My Sweet Friend

I have really been struggling to find my words this past week…..

I lost an old friend.

On Nov 12th my friend went missing. All of her friends rallied together, shared information and tried to locate her in the only way we could from distances far away.

You see, my friend had moved from Washington to Illinois over a year ago with her boyfriend of over a decade. And she was lonely. She didn’t have friends or family in Illinois…..

And things did not go well.

My friend has struggled since I have known her with bouts of depression…..and being isolated, away from all who loved her…..in physical pain, daily……and in a relationship that was….well, let’s just say that the relationship fueled her depression….all of this led to the moment that broke so many hearts…..

The thing is, I did not realize just how bad things were for her…or how depressed she had become because I was lost these past two years in my own storm, dealing with my family situation and my son’s addiction and mental health issues……so I didn’t know…….

This was a dear friend of mine from high school.

We spent a lot of time together…..she spent the night at my house many times and we always had a great time. When she was at my house we were up late, long nights talking, laughing and enjoying our friendship. We stayed up late baking cookies and then in the middle of the night our craving for cheeze pleezers and strawberry Shasta would strike, and off we would go, walking to 7-11 to get some…..mostly at midnight and once at 2am. As long as the two of us were together we were safe!

We spent a lot of time at her house in the summer of 1982….helping her dad to haul hay. My friend lived on a small dairy farm and the summer/fall meant hauling hay….loading the truck and unloading in the barn. We had fun doing it, even though it was exhausting work. We sang country songs and then rode on top of the hay in the big hay truck after hours hard work……those days were amazing and our friendship became stronger.

We went to camp together in the summer…..spent a lot of time in Rainbow girls…..went on double dates…..and so much more. Life with my friend was fun and crazy…..she made me laugh, made me cry, shared my joys and pains, and sometimes drove me nuts.

In the fall of 1982 my dad made it unsafe for me to live at home any longer and my friend and her mother offered me a home to live in so I could finish high school…..I shared my friends room with her and we became inseparable. She was with me, skipping school, when I met my future husband. We laughed, cried, shared secrets and our dreams. She was a sister to me.

I saw it back then, though I didn’t really talk about it with anyone…..her depression. There were times when she would be depressed and we would spend hours talking….or rather her talking and me listening and I would do everything I could to help her.

Through the years we stayed close. We both got married and then we each had children. She stayed in the same town and I moved away with my husband, going wherever the Air Force sent us. We would go long periods of time without seeing each other, but then I would go home to visit and she and I would get together and it was as if no time had gone by….we always picked up where we left off. We wrote a lot of long letters in those days before email and internet and paid for high long distance phone calls. But they were worth it. Friends staying connected.

And then her life changed dramatically over a decade ago and our phone conversations were less often, but we still wrote letters and then she climbed onboard with facebook and we would message each other to stay in touch.

It has been 10 years since I last saw my friend in person….we met for breakfast on one of my trips home……just the two of us. And we talked for hours. I could see that she was struggling, but she was surrounded by friends and family so I knew she wasn’t alone.

And then the past two years things took a turn for me and I stepped back from my friends, my family needed me and emotionally I couldn’t handle anything else.  We still messaged, but we didn’t talk……

Then over a year ago she moved away from her family and her friends, to another state with only her boyfriend for support…..and as the year passed she became more isolated, her depression growing…fueled by loneliness and…..so much more.

And now she is gone.

Gone.

I will never again have a chance to talk with her, to hear her laugh…….I didn’t know. I wish I had.  I wish I had called her.  I wish I had taken the time to listen.  I wish I had known.

And now she is gone. I am still in shock. I am hurting. I feel guilty.

Eight days after my friend went missing she was found. She had taken her own life.

Her sister called me to tell me…..

I am left with so many questions….WHY?  Why, my dear friend?

I know she was alone, having left her support network back in Washington when she moved. And now I know now just how bad things had gotten for her in that new state…….with no one to help her, to seek help for her, to love her and support her……

Why? Depression strikes so many and yet we still struggle to understand and talk about it. When are we going to change that? When is mental health going to be as important as physical health? When will the medical industry treat mental illnesses the way they treat physical illnesses…..

