Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The View From The Other Side Of The Table

Last December, I attended a neighborhood Christmas party.  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go because Christmas was hard for me this year.  Dude loved Christmas and not having him around to help celebrate his favorite holiday was tough.  I felt this constant dull ache throughout the season.  I sucked it up and went to the party because it wasn’t too far from home, so I figured if I felt overwhelmed with grief, I could just leave and be home shortly after to be the mess that I needed to be.

The party turned out to be so much fun that I hope it happens again next year!  I saw people I hadn’t seen since high school or elementary school even!  That’s a long time – at least 13 years.  “The kids” all sat a little off to the side with wine in hand (that probably helped me feel better ;-) ), and caught up a bit.  The general consensus among the group was that 2012 was a difficult year.  I could hear my mom blurt out to the people she was talking to, “Jessica has had the worst year of her life!”  That is an entirely true statement, but I tried to play it a little cool among the group and just said that it was a tough year and I was adjusting. My goal was to make it through the party without divulging the details of exactly why it was a tough year (however, as loud as my mom was talking everyone could probably hear anyway!).  I was using this as practice for when I am in new social situations and meeting new people and do not want to pour my heart out all over the place. 

I tried and tried not to discuss the horrific moments of the year, but it became tougher and tougher.  I felt this tug on my heart to share.  I fought this internal battle with myself and then just decided when the group had dwindled down to just three people, I would spill the beans.  Don't ask how I came to the conclusion that only 3 people would be a comfortable setting.  I went on to explain that my very best friend had been diagnosed as bi-polar and took his own life in April. I feared the looks that I would get, but there, I said it.  It was out in the open and there was no taking it back. Much to my surprise, Joe piped up with, “Hey, I am not being completely honest.  My mom suffers from bi-polar disorder and I was just diagnosed a month ago.”  I so appreciated this admission and knew at that moment that the tug on my heart was from God.  That I was, in some way, supposed to help.

The first thing that came out of my mouth was “Keep going.  Please keep going.  I know it is a tough battle, but you are equipped to fight it.” I wanted to be as encouraging and empathetic as I could.  It didn’t work for Dude, but it might work for Joe.  Joe and I decided we would exchange numbers and look to meet up in the near future to just hang out and maybe seek to better understand each other’s perspectives.

I have to admit I had a blast at the party and knew I was there for a reason, but I went home and cried.  Sometimes I get so angry when I meet people who have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and live a normal life.  Why is it that they can survive and Dude could not?  It just seems so unfair.  Life is not fair, though.  To put it in more perspective, I like to think that depression is similar to cancer.  Some people are diagnosed at Stage 1 and beat it.  Others are diagnosed at Stage 4 and don’t stand a chance without a miracle.  Knowing Dude as well I as I knew him, I would say he was diagnosed at Stage 4 (looking back there were signs from way back that I didn’t know how to identify, but I can’t beat myself up for that).  Joe was fortunately diagnosed early enough and God sent me to be an encouragement to him.  It is not about me and my loss.  It is about what God wants to do through me.

After exchanging many text messages and having to cancel a number of times, we finally met up this week. On one side of the table sat a woman who lost someone she loved so deeply to an illness that the man on the other side of the table lived with on a daily basis.
I never had the opportunity to discuss Dude’s illness with him.  We “lived” it.  No, we did not live together, but we had daily conversations and I could “see” the pain and transformation occurring.  In all of the hours we talked, we never specifically carved out time to discuss the actual illness and how it was affecting him.  Maybe it is because we didn’t have to.  We both knew it was severely affecting him and spent our breath only on what we considered the most important words – words of encouragement, words of affirmation, of love and support (riddled with many inside jokes) –on both sides – his and mine.

My coffee date with Joe was an opportunity to understand.

To understand that even though Joe was only diagnosed months ago, he reflects back that maybe this illness inhabited his body nearly 20 years ago.  As he says, the seeds were planted long ago.

To understand why it is difficult for him to work at a 9 to 5 professional job right now.

To understand what it is like to live with this illness.

To understand that he is able to identify the triggers of what will send him into a “perfect storm of overwhelming circumstances”.  These words he used are the exact same words echoed by Dude’s psychologist. This “perfect storm” is what led to the tragic outcome.

