Much Too Young

Yesterday, my friend Justin lost his mother to cancer.

Today, my heart breaks for him and for his family. It’s so hard to say goodbye to the people we love. Justin told me a week ago that since she’s been sick for so long, they’ve had time to prepare, to talk about arrangements, to say their goodbyes. That’s very fortunate, of course, but it doesn’t really help. When the end comes, there is no amount of preparedness that can stop your heart from hurting.

Justin is the most loving and giving of all of my friends. He loves with his whole heart and isn’t shy about it. He gets that from his mother. Jackie was amazing, the life of every party she was at. Good at conversation, happy and fun to be around, a good listener, with a big heart. Like her son. They are a lot of like, Jackie and Justin, and they were very close. I know that this is hard on him especially.

Also for Justin’s dad, Kevin, who lost his love and the mother of his children. And for Tara, Justin’s sister, who lost her mother, while pregnant, no less. For everyone in their family, for Tiegen, who is so young he likely won’t remember his grandmother, and for everyone who knew Jackie, I’m so sorry. I feel your pain and know your loss. I knew her, too. I loved her and will miss her laughter and her sense of humor.

Justin, I’m so sorry for your loss. You know, I know you know, that I am here for you. Whatever, whenever, however.

Please, if you can, take a moment and say a prayer for this family today as they learn to navigate this world without their center. Jackie, you were much too young to leave this world and we are poorer today for the loss of you.

Remember Yesterday

September 8th was the one year anniversary of the suicide of my friend, Peter.

His wife and son came to town to visit all of Peter’s friends. I held a reunion at my house. It was wonderful to see everyone and to talk and reminisce about old times. But, it all felt a little strange. Like we were all forcing this sense of happiness that no one really felt.

I sure didn’t. When we had Peter’s memorial last year, Niki invited friends to stand up and talk about him, in front of a video camera. She recorded all the speeches and she’s saving them for Finn, so that someday, he’ll get to hear how much his dad was loved. I was crying through most of the memorial and all of the speeches. I was standing with Mindy and Tom and Mindy kept encouraging me to say something.

I really, really wanted to, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me to stand in front of that group and share my grief. Not then, not when it was so raw. In the year that has passed, I haven’t been able to talk about him much or to share that grief. On Thursday, I was sad all day long. I missed him so much and sometimes, it seems like the world has forgotten him.

When I think about Peter, I remember a lot of different things. I remember how tall he was and that he used to wear these funky hats. I remember how Niki used to pick on him because she thought some of his hats were…I don’t know, dorky? I loved them. I liked that he was confident in himself and who he was and that he’d wear something he liked, even if the person he trusted most said she didn’t like it.

I remember going to their wedding and being the one to drive the bride and groom to the hotel. Then, they forgot their champagne in my car and I had to hand deliver it to their room, about ten minutes after they arrived. I was so nervous to “interrupt” them on their wedding night. Peter opened the door, still in his tux, and hugged his thanks, making me feel silly for feeling so nervous.

I remember how he wanted his own special nickname for me. He wanted to call me something that no one else called me. We went through a slew of them, until he settled on Vi (long I). He didn’t call me that very often, but he always grinned at me when he did.
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I remember how smart he was and that he loved trivia as much as I do. Trivia was the thing that bonded us. We had gotten along quite well, from day one, but to move into “friends” territory, it took a trivia game. Peter knew exactly how smart he was, I think he was surprised to find out I was that smart, too. He was always up for playing some game, especially a trivia game. Then, one night, during game night at his house, he and I hatched a plan. Instead of evenly dividing the teams, we’d be a team, just him and me; versus everyone else. I think there were 6-8 people on the other team. We won. Decimated them, actually. They still talk about that game. Pete and I were very good at trivia.

I remember how he hugged me each and every time I saw him, even at work. Often times, he’d pick me up when he hugged me–he was very strong. The night of my 30th birthday, I was doing photos with every friend in the room. Peter had been watching me and thinking about what we’d do. It wasn’t just a stand next to each other and smile photo, not for us. I actually ended up with two wonderful photos of that night, as we stood together, talking about the “plan” for the perfect birthday photo, I was laughing and Kelly snapped a picture.
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Then, he picked me up, I kicked up one 4 inch heel and we kissed…photo. I have that one framed in my living room. I know that one day I’ll smile again when I look at it, now, though, it just makes me miss him even more.
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I remember one night after I’d moved back from DC. The gang was gathering up at GW for drinks. I was one of the last to arrive and when I walked in, Peter stood up and came over to me. He gave me a huge hug and whispered in my ear, “Niki and I are taking off the gloves.” My eyes got huge and I got so excited. He pulled me in for another hug and told me that they weren’t telling people that they were trying, but he and Niki really wanted me to know. I remember his smile that night, how happy he looked as he contemplated a future as a father. I remember he winked at me as I weasled my way around the table to Niki and tried to hug her casually, so no one would know that everything had changed.