The image in my mind of my friend, alone…….it will never leave me. And I am left with the questions of why, and also the “what if”….what if I had called…..what if I had known…..what if…… and the “if only”.  I will never know the answers.

…..and I am left with guilt and heartbreak.

My dear, sweet friend is gone. And I realize that no matter what is going on in my life I need to make sure I keep in contact with my friends and family, that I let them know just how much they mean to me, that I never again miss the signs and never again lose someone I love to suicide.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression and expressing thoughts of suicide, please reach out, call the National Suicide Awareness Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Today, hug your loved ones a little tighter….tell them how you feel……don’t waste another minute or day. Life is all too short and we never know when it is our last moment on earth or that of our loved ones.

I wish I had one more day with you, my sweet friend….you drove me nuts at times, you made me laugh, you listened when I needed a friend, and I wish I could tell you, just one more time, how much I love you!

I miss you my sweet friend! I hope you have found peace……

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A Grateful Heart

Today is Thanksgiving, a day to spend with family and friends….a day for eating…..and a day to be thankful.

This week I received some news that has my heart hurting and so today, I am especially grateful for my family and my friends.

I am reflecting today on the things that mean the most to me, the things that have shaped who I am and the people who have entered my life, for a short time or forever.

I am thankful for each person who taught me something, understood my hearts joy and pain, challenged me to step outside by comfort zone, made me laugh, made me cry, and everything else in between.

I am thankful for the good times and the difficult times in my life…those times have made me who I am today.

I am thankful that I had a few years with my mom, the one who adopted me and taught me so much about life, but mostly to love unconditionally.

I am thankful that I have now found my birth family and have the answers I searched for, whether I liked the answers or not.

I am thankful for my friends, old and new, spread across the country….for the talks, the shopping, the laughs, the walks, and all the things we shared in the past and share now.

I am thankful for our expanded family through the marriage of our son and thankful for our daughter-in-love.

I am thankful that this shy guy asked this girl out on a date in high school and that through all the ups and downs, he has stood by my side, sometimes carried me, and been my biggest supporter.  I am one lucky girl!

And I am thankful for my boys, the greatest gifts I have ever received!  My love for them is unconditional and they give me purpose.

And today, more than any other in the past, I am so very grateful for the internet and the ability to communicate quickly with many and thankful that through messaging, phone calls, and texting, old friends could come together, despite the miles between us and comfort and support each other through a difficult time.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Today, hug your loved ones a little tighter and tell them what they mean to you…….I am hugging my family tight today, near and far.

 

“Love in the First Degree”

We were in high school.

We began dating in January of his junior year……my first senior year……

Those were the days when we all had pee chee’s for school, and I decorated my pee chee with doodles and some of my favorite sayings and songs.

One day, not long after our first date, I got in my boyfriend’s car (a really cool 1969 Camaro…..ohhh I did love that car, but that is for another story, another day), and as we drove away from our school he popped a cassette into the cassette player and then I heard it…..one of my favorite songs, EVER! This rocker boyfriend of mine, who loved to blast AC/DC, Scorpions, Foreigner and so much more, was playing MY favorite song by one of MY favorite groups……”Love In the First Degree” by Alabama!

He loved Alabama too! And in that moment this country girl, who sometimes listened to rock, was hooked, I was falling for this guy…….he later told me he had seen “Love in the First Degree” written on my pee chee and knew he had to play his new cassette for me! My rocker had a little country in him!

I married this guy after we graduated from high school and we are still married today.

And Alabama is still one of our favorite bands of all time!

We have made it to a few different concerts over the years, mostly country and a couple rock…..and boy did we enjoy them. But one concert evaded us….Alabama, the one group we have ALWAYS wanted to see perform live. But it never seemed possible. We would move away from somewhere and then Alabama would come do a concert…….we always seemed to be missing the group perform.