To understand that mental illness does have a stigma attached, but that Joe is open about his illness because it is hard to keep a secret and it is now a part of who he is.

To understand that Joe has accepted his illness and will do what he has to keep the triggers at bay so that he can live a normal life.

The coffee date was also an opportunity for me to encourage Joe.

To affirm him in being open about his illness.

To encourage him in the direction of being a peer mentor for others who suffer from the same illness.

To express the importance of understanding the illness, the triggers, and following the prescribed treatment.

To touch on the devastation and havoc that is now present in the lives of those of us closest to Dude.  If only he had listened to people like Joe….

I was/am so proud of Joe.  He is doing the things that Dude could not do.  I will never understand why Dude could not or did not want to do them.  Dude did not want anyone except those closest to him to know of his suffering yet his final act broadcasted it to the world.  Joe’s approach is productive and positive.  While it is not an easy road to travel, he has willingly accepted the journey.  This will do wonders for him. 

I look forward to meeting with Joe again in the near future to further understand the view from the other side of the table, to give him a little bit of my perspective and a lot of encouragement.  And, to just hang out with him and his girlfriend because he is fun!

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wished the man sitting across from me was Dude…

But it’s not about me and my loss.  It is about what God wants to do through me.           

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sun In My Belly

You can tell I am slowly adjusting to everything that has happened to me over the last year because I am back to traveling.  In fact, I have been on 3 trips in the last three months.  I love to travel, and while I always imagine DC will be my home base, I can’t stay in the same spot for too long.  I have this insatiable desire to see the world. For the last year, grief has squelched that longing.  Dude would be so upset with me for not jet setting because we both had that travel bug and planned to go many places – and even live in London for a brief stint, which I would still most definitely consider.

I’ve been so busy going places and making new memories that I haven’t blogged about our UR reunion in Atlanta that took place back in February!  My friends from college are some of the most genuine, adventurous, loyal, caring, curious, and intellectually stimulating people I know. We come from all different backgrounds – some are from the North, some from the South and we are in a variety of professions – lawyers, doctors, dentists, professors, managers.  Our differences unite us and our bond is strong. 

Since 2005 (year after we graduated), we have been having an annual reunion.  We are geographically spread out around the United States, so we rotate houses each year.  There are about 10 or 12 of us that try to make reunion.  This year, only 4 of us could make it as it is getting increasingly more difficult with pregnancies and babies.  Eventually, though, I hope and imagine us having family reunions with all of our munchkins running around as if they were “cousins”, and Brad being "Uncle Brad" and spoiling our kids because he doesn’t want any of his own and can’t imagine why the rest of us would think becoming parents is a good idea (love you, B-rad)!!  I guarantee you he will be the one that buys our children the toy that the kid thinks is the absolute greatest yet according to the parents, it is the most annoying.  You know the ones I am talking about -  Ones with the never-ending beeps and sounds.  Yeah, I am in for it, one day. I just know it.

Our 2013 reunion was in Atlanta at John and Alyssa’s house.  I’ll pretty much let the photos speak for themselves. We ate a lot, but I didn’t get many photos of the food.  By the way, you know you are a blogger when you become crazy about taking photos of food.  I mean you just might need to show the rest of the internet how delicious you meal is, right? So, no photos of my meals out of the house, but my favorite place we ate at was this adorable restaurant in Decatur called Sun in my Belly.  I wanted to go every day.  I asked if we could go every day.  I got overruled.  We couldn’t go every day because we had so much more to see and experience.
Decatur, GA.  We had fun doing a little shopping and eating at Sun in My Belly

No Sun in My Belly today.  Homemade crepes instead!!

Hanging around in our jammies!  Just like college -- sort of

We tasted a ton of Coke products.  Inca Cola? GROSS!
Waiting for the Coke movie.  The glasses were much more fun than the movie!

"Uncle Brad"
We would tour by day and laugh the night away with games of Apples to Apples and Mad Libs.  Playing Mad Libs at age 12 and at age 31 is quite different.  If we weren’t laughing, we were engaged in some intellectual debate or stuffing our mouths with the M&Ms that were just left on the table all day that Sydney (their dog) never touched! We were amazed.
UR in Atlanta 2013

What a fun trip with such dear friends!  Sun in my belly, for sure.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

All The Single Ladies

I should be ashamed of myself!
Hi Single Ladies,

How you doin’?  If you are anything like me, you are doing your best to be content with your single girl status, but if you are really honest with yourself, you are flat out tired of it!