I remember that he used to ask me to go have a smoke with him at GW. We’d go out to the alley and lean against the wall to smoke and he’d suck his down. He was the fastest smoker I ever met. He could easily finish two full cigarettes before I could finish one. It’s weird that such a strange little quirk is one of my strongest memories of him. I used to joke that I was getting healthier on smoke breaks with him, because I never finished a full cigarette before he was antsy and ready to head back in.

I remember how much he loved Niki and how he wasn’t afraid to let that show. I used to think, “that’s what I want”, because he was a man who was proud to be a husband and eager to tell the world how amazing his wife is. One night, after a long night of drinking, the three of us stopped up to GW for last call. Or maybe it was the only place in town left that would still serve us. I was driving, but Peter and Niki were very drunk. Niki got up on the bar, yes, ON the bar, and began shaking it to whatever was on the radio that night. Peter and I sat at the end, together, and as Niki danced her way up and down the bar he looked at me and said, “she’s so beautiful. Look at my wife.” And the tone in his voice choked me up. I could only look at him. Then he added, “and check out that booty!”. And I laughed, as I was supposed to. It was very Peter to say something sweet and then to lighten the mood with something raunchy.

I remember when he told me that they were expecting a baby. They were both so excited. Peter waited until Niki was out of ear shot and then he asked me, “when do baby showers happen?” He wanted to make sure that Niki had everything she deserved. I promised him that I’d make sure she had an amazing shower. Muffy and I threw her a shower 2.5 weeks before she was due. It was later than we wanted, but the only day we could get the schedules to coordinate. When Pete and Niki arrived, we asked how Niki was feeling and she said she was fine. She told us that she thought she was going to be overdue. She said she was overdue when she was born and Peter added that so was he. I told them that first babies usually come early, not late. They laughed and Niki said she felt like she had weeks left. Our shower was on Sunday…Finn was born on Thursday. He was two weeks early.

I remember how, after Finn was born, Peter took a picture and sent out a mass text. I congratulated him via text and asked how everyone was doing. He reported on how amazing Finn was and that Niki did an incredible job. “And you?” I asked. He said, “I’m just sitting here, looking at my wife and son.” Even via text message, his joy shone through.
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I remember how he loved to go camping. He and the gang would go usually once a year. I was always invited and always said no. I don’t camp. I don’t sleep outside, I don’t sleep on the ground. He’d ask me year after year to go along and I’d always refuse. Then, last year, he turned 40 years old. I called him, just to say hi and catch up. We chatted on the phone for almost an hour, talking about what it was like to turn such a momentous age and how I have trouble believing the *he* was 40. He told me that he and Niki were planning a trip up to the cities before the end of summer and that he wanted to go camping. I laughed at him and said, “so you don’t want to hang with me?” and he said that what he wanted for his 40th birthday was for me to come camping. I hemmed and hawed until he added, “I’ll bring you a bed.” I laughed again and he said he’d bring a futon out into the woods and put it inside a tent, just for me, my own little woodland hotel room. I agreed that if he’d bring a bed to the woods, I’d go camping for his 40th birthday. He was so happy and excited he talked for 10 minutes about all the fun things we’d do when we went camping. He told me it would be an “experience.” I tried not to dampen his enthusiasm; none of what he said sounded like fun to me.

I remember that call with perfect clarity. It was early July 2010. Two months later, he would be dead. That phone call was the last time I ever spoke to him. When I remember it now, I’m so glad that I agreed to go camping with him, that I gave him that little gift. And I’m actually sorry that we never got to go. I never thought a day would come when I’d be sad to miss out on a camping trip. It’s just that I don’t know anyone else who would offer to lug an actual bed out into the woods, just to get me camping.

