Stay supported, connected, and healthy during COVID-19
“Each of us will have our own Fridays – those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you…Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
February was a month filled with Fridays for me. Sarah’s 30th birthday would have been on the 11th, and for the two weeks before that date I was so consumed with grief that I felt like I was losing my mind.
I felt like I needed to just shut down, like I couldn’t write anymore, like I simply didn’t have the strength to keep sharing my sister’s story. I couldn’t picture her face without crying, I felt like her smile was fading from my memory, I started forgetting who I was before I lost her. It was like I was going through the motions of life, not really understanding what my purpose was in this world anymore.
I was scared.
And then this past weekend, my Sunday came in the form of a random Facebook post, a 5K, and a happenstance meeting that lifted the weight of the world off my shoulders.
Let me explain.
The 5K was held by a local grassroots organization called “atTAcK addiction” that I’ve been involved with ever since my sister died. The group was founded by the family of Tyler Keister, who lost his battle with addiction when he overdosed on heroin right before Christmas of 2012 – the capitalized letters in the organization’s name are Tyler’s initials. In less than two years, the members of atTAcK addiction have been instrumental in the passing of three lifesaving laws. The first is the 911 Good Samaritan Law, which states that anyone in the presence of someone who has overdosed can call 911 and not have to worry about being arrested on drug related offenses when the authorities arrive on the scene. The other two are Naloxone Laws; Narcan is now not only being implemented by Delaware’s first responders, but the loved ones of addicts can also be certified in the use of the life-saving drug. We received the 2014 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award, $50,000 was allocated for education and awareness in schools, and the state enlisted our help in creating a website called helpisherede.com where addicts and loved ones can go to find help. We work tirelessly to spread awareness in an effort to erase the stigma that goes along with addiction.
The people in this group have also become my saving grace.
I left the first meeting that my husband and I attended feeling like I could breathe again. There’s a lot to be said for sitting in the company of people who just “get it.” There’s a lot to be said for being surrounded by people who have been right where you are, right where you’ve been and right where your sister was. There’s a lot to be said for being able to ask someone else’s Sarah why your Sarah did what she did, why she chose that path, why our love wasn’t enough to save her. There’s a lot to be said for being able to share your story without seeing the shadows of judgment creeping in like you’re so used to seeing.
The woman who was leading the support group that night told us that over the course of her 50 year marriage, she had lost four sons.
And she was still standing, and still talking, and most importantly, she was using the wisdom she’d gained to help other people. Because some of the wisest people in this world are those who have faced the most sadness.
And in that moment, I knew. I knew that I needed to keep sharing Sarah’s story and mine, that I needed to leave that room and shout our stories from the rooftops, that I could very well hold someone else’s strength in my hands and I needed to get out there and share it with the world.
And in turn, I’d be making myself stronger. I’d find a way to wade through the sludge of my grief. I’d found a room full of people willing to hold my hand and help me walk. I listened to my husband, whom I’d assumed had just come with me for support, tell these people that he wanted nothing more than to just get out there and help me fight my fight, and share Sarah’s story, and educate people about the disease that had taken one of the people I loved most in this world.
I fell in love with him all over again.
I walked out of that building with a whole new support system and a renewed sense of purpose. I went home to write.
Since that first meeting, I’ve seen the group grow exponentially. This was going to be the second annual 5K – last year there were just under 1,000 people. I wanted to help double that number this year.
I formed a team in Sarah’s name and my friends (along with hers) worked to raise as much money as we could for the cause. I walked in to work on the day after Sarah’s birthday, emotionally drained and annoyed because I’d been trying to get my shift covered all week to no avail, only to find out that my work family along with some of our regular customers and friends had been planning a huge surprise for me for weeks. They held a bake sale that raised almost $1000; they had bracelets made with “Someone Else’s Sarah” embossed on them; they held a raffle and a happy hour and every dollar was going to our team fundraising efforts.
I’ve never been so humbled and grateful in my entire life.
Until this past weekend.
There is a movement called “Humans of New York.” It started off small, with a guy named Brandon taking pictures of people he saw on the streets of New York, asking them for a quote or a story about their lives and posting them on a blog and a Facebook page. That movement now has over twelve million followers on Facebook, and this past summer he took his camera around the world. The pictures are powerful; the stories that go along with them are even more so.
This past Friday, a friend of mine tagged me on one of the HONY posts. The picture was of a man’s tattooed hands; his story was about how his brother is a heroin addict and his family basically wishes he was dead, that his nephew would be better off without a father than having a drug addict for a dad.
I commented and shared one of my blogs and went about my day.
The next morning, my husband and I woke up early and headed out to walk 3.1 miles in the freezing cold, along with 1,930 other people in the atTAcK addiction 5K. Our team, Sarah’s Potty Mouths, consisted of 68 people – old friends, new friends, and people I had only “met” on Facebook – all walking in memory of my sister. Some of them had never met her, but felt like they had by reading her story through my posts.