You have thrown numerous bridal and baby showers and wonder when it will be your turn to be showered. 

You have 10 less than flattering colored dresses hanging in your closet and long to say yes to that white dress!! 

As a side note, does anyone else have a thing about wearing a dress you wore as a bridesmaid to another wedding?  I will NOT do it.  I think it is because I feel like I will look like bridesmaid because well, the last time I wore this dress I was one.  Maybe it’s just me and maybe I am being silly because not all of my bridesmaid dresses have been ugly less than flattering, but everyone has quirks and that’s just one of mine. 

If you are like me, you have had some disastrous dates.  Married people try to encourage you and tell you that dating is fun.  You kindly remind them that dating IS fun when you meet the right person.  They’ve forgotten that part because they have been blessed to be with the right person for a long time. The free dinners, the “good stories that come from the disastrous dates” are not worth it.  The movie “27 dresses” is not all that funny because you feel like you are watching your life play out on the silver screen.
 (It does have a good ending, but still….)

If you are anything like me, you subconsciously observe your married friends’ relationships a lot.  You learn from them.  You might come home and cry your eyes out because you WANT THAT!  You also might see others and think if that is what my life would be like, I’d rather be single.  But, the truth is, you don’t want to be single!!

You want to find your husband, your teammate for life (as I like to refer to him).
Dating seems way more complicated than it used to be.  You’re not looking for a “morally causal” relationship.  You want one with Christ in the center; one on solid ground that will withstand the storms of life. 

You want a man that “will like it and put TWO rings on it!”

Today, I was reading this blog and found this.  Jenna is doing an online seminar about dating with intention.  I’ve been out of the dating world for awhile to focus on myself and deal with everything that has happened to me over the last year, but I have to get back in the game.  I don’t want to end up an old maid!!! 

I firmly believe that if God places a desire in your heart, He will fulfill that promise.  I deeply desire to be married with a family.   I was really excited to learn that Jenna is doing this and signed up right away!  It’s on April 22 from 9-10pm EST.  Jenna is talking about dating from a Christian perspective, so if you prefer to be “morally casual” this probably isn’t for you. 

If you are looking for that lifelong commitment with the teammate God’s made for you, sign up!  Spots are limited, so hurry up and do it!  If you do sign up, let me know in the comments.  Maybe we can discuss it afterwards.  All of my friends are married, so I am always looking to meet more awesome single gals….and guys (but this one is just for the ladies!)     

My first VICTORY!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You Are Not Alone

I did not write this, but I felt every word.  If you are a suicide survivor, you can most likely relate to this.  If you know someone who is a suicide survivor, this will give you some insight into their pain and grief.  You may want to pass it on to them.  

My Journey of Loss

Losing a loved one to suicide is the most painful, gut wrenching experience anyone can ever go through.
You look around and wonder how everyone is carrying on with life as normal when it feels like the world has stopped turning. Not only have you suddenly and unexpectedly lost someone you loved and cherished, you must also come to grips with the fact that their death was a deliberate choice that they made, even though they knew it would hurt you.

This realization rips you in two – you are grieving the loss of your beloved while simultaneously battling feelings of intense anger and betrayal. “Why?” is a question that plays on repeat over and over in your head and nothing in the note or their final words or actions can answer it. So you vacillate between blaming yourself, while desperately trying to believe the well-meaning people who tell you that there was nothing you could have done. For a moment that thought gives you peace, but the “should have, could have, would have” is just around the corner waiting to take its hold on you.

You replay every single moment of their life, trying to pinpoint the moment when they made the decision to end it. Trying to understand how you couldn’t have seen the pain that lived behind their eyes and smile. Trying to understand WHY they didn’t reach out for help. Desperately trying to understand how your deep and unending love was not enough to make them want to live.

The sudden, bitter anger that you feel confuses you. You’ve been taught that when people die, you should feel sadness and grief, not anger. But this isn’t like any other death. This person chose to leave you knowing they would take a huge part of your heart with them.

