It is going to sound morbid, but I cannot count the number of times I’ve pictured someone in my life dying. I imagined where I would be, how I would be told, how I would react, and how the days after would unfold. In a way, I think these thoughts were a way to prepare myself because I knew at some point it would happen because it happens to everyone. But now I know that nothing you do will ever prepare you for the loss of someone you love, especially when their death is unexpected because you do not get the chance to say goodbye or make amends. Your life changes in an instant and you are left with a void that cannot be filled.
Sunday, November 14, 2021, was one of the darkest days of my life. I woke to the sound of ACDC’s Thunderstruck roaring through the speaker on my cell phone. I rolled over to see my mother’s face plastered across the screen of my phone as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I swiped the screen and pressed the earpiece to my ear while returning my head to its spot on the pillow. My mom’s voice sounded through the earpiece beckoning me to wake up. She was calm and her voice was soft. “Honey I need you to wake up.” That calm tone was eerie and put me on alert, I sat upright in bed and kicked my legs over the edge of the bed. I crept quietly out of the room so that I would not wake my son who was asleep beside me. I exited the house and stood barefoot on the front porch. I cannot remember the exact words that were spoken but I do recall my mom telling me the story of what had occurred that morning and telling me that she needed to stay calm because the kids were with her, and they did not know. I remember asking her who knew and then told her I would take care of calling my dad because I could tell that she wasn’t going to get through another phone call as calmly as she had this one.
When we ended our call, I crumbled. I can still hear the guttural moan that escaped my lips as my legs gave way and my knees hit the pavement. It took me several minutes to collect myself before dialing my dad and delivering the same agonizing blow I had just been dealt. I had to tell him that his first-born child, his daughter, my older sister, had died. I do not have the words to express what it is like to tell someone that their child has died, to detail what it is like to hear their reaction over the phone and to not be able to be there to comfort them, but I pray none of you ever have to be the one to do that.
As the news of my sister’s passing spread, we were accosted by a whirlwind of phone calls, texts, and social media posts, that were made with the best of intentions but proved too overwhelming to manage during the first few days after her passing. As most do, we gathered as a family, discussed arrangements, and discussed what would happen with my sister’s children going forward.
I am telling you all of this because it is important that you understand what we were feeling and so that you know the difficult roads we were attempting to navigate while still dealing with the shock of a significant loss. So that you are aware of the impact you have had on us over the past ten days and how profoundly grateful we are to have each and every one of you in our lives.
With the help of my good friend Brandi, I was able to obtain information about Butler County’s Kinship Navigator program, a program that is offered free by the county (regardless of income) to families living within the county. The program helps those who need it apply for legal custody, file for assistance, Medicaid, and even find support groups and other resources as needed. You can learn more about the program by visiting their website at https://www.bcesc.org/apps/pages/kinship . I reached out to them for assistance with filing for legal custody of my nephew Jackson. My brother also utilized their assistance when filing for legal custody of our niece Tinsley. We have been navigating this process together. And I can say with 100% certainty that without this program we would have been lost and might still be trying to figure out the logistics.
Upon learning of our loss and the plans we had for moving forward we were inundated with a barrage of texts, emails, and Facebook posts all from friends wishing to contribute and help us and the kids in our time of need. While we were not necessarily asking for donations, they came in full force, and we couldn’t be more thankful. It all started with a post made by a friend we made playing an online game about 20 years ago in a group that we as a family have grown remarkably close with over the years and it spiraled from there.
We received support from some of the most unexpected places. Everyone from family to friends we have only ever met online has helped support us in one way or another, whether it was a kind word, food, the gift of time and labor, furniture, or a monetary donation. Because of the support of our amazing family and friends we have been able to cover the entire costs of Michelle’s cremation and memorial service. We have also been able to transition the children into their new living spaces more quickly and when it is all said and done, their Christmas will be fully covered as well.
The outpouring of support that we have received from you over the past ten days has spoken volumes about the people that we have chosen to surround ourselves with. It has opened our eyes to the community we are a part of. We may have lost a sister, a daughter, a mother, but we have come to realize that family is much more than blood, that you are our family and without you, we wouldn’t have come this far so quickly. We are truly grateful for each and every one of you (you know who you are) and if ever a time comes when you need us, we will remember what you have done for us, and we’ll return that goodwill in kind.
This Thanksgiving will not be the same as years past, there will be no one to make the pecan pie and we’ll have one less person betting on what time our mom will finally arrive for Thanksgiving dinner (my bet is 2:15pm even though dinner is scheduled for 1:00pm), we will still be grieving and doing our best to put on brave faces for one another but we’ll also have something to truly be thankful for, and that my friends, is you.
You have been the light during our darkest hours. We wish you all the best this holiday season and if you do anything else for our family, hug yours a little tighter and tell them how much you love them because none of us know when the last opportunity for that will present itself.