When we got there, I looked around at the rapidly filling gym and found myself overwhelmed with emotion. The scene was so bittersweet – to see so many people coming together for one cause was incredible, but knowing how much pain was hiding behind so many of those smiles was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I sat on the floor trying to make sense of our team roster as I handed out t-shirts to everyone.
And then I looked up to see my friend walking towards me with a man I’d never met and my heart almost stopped beating in my chest. I knew who it was – the night before I had learned that the boyfriend of my friend’s cousin was one of the police officers who had responded to my mom’s house on the day that Sarah died. Another officer had reached out to me a few days after her death, after he saw something I posted thanking our police department and crisis team for how amazing they were to our family. We messaged back and forth a few times but had never met, so when I got the text from my friend that one of the other officers would be at the race I was nervously ecstatic to meet him. He was walking in memory of my friend’s daughter.
And my sister.
I stood, uncertain of what to do, and then I took two steps forward and he wrapped me in his arms while I cried and tried to catch my breath.
Here was the man who had two blonde haired, blue eyed daughters of his own, who had to take a deep breath and brace himself before walking up those stairs into our mom’s room. Here was one of the men who saw my sister at her worst, with the life gone out of her eyes and a gunshot wound to her head, with all of her hopes and fears and dreams and demons spilled out on the floor in front of him. Here was one of the men who had to try to make some sort of sense out of the beautiful 29 year old girl lying on that floor, one of the men who had to wonder what could possibly have been that bad, who had to try to form sentences to say to her mother who sat downstairs probably hoping that he would tell her it was all a terrible joke, that she was alive, that he could piece her back together.
I didn’t even see her the day she died, but my imagination has been working in overdrive in my sleep ever since.Here was the man who held the stuff of my nightmares in his mind, who had to see what’s caused me to wake up out of a dead sleep so many times, sobbing to the point of hyperventilating. And I wasn’t even there.
Here he was, hugging me.
That hug took my breath away. And when I finally let go and I took a step back and I looked into that officer’s eyes, I saw his whole heart in the tears he was trying to stifle.
And that heart was as big as Sarah’s.
I saw his shoulders, and realized that he’d been carrying a part of my burden since April 1st when he walked up those stairs and found her there, and I don’t know if I could have trusted anyone else with that onus.
In that moment, I knew that there couldn’t have been anyone else there that day. Of all the officers in the world who could have responded, I couldn’t be more grateful that it was him, and the officer who sent me a message, and the others who were there with them that day.
I felt like I was going to hyperventilate, and then I felt his hands on my shoulders and he told me to breathe.
And I did. And in that one breath I released every thought I had about that day; thoughts and fears I didn’t even know I’d been carrying. I didn’t know that I even needed that moment until it happened. It never even crossed my mind that I needed to know who was there that day, that I needed to see the size of their hearts, that I’d measure their hearts against Sarah’s, and that I would go home that night feeling a little more at peace.
Because the man standing in front of me telling me to breathe was made of the same stuff as my sister, and that’s really all that matters, in the end.
We hugged again and he disappeared in to the crowd, and a few minutes later I heard a voice over the loudspeaker telling us it was time to make our way outside.
We joined the rest of the crowd, each person there to honor their own Sarah, every single person there for one single reason – to end the stigma attached to addiction. When I walked out on the steps and saw the sea of people holding signs with their loved ones’ names on them, my heart almost burst with pride. I’ve never seen a more incredible display of love and solidarity in the face of so much sorrow and pain. The amount of hope in that crowd, despite the gravity of loss that so many there had faced, was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
We ran, we walked, we talked, we cried, we laughed, we hugged, we shared stories, and we loved. With our whole hearts.
Almost 2,000 people, out of their warm beds on a freezing Saturday morning, united for one cause. It was more than a pretty powerful sight to behold.
I knew the race was going to be an incredibly healing experience, but I had no idea just how much. I came home with such a feeling of peace in my heart, and the realization that I am right where I need to be in this world, doing exactly what I need to be doing – sharing Sarah’s beautiful voice with the world.
The next morning I opened my inbox to find 15 messages, all from people who had seen my post on HONY, which I had completely forgotten about. As of that moment, 530 people had “liked” it, and there were almost 40 comments from people all over the world, sharing their stories with me and asking me to keep writing.
This is just one of the messages:
“I saw your post on HONY and then read your blogs, and I’m just a bit teary. You truly are an angel. I am someone else’s Sarah but none of my family or friends know it. I just want to say the HUGEST thank you for what you are doing to destigmatize addiction. You give me strength to hold on. I actually want to say I love you – though we’re complete strangers I honestly love that you are in my world…my cyber world. I love that you have transformed your sister’s battle in to a new battle that is helping other people. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Blessings be with you, powerful lady.”
That is what the 5K was all about. That is what atTAcK addiction is all about. And that is why I write.
Because, as a friend said, “we do not fight FOR our Sarah’s, we fight WITH them. They cannot win the battle if there is no army.”
We will be that army.
My Sunday has come.