You scream: WHY did they do this, knowing how much it was going to hurt me?! Why didn’t they ask me for help? Why wasn’t my love enough?! Where was God when this was happening?!

And the next minute you feel deep, immeasurable sorrow for how sad and lonely they must have been to have taken such drastic action. And you can’t help but wonder if you had given them more love, reassurance, and support, if that would have made a difference…if there was anything you could have done to make them choose to live.
In between bouts of anger and sadness, you miss the person you loved – their laugh, their smile, every single thing about them. You want them back so desperately, you bargain with God that you’d give up anything for just one more second, one more “I love you,” one more hug. The desperation you feel is unlike anything you’ve ever known.

It’s a viscous cycle that plays on repeat for days, weeks and months on end. You feel that it’s never going to stop, that you will surely lose your mind with the roller coaster of grief you are on. Sometimes you even wonder if your life is worth living without your loved one.

As time crawls by, the edges of your emotions slowly start to soften. The sadness isn’t so strong, the anger isn’t so bitter, the grief not so palpable. You still ask yourself, “Why?” each and every day, but it isn’t so desperate and frantic. One day, you catch yourself laughing and wonder where that small bubble of happiness came from. It seems impossible that you could experience any joy when your heart is still hurting so much. You feel guilty experiencing any happiness at all when your loved one is gone.

Just when you think the worst is over, the holidays, their birthday or the anniversary of their death comes along, knocking the wind out of you. A few weeks before the anniversary, something imperceptibly shifts inside of you. Sadness, tension, and anger slowly bubble to the surface, where freshly scabbed wounds rip open. You remember exactly how you felt the day they passed away as if it were yesterday. It feels as though you are starting the grief process all over again.

You wonder if other people remember your loved one and think of them on this day that has so much magnitude for you. If they don’t, you wonder how they could possibly forget something so important. You feel as though the whole world should acknowledge this day and grieve along with you.

As the years go by, your grief slowly subsides, leaving with it a hallow ache. Never a day goes by when you don’t think about your beloved and pray they would come to you in a dream and explain why they decided to end their life. You look for signs of your loved one everywhere you go – a butterfly landing on your shoulder, a song on the radio, a star shining brightly in the midnight sky – anything to give you just a glimpse of their beautiful soul.

And in this deep, aching loss, you are forever changed.

 I do not believe that Dude understood the magnitude of his decision.  He never intended to hurt any of us, but was trying to end his own pain.  He wants us to carry on and live life with the zest he did when he was healthy.  Tuck his gorgeous smile in your heart and "keep on....we're gonna make it.....I know we're gonna make it...." 
Steven Curtis Chapman -- Long Way Home

This a throwback from over a decade ago, but remains one of my favorites.
I'm still formulating my thoughts on the terror in Boston.  Right now, I have no words except a verse that has helped me through the grief of Dude's suicide and other heartbreaking events, including yesterday's tragedy and today's anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.  He comforts those who are crushed in spirit." 
Psalm 34:18

Monday, April 15, 2013

Responding to the Storms of Life

Ever feel like you are exactly where you need to be?  I rarely feel that way these days, but sitting in church on Sunday, I knew I was supposed to be there, at that specific church, to hear that particular message.  My dad and I were hesitant to go to church on Sunday because we were tired.  I reasoned that we hadn't been there for two weeks because we were in Aruba and we should suck up our sleepiness and go.  So we did.  When we got there, it turns out it was the 210th anniversary of the church and there was going to be a celebration.  Awesome. They are going to take a walk down memory lane and we aren't going to be able to relate to any of this because we've just started going to this church.  We could have slept in, I thought.  Boy, was I wrong!  They did take a little walk down memory lane, but the pastor discussed the storms in life and touched on the storms the church has gone through in its 210 year history.