We were living in Missouri in 2001 when Alabama announced they would be performing at the state fair, which was very near to where we lived. Finally! We bought tickets……we were going to see them. And then my husband’s mother became very sick and my husband flew out to Massachusetts to be with her. It was a difficult time for my family and very hard on my husband. And taking care of family was far more important than a concert, so we gave our Alabama tickets to a friend…….we knew would get to see them one day. My mother-in-law passed away and the concert was long forgotten, family was the focus.

And then the day came when Alabama announced they would no longer be touring…..ugh! Now we would never get to see them….and then…..well, they started to do a show here and a show there…..and then more shows. This past year I kept watching Alabama’s schedule and they would come close to us, but not close enough.

Until……last month when I was checking events near us…..and there, on the events page….Alabama in concert at the Talking Stick Resort, just down the road from us! We HAD to go! We bought tickets immediately!

Last night my husband and I finally attended an Alabama Concert, 34 years after he played MY song in his car and it did not disappoint! They played all of our favorites!

We danced. We sang. We cheered.

And when they began “Love in the First Degree”, the song that my husband played for me in his car all those many years ago, I was transported back to a long ago day when two young kids cruised down the road, windows open, music blaring, holding hands and both of us singing loudly! And now here we were, at the concert and we held hands, moved to the music and sang along.

alabama 3 copy

We finally crossed another item off of our bucket list.

Alabama was everything we hoped and more!

This concert was definitely worth the wait!

And I fell for my husband all over again as we sang and danced to our favorite songs!

A Visit to Our Nation’s Capital

Last month my husband and I took 6 teenagers, his students, to Washington DC on a Leadership Fieldtrip for 6 days. Those 6 days were filled from morning until night with tours of historic sites, historic buildings, monuments, memorials, military sites, museums and a ton of walking. We were pretty worn out after that trip.

But it was so much fun!

And we learned a lot!

My husband and I had lived in Northern Virginia for 6 years and knew our way around so we were excited to take the kids to see our Nation’s Capital. Some of them had never been and some had been before but did not see all that we were planning.

The kids got to see and learn about the workings of all three branches of our government through our tours of the Whitehouse, Capital Building (where they also met their Representative), and the Supreme Court. These tours gave them insight into the way our government works and let them see for themselves what they had learned about in books in a classroom.

 

We took them to the monuments and memorials—for some of our Presidents, for our military and the wars fought and for historic figures who had great impact on our country. All of them moving, especially when toured at night. So many only see these sights in books or on tv….but to stand there in person, next to or inside these great monuments, well, the emotion overtakes you…..they really are a sight to behold, the inscribed words inspiring all those who have come after and those who are still to come….a reminder of our great country and those inspiring individuals.

We visited some of the Smithsonian museums, letting the kids explore and see what interested them.

We spent some time on an island in the middle of the hustle and bustle……an oasis that has long been one of my husband’s favorite places and a place that honors one of his heroes, Theodore Roosevelt. As we walked through the trees and down the paths, we could not help but relax and enjoy the time there together as a group.

We also stopped and toured our National Cathedral, a first for most of the kids and a first for my husband and I. And we also spent time inside the Library of Congress, one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington DC.

 

Midweek, after our tour of the Whitehouse, we went to the National Archives, where we saw the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, the original oct 6 a Mt Vernon (4) copydocuments…..amazed to see the signatures of the very brave men who helped to establish our democracy and create our country. Our last day, before our flight, we visited Mt Vernon, home to our first president. These historic documents and the historic home of George Washington made the founding of our country, real. How wonderful it is that our country has kept so much of its history.  

