The purpose of the last post was to send a message that life can be short, far too short. We all know this in the same way we know that we should watch our cholesterol, exercise regularly and not smoke. But does knowledge really change behavior? Do scary and heart wrenching stories of young people being ripped away in their prime really drive change in our lives? The fact of the matter is, it probably doesn’t. We read the post, we feel bad for about a millisecond and then your phone beeps, your computer dings, your boss knocks on your door and before we even realize it, LIFE is calling. The quality of that life is what the post was written to question. If Tiffany and Alex were here, if they had been given that opportunity they would be so thrilled by everything – by city-stopping, record breaking snowfalls, by oppressive humidity, by traffic, by the rude Starbucks barista, that they wouldn’t even notice these trivial things that we allow to alter our moods, our days. And if our life isn’t a collection of days, then what is it? Each day, each mood, is a piece of our individual book of life and only we are the ones with the power to write on the pages. The purpose is to distract you from the beeps of the phone, the dings of the computer and the knock at the door and say - if you knew you had a short time to be here, if God’s plan was to take you now – WHAT would you do differently. Give that question some thought and the post will have achieved its purpose.
Live Like you’re dying, but don’t play dead
The following paragraphs chronicle and unabashedly honest accounts of a girl who lost 2 of her closest friends. Her pain, her realizations about life and most importantly, her mistakes:
March 3, 2004: A knock at my door. My neighbor. He had called about an hour before and said something about people being at a Mexican Restaurant. “I’m just gonna hang at my house tonight, thanks though", I said, assuming that was an invitation to join the crew at the restaurant. It wasn’t an invitation, it was a query to see if I was home. He had news and needed me to be at my house to hear it. The neighbor arrived with 2 beers in his hand. “What part of I don’t really want to hang out tonight are you not getting”, I thought to myself. He sits me down on the couch and explains that Tiffany had a car accident. There was no immediate panic, just the slow dissolution of the remnants of my naivety. It never occurred to me, even in that moment, that she was dead. Never. Not even for a second. The he said it,“She died instantly”. Confusion and panic waved over me in a concurrent state. We can’t be talking about the same person. It has to another Tiffany. There’s some other Tiffany that I’m distant friends with that I’ve forgotten about momentarily and when he clears this up I’ll be like “wow, sorry about that girl, but WOW, you scared me.” The sad and unwavering look he gave me confirmed that it was in fact “my Tiffany”. I need my Mom was my immediate thought. I grabbed my phone, but my fingers couldn’t seem to dial the number, I couldn’t breathe – I actually couldn’t breathe. I thought that only happened in movies, but sure enough air literally couldn’t not fill my lungs, I would open my mouth and gasp but nothing… nothing. No air. Finally, my Mom’s on the phone, she’s crying. She already knew. The room was spinning around me and I didn’t know whether to sit, stand, yell. I still couldn’t breathe. This was all starting to get annoying. I was willing my body to get air and it just wouldn’t happen. I didn’t cry that night – in fact, I was very productive. I called everyone that needed to know. I even called my boss to explain I would be out for a few days. I fielded lots of calls from other people and was starting to get a little short tempered with their sobbing. The sobbing hadn’t come to me yet and I was filled with a mix of guilt and annoyance. Some people say they can’t sleep when someone dies. I slept fine. In fact, all I did was sleep…for about 2 years. That night, I went to sleep until my phone rang at 2:30 – a friend in Arizona on a business trip answering my Emergency message I had left on her hotel phone – “Julie I got your message, what’s wrong?” “Tiffany’s Dead – get the first flight back” and I hung up. I still feel bad about that to this day, but I was on a different planet at that moment in time. 8:15 AM the phone rings again – a coworker who had gotten the news from my boss “Julie, I’m so sorry, I just heard that Tiffany died.” Her phone call had awoken me. That horrific moment after something terrible happens and you wake up and realize its real. The tears started and didn’t stop for 2 weeks. I cried through everything – eating, showering, driving. It became normal enough that I had to stop myself at work because other people weren’t as comfortable with the constant crying as I had learned to be. My parents arrived at 11 AM, I had on jeans, a towel on my head and a robe. I had a suitcase on my bed with one pair of white socks and a tube of toothpaste. I looked at my Mom with complete confusion. “I need a shirt, I’ve been looking for one, but … Mom, I need a shirt” My mind was filled with far too many questions and thoughts, finding a shirt was just too much. My mind literally couldn’t handle the overload. It just shut down. For 2 years, I lived in a constant state of being shut down. I shut myself down from everything – I didn’t make friends, I didn’t date, I didn’t do anything. I look at pictures of myself from that time and I genuinely do not remember any of it. There were Christmases, birthdays, weddings, and I don’t actually remember being there. I look at those pictures and all I think is – “when did I cut my hair short? And why on earth did I do it? It looked horrible” Two years later, for some unknown reason, the fog lifted. I can’t say when it happened exactly, I just know that after 2 years I actually remember doing stuff. Two years is a long time. I see 23 and 24 year olds out around town and I think, gosh that should’ve been a really fun time for me. I mean look at them, they don’t even care that they can’t sit down in that skirt. Yes, losing Tiffany was a difficult blow, but what would she have said, the girl who lost her life to me as I gave up on life?