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world 
John 16:33    

Ah, yes.  In this world, I will have trouble.  In this world, there will be storms.  How I know that so well.  If you've followed my blog for any amount of time recently, you will know that I've had a lot of trouble.  It might be easiest to break it out into three storms -- the death of my very best friend, my dad's unknown heart condition, and my struggles to get into law school.  The pastor addressed the congregation saying that you are either about to head into a storm, are in the middle of a storm, or are just coming out of a storm.  Uh huh.  Hopefully, we are just coming out of the storm related to my dad's health and I will know by the end of August about law school.  As for the storm of Dude's death, well, that will most likely be an ongoing storm -- not a full blown tornado, but the rain from that will periodically fall for the rest of my life.  Suicide survivors are ripped apart at the core of their very being, but at the same time, are united under a pain that is unlike any other.  It's something I will live with for the rest of my life, but I know that Dude did not realize the devastation and lifelong effects that would result from his decision.  He would want me to move forward and be happy, so I am committed to looking for the rainbows amidst the rain of this lifelong storm.  So, storms.  I know storms.  But what does all of this mean?

The pastor discussed two responses to the storms of life:  FEAR and FAITH.  F-E-A-R stands for "False Expectations Appearing Real" and F-A-I-T-H stands for "Forsaking all, I Trust Him."  Fear is a natural and self-preserving response.  I've written here about how grief can manifest itself into all encompassing fear.  But, as the deep grief dissipates little by little, you come to realize that you are still here -- and you are still here for a purpose.  What my "new life" will look like is totally terrifying at times, but that's when faith becomes the best response.

"Forsaking all" -- Before Dude's death, I held onto him tightly, and honestly, would not have forsaken him at any cost.  But, he ripped himself from me.  I have unwillingly given one of the most important people in the my life. With that, I have given up the life that was comfortable and familiar to me; the life I enjoyed even in the hard times.

Starting April 4, 2012, I began to live a new life -- a life completely unfamiliar and painful and full of fear; a life that did not involve Dude in the way I thought it would.  This "new life" has potentially set me on a path to law school.  That has not been a cake walk.  We'll see what happens with that.  And, to top it all off, this "new life" involved my Dad, my hero, being rushed to the hospital and undergoing heart surgery.  First, my best friend removes himself from my life forever. Then I encounter obstacles in a dream I have put off for too long.  And my dad, my hero, was almost taken from me....

So far, I am not a fan of this "new life".  It's confusing and frustrating and lacks some serious clarity.  However, it is in these times, when I/you truly do surrender all to God -- even if only because I/you just don't know what else to do. 

I am completely out of control.  He is in complete control.

Forsaking all, I trust Him. 

Trust me, and don't be afraid.  Many things feel out of control...Let Me lead you to the rock that is higher than you and your circumstances.  Take refuge in the shelter of My wings, where you are absolutely secure.  Jesus Calling, April 15.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Isaiah 12:2

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The 411 with BHB

It's always fun to find new blogs!  I typically make new "friends" through link-ups.  Today, I am linking up with BHB, and sharing the 411 on me! I was supposed to have finished this on Thursday, 4/11.  I started it then, and just finished it now.  Better late than never!


Who are you: Jess.  I don't have some cool blog pseudo name.  I do have a lot of nicknames, but my mom will only call me Jessica.  She doesn't like anything else.  I think she might be the only one who consistently calls me by my full first name.

Where do you blog: Shine Like Stars

How did you pick your blog’s name:  My friend, Ashley, and I purchased a brick to be placed on the walkway leading up Jill's House.  Jill's House is a ministry of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, VA that serves as a respite for children with disabilities.  They are able to come and stay overnight, be taken care of, and have a wonderful time.  The children participate in all sorts of activities and the parents greatly appreciate the fact that they can have a little break and their children are enjoying themselves away.  We decided to inscribe  Philippians 2:15, "....then you will shine among them like stars in the sky."  I thought it was perfect because I love stars, but I also hope to be a light in people's lives.  Most importantly, I hope the light of Christ radiates in my life.  As I learned all too well this year, life has many bright spots, but also can bring some deep sorrow and darkness.  Since this blog is a record of my life, I hope that regardless of how much light I see, the light of Christ shines always and I shine like a star to those around me.

                                            LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Where did you grow up: Alexandria, Va.  Right outside of Washington, DC.  I feel really blessed to have grown up there.

Where do you live now:  In a condo in Old Town Alexandria.  I love it!

