Despite being mathematically challenged, I possess Rain Man-like skills when it comes to one particular thing related to numbers. Dates. I can recall specific dates, such as birthdays, and I also can recall the exact date that even some of the most insignificant events in my life have happened. It is not exactly a show-stopping talent or superhuman ability, but it’s all I’ve got.
Prior to 2016, if you had asked me the significance of June 26, I would have searched my memory bank and drawn a complete blank. That date was not attached to anyone or anything that I could recall. It was simply just another summer day. That was then, and this is now.
Now, June 26 marks the day that my sweet friend, Michelle, died following a 4 1/2 year battle with breast cancer. Just typing that sentence still feels surreal. In these past two years, I have thought about Michelle, in terms of both her life and her death, and I wish that I had some sort of profound insight or poetic pearls of wisdom to commemorate this two-year mark. Alas, I am sorely lacking both.
As June 26 approaches, all I have to humbly offer up are some random thoughts that have crossed my mind and heart since that day two years ago:
I miss my friend. A lot. I miss Michelle. It is that simple and that complex. I miss the sound of her laughter. I miss how she says Kristi Jo. I miss texting and talking to her about all things related to University of Kentucky (UK) men’s basketball. I miss hearing her say, I love you, Sweet Girl! I miss her big hugs. I miss how she mangles song lyrics. I miss being able to talk to her about anything and nothing at all. I miss hearing her stories about her family. I miss all of these things and so much more. I just miss her. A lot.
Grief encompasses every emotion that exists. From the first moments of absolute denial when I heard of Michelle’s death to the tears I shed as I type this, I have felt a myriad of emotions over the past two years. Most of us equate grief with sadness, and while I certainly have felt very sad, there is a lot more to it. Sometimes, I go into periods of denial, when I pretend that she is still living in Ohio, and it just has been a while since we have had a chance to talk. Crazy, but true. I have unleashed a torrent of angry words and tears on the heavens above and questioned why this beautiful soul was taken away, while others, who do so much harm in the world, remain alive and well. I have felt guilty that my breast cancer diagnosis took me down a much easier path than hers did and that I am still alive. That one is still tough to admit. Along the way, I have felt a certain sense of relief that Michelle no longer has to suffer, and I have felt great joy and gratitude when I recall the moments that we shared. Grief has been the ultimate emotional rollercoaster indeed.
Love never dies. Ever. The morning of her funeral Mass, I stood next to Michelle’s casket as I made my way to the front of the church for Communion. I put my hand on the top of the casket, just to feel close to her one more time. When it came time for me to move forward, out of reach of the casket, I experienced a moment of panic. I kissed my hand and gently patted the casket, and as I walked away, I felt like I had really lost her forever. I did not lose her, though. She may not be here physically, but I still feel her presence and her love. She is present in my thoughts and memories. She is present in everyone who was fortunate to have known her and were loved by her. She is present in the quiet moments when I talk to her, and I feel an inexplicable sense of calm wash over me. Most recently, she even made her presence known in the most unlikely of places. A bank. When I took my oldest daughter to open her first checking account, I was thinking back to when I opened my checking account during my senior year of high school and how much Michelle and I laughed the first time I had to write a check and had no clue how to do it. I was sort of smiling to myself, lost in that memory, when I was brought back to the present when the bank associate remarked to my daughter, Cool beans. That particular phrase was one that Michelle said often during our high school years. Coincidence? No; it was Michelle. I know it was, and so does she.
Her light made us stars. The picture that leads off this blog contains lyrics from Pearl Jam’s song, Light Years, and it always reminds me of Michelle when I hear it. She has this special light to her, and everyone is better for knowing her. I know that I am, and I can never thank her enough for always being in my corner and loving me, even when, and especially when, I could not love myself.
We still hate Christian Laettner. If you are a UK fan like Michelle and I are, this statement needs no explanation. One of our last conversations included a discussion about that fateful Duke-UK game, and it recently crossed my mind as I watched the NBA draft. Till death do us part, and beyond, we will always hate Laettner. Always.
Every time I publish a blog, there still is this moment of trepidation, but none more so than when I attempt to share something about Michelle. My underlying fear is that my words will fail me and, ultimately, her, and that is last thing that I would ever want. I hope that I did right by her this time. Amidst the smiles and tears, I miss you, Sweet Girl, and I love you big time!
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story