One year later…
Alex and I were talking a lot. I had emerged from my fog and needed a good friend, he was stationed in Tennessee and we talked for hours seemingly every night. It was nice to have a friend again that knew me so well. I had forgotten, during my time of departure from life, how much I missed talking to him. We planned a trip for July 4th for me to check out his new place in TN. We had a great weekend and life was finally back on track for me. A couple weeks after I got back to DC, I get a call that he was sick and having emergency heart surgery. What? I just saw him. Which seems to be the token line when someone unexpectedly gets sick or dies, as if things can’t change that fast and it’s simply not possible. After his surgery, he came home to Georgetown because he was too sick to live on his own. We hung out a good bit when he was back in town, I’d stop by for dinner or we’d get ice cream and chat about all of the cool stuff he’d do once this silly heart thing went away. Then the diagnosis came. Rare. 100% fatality. Absolutely no cure. No chance of remission. The words rang in my head and all I could feel was pure anger. Are you kidding me God? Are you freaking kidding me?? I JUST did this!!! And now I have the awesome gift of having to do it again?! Wow, thanks, super big thanks for you and all you do and yeah, I’ll be in the front row of church on Sunday preaching about what a great God you are – because you are so fantastic I just don’t even have the words. In fact, I do have words, lots of them, but I also have just enough fear that I’ll be immediately struck by lightening that I’ll keep them to myself but you better know that I’m thinking them!! Well that’s that. I thought. Not again. No way, no how. I already lost 2 years, I’m not losing two more. I can’t handle this. I got short with him on the phone when he would be talking about all of these experimental drugs and treatments “why are wasting your time Alex, bad stuff happens to good people, it happens. What part of 100% fatal are you not hearing.” (yes, seriously, I was that person, I understand if you stop reading because you’ve deemed me a wholly unreliable evil person and my evilness may filter onto you through this website) Obviously, we started growing distant, the phone calls were irregular and the visits had all but stopped. Eventually, we decided we needed to have dinner – clear the air. Obviously he was mad at me, but why I was mad at him he didn't completely understand. Neither did I, but for some reason felt the need to defend my angry disposition. So I went to dinner, fully prepared to defend my actions in the same way I managed to convince retailers that an overpriced retail space in Gainesville was a solid move. I could sell things, that was my forte and I was going to convince Alex why the way I had been acting was not only defendable but honorable. Oh yeah, that’s actually what I was thinking. “You need to surround yourself with naïve people who have never experienced death of a close friend that’s young because those people might actually buy into your idea that you’re going to beat this thing.” I said that. Those words. To a guy who still genuinely believe and NEEDED to believe that he could live. I was MAD at anyone I could get my hands on. Mad at God. Mad at Alex. Mad at Cancer. Mad, mad, mad, mad, mad. I wanted Alex to say screw it and go to Colorado with me and ski for 4 months and enjoy the rest of his life. I wanted the time with him that I didn’t have with Tiffany, but I wanted it to be on my terms, not his. I couldn’t bring myself to sit in a hospital with him and watch him have treatments and surgery after surgery after surgery the same way I couldn’t get a shirt that day after Tiffany died. I just shut down and my brain and my body didn’t do what needed to be done. After some time, I realized what a horrific person I was and tried, repeatedly, but to no avail, to contact Alex. On May 25th, 2010 I learned he was being discharged from the hospital and sent home with hospice. I planned to go to Delaware that weekend to try to see him and say goodbye. If nothing else, show up on the doorstep and yell through the doorway, just so he knew. Just so he knew I never forgot. On May 26th he passed away.
Sometimes, life is awful. Painfully, gut wrenchingly, awful. But, it’s still life. In and of itself LIFE and the opportunity to live is an amazing gift. Live like you’re dying… but don’t play dead.
"You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. But you can decide how you're going to live now." -- Joan Baez