Where would you live anywhere in the world:  I love where I live now, but I could see myself moving to London for a bit.  I want to retire to NYC.  People think I am crazy for saying that, but I feel like I'd have money to spend on the things I want and I wouldn't get too old too quickly because I'd always be active.


Lipstick:  I only wear lip gloss or Burts Bee's chap stick.  I recently bought a chap stick in Aruba and am liking that.  My lips are always chapped.

Mascara:  My hand is not steady enough to put on mascara by myself, so I don't wear it unless someone else puts it on for me.  I wish I could, though, because I think it looks pretty and makes your eyes bright!

Perfume: Jean Paul Gaultier perfume

                                       YUMMIES: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE

Cocktail:  mai thai

Dessert:  Cupcakes (and ice cream) or ice cream cake

Pizza Topping(s):  At certain restaurants, I like only cheese.  It's too perfect to mess it up.  At the typical delivery places, I like pepperoni, green peppers and onions.

One: Wine

Two:  Greek yogurt

Three: Frozen mixed veggies (in the freezer not the fridge)

                                    GET ARTSY: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE

Movie:  Father of the Bride (Steve Martin)

Book:  A Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker

TV Show:  I don't really have one because I don't watch a lot of TV.  I have noticed I watch a lot of reality TV when I do watch TV.  That's most likely the reason I don't have a favorite.  I don't watch any quality TV.  Any suggestions?
                             KID STUFF: THREE THINGS ABOUT YOUR YOUTH

What did you want to be when you grew up?   An author and The First Lady of the United States.  I still want to be both.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?  My favorite teacher is/was one of my Leadership professors at University of Richmond, Dr.  Gill Hickman.  She was an incredible professor and role model and she taught us a lot about life.  I will never forget her advice. 

What was your worst sickness/surgery/hospital visit as a kid?   HA! Are you kidding?  I've had 17 major surgeries.  I remember one of my worst was a surgery for my lazy eye when I was 12 years old.  I threw up a lot and could not open my eyes for days.  My dad had promised that he would get me the Disney channel.  He did, but all I could do was listen to it for days because I couldn't open my eyes to see what was actually on the screen.  I was miserable.

                                  THE PRETTY THINGS -  WHAT IS YOUR:

Favorite color: It used to be purple.  At age 26, I decided it was red.  My mom and my childhood best friend say you can't change your favorite color 26 years into your life.  Whatever!

Favorite flower:  Orchids (and Delta Gamma cream roses, of course!)

Favorite artist (painter, photographer, etc.): I like to think I am pretty eclectic, but I really don't have an appreciation for art.  Art and opera.  I just can't get into those two things.  Anything else, I am game.  With that said, I don't have a favorite artist.  I admire my friends who are really creative and artistic, but as for someone well known, I can't really answer.


What’s one thing you buy the most often:  Clothes from the Blue Door Boutique.  I absolutely love that store!

Do you prefer to shop online or in-store? : Online.  I can't stand to try things on in stores and to have sales people bother me.  I am a pretty typical size and have done it enough now that I don't normally have to return things.

Imagine you open your own store - what would you sell?: Cupcakes with ice cream injected in the middle.  There is a store like this in Boston and it is my dream come true.  I need one down here in DC.


Uno:  Terrorism

Dos:  Mental illness

Tres:  Cancer


I hand you a genie - what are your three wishes?

1.  To be happily married to my "teammate for life"/my (future) husband

2.  To have happy and healthy children

3.  To always have the desire, the means, and the ability to travel

List 3 things you can see out of your window right now.

1.  The bridal store that has not changed its windows in months.  Doesn't sound like a good business move to me.

2.  Tourists walking around enjoying the beautiful day.

3.  The alley that is supposedly haunted.


Een: My Dad's father.  I never got to meet him.  He sounds fascinating and looks a lot like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twee: Kate Middleton.  I think if we knew each other, we'd be friends. 

Drie:  RG III

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

One Year

Dear Dude,

Normally, I would blog this letter to you on the anniversary of your death, d-day as I call it, April 3.  But, as you know, I was in Aruba then and didn’t want to touch a computer with a 10 foot pole.  More importantly, I was busy soaking up the sunshine and participating in one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  I cried, I could literally feel my heart breaking over and over, but I didn’t want too much idle time because I wanted to do something special to remember you.  I wanted to do something you would do.  Do something to make you proud.  I know you would be upset if I sat around and cried all day.  So I didn’t.  I wanted to but I didn’t, and I am glad I made the choice to celebrate your life.  But I was busy celebrating and didn’t get the chance to “pen” this letter.