I remember how, no matter what, Peter could be counted on. He was the one to turn to if you needed someone to listen, if you needed advice, if you needed to laugh, if you needed an inappropriate comment, if you needed help. If you needed him, he was always there. I wish that he had known, that he had trusted, that we’d all be there for him, when he really needed us.

It’s been a full year since his death. A year since I’ve seen my friend. A year knowing that he’s gone. He may be gone forever from my life, but he won’t ever be gone from my heart. I still think of him and miss him and try to laugh at my memories. I play trivia and I trust that if I don’t know the answer, wherever he is, he’ll whisper it to me.

Probably along with a dirty joke.

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Condolences

On Friday, April 1st, my friend Elena lost her mother to cancer.

This has been a long, difficult battle for Elena and her family and I hope you’ll join me in offering condolences and a prayer for her family. It was two April’s (17th) ago that Elena’s father passed away.

My heart breaks for her that she lost both of her parents inside of two years.

For Elena, her sister Nancy and Nancy’s family (Ryan, Matthew, and Grace) and for her brother Michael, I hope you find some small comfort in knowing that your parents are in peace. I am so truly sorry for your overwhelming loss, I cannot imagine how difficult this is for your family.

Please know that I love you and my thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

“The angels are always near to those who are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hands of God.” ~Eileen Elias Freeman

Heartaches and Memories

This weekend brought more sadness to my family, though this time it was less shocking. My aunt, Carole, who is not biologically related to me, lost her mother on Friday. Though I was not related to her, it was saddening nonetheless. Growing up, she was an additional grandmother to me and my siblings. We leaved nearby and within walking distance from our preschool and our playground. Grandma Shedd was what we all called her. To this day, we still refer to her that way, even though she is not, in actuality, my grandmother.

I can remember countless times we would go and play at their house and she always had baked goods for us (isn’t that the way of true grandmother’s everywhere?) She never seemed to mind when all of us loud little children were stamping around underfoot. She and Grandpa Shedd (who passed away more than ten years ago, now) were the only people I knew who didn’t have VHS in the 80s. They had Beta. It made them cool, unique. They were always a part of family holidays, birthdays, special events. Like true grandparents.

Now, they are both gone. I am sad for my aunt Carole. I think it is beyond hard to lose both of one’s parents. My mother lost both of hers years ago and I know that it is still hard for her. I doubt that you ever get over needing your parents.

And so it is that I am attending a funeral service tonight, for the second consecutive Monday. In response to my previous post about the loss of my friend Peter, my mother offered up a quote:

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” –from a headstone in Ireland

I think that says it all. Here’s to hoping the memories will flow tonight, helping to soothe some of the heartache.

God bless, Grandma Shedd.

Everybody Knows the Trouble I Feel, Everybody Knows My Sorrow

Monday was the memorial service for my friend Peter.

Several people mentioned to me the comfort they found in being able to celebrate life.  I don’t know about that. I’m not sure that grieving in a group is easier. I had a really tough time at the service. There were so many things I wanted to say, to pay tribute to Peter and I couldn’t do it. I did not have it in me to share my grief outside. Did it help to see how many others were likewise grieving for Pete? Not really. Grief is very internal for me. I knew I was grieving and no, it didn’t help. I could barely watch the slideshow because it made me so sad. I eventually had to force myself to just watch it straight through because I doubted I would have another opportunity. I was just standing still in the middle of a crowd, crying. When it was over, I made my way through the sea of bodies to the exit and got outside. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like the room was closing in on me and I needed to escape. As I passed through the people milling about I caught snatches of conversations and heard snippets of laughter. While I understand, intellectually, that people just make conversation and it isn’t out of the ordinary, it hurt me. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to laugh, to talk about my new job or my new house, or anything. I just wanted to be sad and the 200 people surrounding me weren’t helping me do that nor making it any easier.

But, then I paused, outside, and took a deep breath. Within seconds, my friend Frodo came after me. He noticed my escape and he followed. He hugged me and I could tell that he felt it, too. It was hard and I was not alone in my grief, no matter how it felt inside. Yes, people chat and laugh but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting, too. The people that came, the people that knew him, they understood. Frodo showed me that because it was clear he could see inside me to my grief–it helped me realize that I wasn’t hurting inside as much as I thought, my grief showed. Frodo helped.

It was so hard that day. But, I think the hardest part was the next day. I kept thinking as the service wound down, “what now?” It didn’t seem real that I would get up the next day and go to work and it would just be another Tuesday. How is it possible that it could be a regular day? Peter is gone. Forever. There is nothing regular, nothing normal, nothing real about that. It is senseless and painful and how is it possible that things just keep moving forward?