We saw a lot while in Washington DC. There was traffic and tour groups to deal with. There was great food to be had. There was shopping. There were protests witnessed, reminding us of the freedoms afforded Americans. There were also more security screenings than we have EVER experienced! And yes, there was LOTS of walking!

oct 1 Air Force Memorial (4) copyAnd then there were the military sites—a cemetery, a battlefield, museums, the Pentagon and war memorials….all honoring our military men and women. The military sites were among the first sites we visited, starting with the Air Force Memorial, standing tall on a hill above the Pentagon with an amazing view of Washington DC. We had arrived in DC at 7am after a long night of flying, stopped for breakfast and then headed out to see some sites before checking into our hotel. It was only fitting that our first stop should be at the Air Force Memorial…..after all, these kids are part of the Air Force JROTC at their high school.

We then attempted to stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial, but it was closed for refurbishment and could only be viewed as we drove past it….so we instead went to the Pentagon 9-11 Memorial. The kids were all babies when the horrific events of that morning in 2011 happened, so they only knew it through the stories told to them…….unlike most of us, who remember it all, every moment of that morning and the days that followed. We solemnly walked around the memorial, stopping to read the names of those lost on the plane that morning and those lost inside the Pentagon. This was a sobering memorial, bringing to reality all those lost that day. The kids, as part of their AFJROTC group, participate every year in a 9/11 Flag Raising Ceremony and now they were seeing for themselves, why they do it, why they honor and remember those many lives.

Over the next few days we visited more military sites and memorials—The war memorials on the National Mall to those who fought and died in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and Manassas Battlefield, the site of the first major battle in a war that almost tore our country apart. We took the kids on a tour of the Pentagon, where they learned about all branches of our military. And we visited both Smithsonian Air and Space museums.

Our visit to Arlington National Cemetery was quite moving. We walked, rather than taking the shuttle, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We walked so that we could see the graves, read some of the names on those white headstones and honor those who have protected our country. Heroes, all of them buried here in our Nation’s Military Cemetery. And then we watched the changing of the Guard at the tomb of the unknowns. The kids all stood for the ceremony, watching as the Changing of the Guard occurred…..honoring the unknown soldiers buried there, the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, including their identity. Words are hard to come by to adequately describe the Changing of the Guard, the reverence these Sentinels show for those entombed here. A solemn ceremony. And the kids watched. They absorbed it all…..the meaning, the honor, the sacrifice. And for the kids who themselves are part of the AFJROTC Honor Guard, this ceremony held even more meaning, showing them the highest honor for any Honor Guard member. Arlington was a very emotional, solemn place.

oct 1 National Museum of the Marine Corp (1) copyOur last stop on our first day before we checked into our hotel was at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived here, but once we stepped inside our energy renewed and we were ready to tour the museum and learn about our Marine Corps. When we first entered the museum we noticed chairs set up for some kind of ceremony, one we assumed had already occurred. We headed further into the museum, enjoying the history of the Marine Corps from inception to current day. The kids enjoyed the interactive exhibits. The museum was a wonderful way to honor our Marine Corps. We came to the end of the exhibits and wandered back into the main atrium, ready to head into the gift shop, when we noticed the ceremony was beginning…the chairs were filled with those there to celebrate the Commissioning Ceremony for a Navy Sailor. And we stopped for a minute, noticing that the Honor Guard was preparing to present the colors. We watched as the Honor Guard moved to the front of the ceremony and presented the colors and then the National Anthem began…..and we all stood, facing the flag with our hands over our hearts. This was our flag, our anthem and our military. And then I noticed we were not the only ones. Everyone there in the museum stopped walking, stopped talking, stopped moving and hands over their hearts they, too, faced our flag and honored this Sailor and our country. There was only honor and respect being shown. Here in the middle of a museum strangers stopped and paid tribute to our country and our military….young and old…..male and female….all races……for a moment we were all a part of this young man’s ceremony, a part of a military tradition.

I was moved to tears.

And the kids were moved by the respect shown here on this afternoon.

Our trip to DC was filled with many opportunities to learn and to see firsthand the greatness of our Country…..how our government works, the history of our government, the honor of military service, the freedom we all have to express our opinions, and how inspiring and impactful one individual can be in making things better for others.

This was a GREAT trip for many reasons, but especially because of how meaningful it all was!