I am not sure I know how to describe this last year.  It has been so incredibly painful and confusing.  It has been full of loss.  Obviously, the loss of you looms the largest.  There are secondary effects to you no longer being on this earth.  I’ve loss a huge part of myself.  You were so important and such a part of the woman I have become.  I knew you for nearly half my life and you have helped shape me and challenge me.  You made me laugh; you made me cry; pushed me beyond my limits, and encouraged some of my (some of our) wildest dreams. You loved me.  Now you are not here.  And, I am different.  I will never be the person I was when you were a daily, tangible presence in my life.  I know God is continuing to mold me into the woman He wants me to become, but I am still learning what your absence means in all of that.  The only thing I know for sure is that nothing will ever be the same and I will forever feel your loss.

Friendships have been interesting.  I have lost a few.  I’ll probably never know if that is because of what has happened to me or just the natural course of life.  The few that I’ve lost pale in comparison to those that I have gained.  Our friends have been absolutely incredible in taking care of me.  Our bond was strong before you left us and we continue to look out for, encourage, and love one another. I’ve also gained a few of your law school friends, which has been neat. They all try to tell me not to go to law school, but I have to give it a shot for myself.  My small group, “The Faithful Four”, as I affectionately refer to them have been incredible, too.  When we all get to heaven I want to make sure they meet you.  You’ve heard a lot about them, and they a lot about you, but we’ll make the face to face contact in the clouds one day.  My other friends have been stellar, too.  Nobody’s known how to handle such a tragedy, but they’ve done a good job of comforting me and helping me “get my sparkle back”.  Speaking of friendships, did you make a new friend in Matthew Warren (the son of Pastor Rick Warren) this week? Everyone jokes that you met everyone in heaven within 3 days of being there.  I can’t wait for you to introduce me to your new friends!

With the good, comes the bad.  Grieving your death has been so painful.  I thought I would join you in heaven many times this year.  My heart didn’t feel like it could handle it, but it did.  I am still here. 

Your death has also brought a lot of self growth.  I’ve learned more about myself and who and what are important in my life.  I also hope to start down the path to law school.  Remember when you and I talked about my going to law school?  It didn’t seem like the best idea at the time because of other plans, but now, I’m giving it a shot.  I’ve also learned who I can count on and how to say no.  In addition, I haven’t been able to take care of others because I’ve been in too much pain myself.  Consequently, I have also learned a little bit about what it means to take care of myself.  I’ve got a lot of work to do in this area, but one step at a time.

One year ago today was your celebration of life service.  Until that day, the fact that you were gone seemed like a figment of my imagination.  At times, it still does.  On one hand, it probably always will.  My mind will never be able to make sense of the fact that you took your own life.  I saw the remarkable (in a negative way) transformation you went through before you took your last breath, but I don’t want to remember the hard times we went through that led you to that point.  I want to remember you for you.  There were close to 500 people “at” (present and online) your service and it was a Wednesday morning at 11am.  If it was on a Saturday, I bet the Consol Energy Center would have had to be rented!!  You touched so many lives, Dude.  You had no idea.  One of the things I love is that “random” people contact me to offer their condolences and share stories about you.  I love this.  I love that somehow they knew we were so close and I love listening to the ways you enriched their lives.  We used to joke that between the two of us we knew all of UR.  Well, guess what?!  Now, I am meeting “the other half” that I didn’t  know. You lived such a blessed and influential life in such a short period of time on this earth.  I am sad.  So sad.  But, you have given me so much to celebrate, too.