Then, this morning I was walking down the hall at work. We have these quotes all over our walls. I love them. I’ve read every single one dozens of times over and I still read them as I pass, but they don’t carry the impact they did the first days of starting here. Now, I’ve become numb. Often, I see them without really seeing them. The one I pass the most, the one I’ve read the most often, hangs outside my library, down the hall. I pass it multiple times every day.

Just today, I looked at it and it stopped me in my tracks. Literally.

I stood there, staring at it, then I did a total about-face and went back into the library to grab my phone and take a picture.

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That is how I’ve been feeling all week, then Robert Frost helped me out. Life does go on. I get that, really, I do. It is the hardest part of this whole thing. How did Peter choose to stop allowing life to go on? It hurts, but it does go on, march forward, inevitably. We can’t slow it and we can’t stop it. Even when it hurts, we just have to ride out the tide until it gets better. And the best part is that it will get better. It always does.

Lastly, I want to mention something that struck me on Monday. It was absolutely gorgeous, weather-wise. As I was going about my day I thought to myself, “what a beautiful day”. Then I felt bad for thinking that on the day of Peter’s memorial service. And suddenly, I had a flash. There was an episode of Friends, where they all attended the funeral of Ross and Monica’s grandmother. Phoebe said, “what a great day” or something. And they all looked at her in shock that she’d say that at a funeral. Then she quickly corrected that she was talking about the weather. It made me smile that I experienced a similar story, even if it was only in my own head.

Looking back, I think it was gorgeous that day on purpose. The weather is changing toward blustery fall days and it seems like the heavens took it upon themselves to grace us with one last beautiful day. Like they knew that those of us who were hurting would need something beautiful to look to, something awesome to enjoy. It helped me get through, so I believe that was the intent.

Hey, Pete? Can you name the 20 U.S. Presidents who don’t have an “O” in their last name?

Somewhere, wherever you are, I know you can and you’re ticking them off on your fingers–as I type this. I miss you my friend. Always will.

Community of Love

There are moments, little-bitty moments in life that can sock us in the face with how extraordinary they are, yet, to an onlooker, they might seem nondescript, or even ordinary.

After Peter’s suicide last week, things were turned upside-down for me. Even more so after I talked with his wife and learned the full story behind his death. It rocked my world–and not in the cool, fun way that is usually implied when people use that phrase. I’m still reeling from the news. I’m not sure if I will ever fully wrap my head around it, I expect that I’ll just become used to this until it fades and becomes a sad memory, rather than fresh, raw grief.

What amazes me is the outpouring of love I’ve received. Friends have dropped what they’re doing to drive me places (Elena), I’ve been hugged ’till I cried and then hugged some more (Niki, Muffy, and Frodo), I’ve had friends carve out time for me because I need to talk (Mindy), and I’ve had people listen because I asked them to (pretty much everyone I know).

In addition to that, my mom popped by my work on Monday with my nephew just to cheer me up. Simon also brought me chocolate. Tuesday my boss gave me a half-day to recuperate after the memorial service. Wednesday, Sonya brought Jaysa to visit me at work, today Kelly and her kids popped in to take me out to lunch.

I told my boss what happened first thing on Monday morning and he said, “you’re part of our family now, when you hurt, we all hurt, whatever you need, let me know.” And select faculty members have been checking up on me all week. It’s amazing. Then, today, my boss saw me heading out to lunch. When I got back, he asked how my lunch was and I told him. Then he hesitated and asked, “have you had people visit you every day this week?” I said that I had and he replied, “what a wonderful community of people you have surrounding you, you’re very lucky.” We were in a meeting and I started to cry. It was such a perfect thing to say and it hit me how true it is.

I am entirely surrounded by a community of love. It’s an incredible feeling. I think the most fortunate part is that I know that I am surrounded by love.  I thought of that often the night of Peter’s memorial. More than 200 people showed up to pay homage to him and profess their love for the incredible person that he was. If only he had known…things might have gone differently.

Friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, students, professionals, it is incredible how many people whose lives we touch without even realizing it. People give back if you give of yourself. That’s a powerful realization and if there was a bright spot to losing this friend of mine, then that just may be it. I know that people love me and I am not alone. I know it. I have no doubts.

And I love you, too.