just not something anyone should do at work – ever – unless you find out that he died while you are at work – then all bets are off --- yeah….

Anyway, back to grief brain.  Grief brain is a complete lack of productivity. It is full on distraction.  It tends to return at the month anniversaries or important dates.  I don’t welcome it for too long, but do allow it to come because it just is what it is and if I fight it, I’ll pay later. I’ve noticed it’s been particularly bad the last two days. Some of that has to do with all of the confusion going on at work.  I don’t have to focus as hard as I normally would until the dust settles and we all know where we fall.  Did I mention we are going through an agency reorganization and things are all mixed up? Nobody knows where I will end up, but I won’t lose my job so praise God for that. So, things are kind of fluid these days and we have a little breather.  That is good because I can have more flexibility with taking care of my dad.  We work in the same building.  Sometimes it is nice, sometimes it is annoying, but it is working out well because he should not be driving….and when he calls and says he doesn’t feel good and I have to end up taking him home to get Mom before a second trip to the ER, it works out well.  We are still waiting for Dad’s surgery to be scheduled.  For crying out loud, just do it!  We have a trip to Aruba.  We need a beach.

My dad being sick has certainly illuminated the loss of Dude.  I want him here. I know he would be here.  He was really close to my dad.  I know he would say “Calm down, Killer. Everything is going to be OK” And, if he was extra sweet, he would get me a cupcake because he knew a cupcake makes everything better in my book. And, I am sure he is here with me. It’s just that I want hugs and kisses and cupcakes and songs, too.  But, instead I have to “settle” for him watching over us.  And, hopefully, he is asking God to heal my dad just like I am asking God to heal my dad.

I am confident my brain is in Texas. It is thrilling to look at the clothes laid out to be packed.  They are lightweight with lots of stripes. I didn’t realize I liked stripes so much, but apparently I do.  And, I cannot wait to see all four Fentons! I didn’t get to see them last year, so I haven’t met the youngest member of the Fenton family, and I am so excited!  We are going to the rodeo, and shopping, and eating lots of yummy Mexican food….but no snow cones.  It is still “Winter” there so the snow cone stands are closed.

DC is supposed to get “Snowquester” tonight, four to eight inches.  That’s big for us!  I think I’ll catch the flakes as they fall and pack the snow in my suitcase.  I’ll bring it down so we can make homemade snow cones!

….and grief brain will fly away as my plane to Texas ascends into the sky….if not before.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Love You More Than Cupcakes

I am a day late with this post, but it is hard to believe you have been gone for 11 months. I miss you every single day.

Love you more than cupcakes.  Always have.  Always will.  That says a lot, doesn't it?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

It's Just Not In Me

After the man I loved deeply, my best friend, dies by suicide
The amount of strength it takes to keep going is incomprehensible. 
The amount of pain, heartache, devastation, confusion, and overall feeling of fear and failure is indescribable.

How am I ever supposed to move forward and what on earth does that even mean?

It’s just not in me.

After I embark on a “new” path to go to law school, spend thousands of dollars on tutoring because I have always been told I am “a bad test taker” and want to put myself in the best position to nail the LSAT.
After I bomb practice test after practice test and then proceed to spend hundreds of dollars to have educational testing only to discover I have actually had a learning disability my entire life.  One extremely common in people with my physical disability.

How was this not discovered before the age of 30? 

It’s just not in me.

After LSAC denies me the accommodations I need to be successful on the LSAT….twice.
And I bomb it. For real.

How will I ever get into law school?

It’s just not in me.

After talking to my top choice law school and being given the name of a disability attorney to work with in an attempt to get my accommodation denial reversed.
After spending even more money and time to prepare case after case for LSAC and for my prospective law schools.
After learning that Department of Justice has a class action lawsuit against LSAC addressing their repeated denial of accommodations. And then learning this will not help me right now because the suit will likely end up at the Supreme Court and will take years to be resolved.

How will I ever get these accommodations to get a decent score?

It’s just not in me.

After receiving rejection letter after rejection letter.
After being waitlisted at my top choice law school; communicating with them on a regular basis and being told that they are impressed with how I am handling this extremely unfavorable LSAC/LSAT situation.

Will this ever work out? Will I be able to fulfill a dream that I have put on hold for far too long?

It’s just not in me.

After my dad, my hero, was rushed to the hospital, and spent the night in the cardiac unit. After being told he will be having heart surgery soon.

Will he be okay?

It’s just not in me.

It’s just not in me….to give up.
It’s just not in me…to do anything but keep on going.
To live the life laid out before me. To the fullest.
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