Ever since you’ve died, I have been longing to know what your new life with Christ is like.  Can you see me down here?  Does it hurt you when I cry like it used to when you were with me?  Do you and God discuss things that are going on down here like prayers that I pray?  Is it like an Easter Celebration Service every day, all day in heaven?  Do you still have talents in heaven?  If Whitney Houston is there with you, does she perform on “Cloud 9” every once in awhile?  Bad joke, I know.  There are things that happen down here to me and to our friends that truly have no explanation.  Is that you letting us know you are OK?  Sometimes it feels like I can feel your presence with me.  Is it all in my head? I know you are healthy, you are happy and you are free from pain.  You must really be enjoying hanging out with God every day.  You enjoyed spending time with God, reading His word, and talking to Him here on earth.  Now, you’ve taken it to the next level.  I’d love to know what it is like, but I just have to wait and see.

You know my hopes.  You know my fears.  You know my dreams.  This year has been the most difficult year of my life.  I never expected to be where I am and to feel the way I feel.  I never expected to have to live without you.  But here I am.  Please, if you can, stay close.  I miss you more than I can describe and love you to heaven and back.

Ti amo, JB 

Monday, April 8, 2013

What I Need Most From My Friends

Hi Friend,

That’s right!  I’m talking to you.  The one reading this blog.  My parents don’t read this blog.  Maybe I should be offended by that, but I’m not. It’s probably for the best. So, yeah, this is directed at you, my friends (and people I don’t actually know but I’m sure if I met you, we’d be friends in real life and not just in the blog world.)

Let’s just be honest and say the last year has not been easy for either one of us.  My world was blown wide open and I hit rock bottom.  You’ve rushed in to be there for me even though you may not have known how to help.  I certainly haven’t known how to tell you to help me.  It’s been this messy dance of try this, try that, “Is she OK?  “Did I say/do the right thing” from your perspective and “Am I responding in the right way?” from mine. This whole grief thing is tricky.  Tag the word suicide onto the death and things can quickly spiral into totally foreign territory.  What a heartbreaking, life altering experience.

I’m here to tell you, it may be messy, but it’s beautiful - like an oriental rug.  If you actually flip over an oriental rug, you will see there are all sorts of knots. It doesn’t make sense how such a mess can create such beauty on the other side.  It may take me a long time to see the beautiful things that have come from Dude’s death, but there is no question that I have felt loved and supported by you in this darkest and most difficult time.  Thank you for everything – for the phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, cards, emails, earrings, necklaces, photos, songs, poems, quotes/Bible verses, prayers, hugs, shoulders to cry on, food, cupcakes (those are separate from food because they are just THAT important). I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

I may not have been able to tell you what I needed in the beginning, but now that I am a year in, I am better able to articulate my need.  So, what do I need?

I need you to understand that even though it’s been a year, the grief will not disappear. I am learning that this is a very slow and painful process, but from April 4th 2012 on, I have been moving forward with my “new life.”  I may not move forward as fast as you or I would like or in the way either one of thinks is “the right way."  One day at a time, one step at a time, progress is being made.  There will still be days that I am overwhelmed with grief.  With that said, when the intense pain comes, I know I have been here before and will survive. I know how to handle it.  I have also developed the ability to say “no” and to better ask for help.  Before this experience, I said yes to a lot just to make others happy.  Now, I know that I need to take care of myself and that might involve me saying no.  And, I don’t feel guilty about it, which is a big step for me. I have never been afraid to ask for help, but I didn’t know how to ask for help through this experience. That isn’t as much of an issue now. The grief doesn’t consume me as much as it used to, so I can actually have a conversation with you without Dude’s death constantly being in the forefront of my mind.  It’s still important for me to talk about it, but if I want to, I will.

I still need your prayers.

Most importantly, I need you to just be YOU! I loved you for you before this, and this tragedy in my life has not changed my feelings. Yes, I may be sad, but I want to support and celebrate you! It truly does make me happy to see you so happy.  Hopefully, one day, you can celebrate with me, too.  In the meantime, let’s have fun!  Summer is right around the corner!  We’ve got outdoor movies to watch, Nationals games to catch, long strolls that involve window shopping (or real shopping), eating ice cream, and dining outdoors. We’ve got babies to love on, parties to attend, BBQs to have, and margaritas to make a la Casa Bigby.  We’ve got laughs to share and memories to make. I’ve not been up for all of those things for quite some time, but I feel ready now….even if I might need a little prodding at times.  You are a whole lot of fun and I want to spend time with you.

Thank you for your love and support, but most of all, thank you for being YOU.
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