Monday, July 23, 2012

The Compassionate Friends, Costa Mesa, CA; Our Final Destination

Here we are in Costa Mesa, California at The Compassionate Friends International Conference. The sun is beautifully setting outside my window in the most amazing color orange you can imagine. I can't say enough wonderful things about this conference and for those of you who are unfamiliar with TCF, it is an organization of  people who have lost a child, grandchild or sibling and who find comfort and support by sharing their grief experiences with one another. Last year was our first time at one of these and it was amazing and very healing in a lot of ways. First of all, last year it was in Minneapolis, near The Mall of America, which btw is the reason Chelsey joined turned out she was doing us a favor by coming with us (aside the fact that Chel does love to shop) and when we got to the conference the "Siblings" or better known as the "Sibs" took her under their wing and basically we didn't see very much of her. This year she is the one who asked to come to CA for the Conference....she has made so many new and wonderful friends who all have one thing in common. They have all experienced the loss of a sibling.....
There are 100 workshops...speakers....dinners....sharing sessions....people who walk around and talk to one another not ever having met one another and feeling so connected it's truly amazing! The people who meet here once a year are some of the friendliest people I have ever met.

What I have just experienced this past weekend was difficult to describe. It is hard to express the gratitude to the fact that TCF is here for us. Being at our second conference of The Compassionate Friends is so special because it’s kind of like you are here with us again. It brings you to the forefront and we get to talk about you a lot.

All of the children/siblings of the bereaved families who have left us too soon are discussed on a daily basis…it allows us to share stories, talk about the reasons why you are no longer here and people listen….and we listen…    Everyone walks around with lanyards and photo buttons of their loved ones….and everyone has a different story of how their child died. It’s not uncommon for a stranger to walk up to you or be waiting in line and just say, “ So, tell me about your daughter” . We are all so different yet brought together by one similar component. You can be in an elevator, or at the pool or at a Workshop and its an automatic conversation, not like in the real world at all. The difference between day to day life and being at the conference is that when we live our lives in society we don’t get the opportunity to talk about you very much, because a lot of the time it makes people feel uncomfortable….I tend to talk about you a lot anyways…whether people like it or not.

We did meet a friend of Chelsey’s there who was sharing her feelings and said to us, “ My brother would think we were crazy for being here, he would probably laugh at us”. I understand what she means because I have thought that myself at times. I think you would laugh too, but also understand that we are just doing what feels good for us…..since not having you here feels so bad.

The 2014 Conference will be held in Chicago and someone suggested that I head one of the workshops perhaps regarding something to do with eating disorders. I need to really think about that. I need to think of things which may help people cope with the loss of someone who suffered from an eating disorder. I do feel the need to help in some way…if anyone has any ideas or suggestions of what to include in a workshop to help people deal with the effects of losing a loved one to an eating disorder, I would be eternally grateful!

  When people have asked me in the past for help or suggestions when they see people whom they love, going down that ED path.  I always used to say that I am well versed in the world of Anorexia, and deeply understand the disease and it’s intricacies, but was never able to help my own child try to find the ideal recovery solutions so how can I help others.

  I can only say that I was there for you in the best way I knew how.

We are on our last leg of our Seattle/California and are now heading home. I almost freaked out a while ago because I couldn’t wake up Chel up from her little nap…those drugs work really well when you take an abundance of them.

I truly wish that you were here with us and that we never ever had to be in the secret club that nobody wants to be a member of...................but since we are..... I am glad it exists!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Shortney's" Thoughts

I was trying to think of some happy things to write about and asked Chel for some ideas....she suggested that I tell the funny story that happened with Monica and her friend, Courtney years ago. I thought it would be better to just post the entire letter (which included the story) written by none other than Courtney herself....

 She wrote these words to present at Monica's memorial and read them beautifully........

we love you Courtney.....

Those of you who don't know me I am Courney Downing and I have been lucky enough to call Monica and her family my friends for the past 15 years. I first met Monica when I was 15 years old and she was 16. I was young and angry at life having just moved across the world and back twice in one year. I was struggling to make friends at the small private school I had just started attending and I was feeling so very lost in the world. The day that we moved my horse, Dexter, to Canterbury Farm I was sure I would never find close friends there like I had at my old barn in Pennsylvania.

 I could not have been more wrong.

 I remember very clearly when I first saw Monica, she was tacking up Malmo in the aisle at Canterbury and she was talking to Malmo the whole time. The first thing I noticed, of course, was how beautiful she was, then I saw her ride and life seemed to become even more unfair when I saw how talented and graceful she was. Of course being 15, I automatically assumed that such a beautiful girl could n't possibly be nice or approachable...again I was wrong. The thing about Monica was that she didn't go about making friends like most people do, she just WAS your friend.
There was no getting to know you process. She just seemed to overwhelm and encompass you in her personality and her warmth. Within a few days it was like I had known her forever. I spend most of my Friday nights sleeping over at the Fowler's, eating pizza and watching silly movies like "Drop Dead Fred". I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to have Monica and Chelsey as my friends. I have so many memories of the fun we had and the trouble we got ourselves into.

Monica taught me to drive in her purple Geo Prizm. She and Chelsey were the first people to nickname me "Shortney", and it really stuck. Whenever I would sleep over, her dog Arnold was always in the middle of the bed with us. He was so afraid of thunderstorms and she was always so kind and comforting to him. Monica truly had a deep love for animals. Some Saturday mornings, I'd have to be at the barn early, so my dad would pick me up for driver's ed. Getting Monica out of bed and moving early was always a challenge, and I started devising tricks to get her going, such as resetting her alarm for an earlier time or jumping on the bed until she got up. We always ended up laughing and never once did she complain. We laughed about everything, even when she had way too many Shamrock Shakes from McDonalds and made herself sick.

The water was shut off at Canterbury that day and I tried to drive her to the gas station bathroom, but on the way I got into a car accident and the police and ambulances showed up. I looked around for Monica to give them her info, and there she was sprinting across traffic on Route 59 to get the the bathroom. When she came back, the paramedic asked her how she was. She said,''not too good", referring to how she felt sick. The paramedic assumed the she'd been injured and she ended up strapped to the immobilization board in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. The whole way she was screaming, ''Shortney...get me off this board! Tell them I'm fine"! she only stopped when the ambulance driver let me operate the siren to amuse her. Afterwards, when we went to court for the accident, her reenactment of the events was so animated that even the judge had to try not to smile.

I remember when she had a day off from school and decided to come pick me up at my school. I came out of the building and every boy in the whole place was standing in the parking lot, watching in awe as she and Kramer danced around to No Doubt, wearing chaps and paddock boots. I spent the rest of my high school career explaining who that beautiful girl was and that no, she was not available as  a prom date. She also managed to convince our headmaster that riding should be considered a sport, which exempted me from gym class. My parents and I had been trying to accomplish that for months, and she did it in a matter of 15 minutes! We had so much fun going dancing at the under 21 clubs and were so excited when Chelsey was finally old enough to come with us. We laughed so hard at the look on Chelsey's face the first time an awkward guy tried to dance with her. I can still see it now.
After I went off to college, Monica and I stayed in close touch for the first few years. She started to become more distant and each time I would see her I would become more worried. We finally lost contact for a while, but one morning as I arrived at the gym for my pre-work run, I was greeted by a familiar voice yelling, "Shortney..its you"! across the atrium. Then there was Monica, flying down the stairs and onto me. She was taking an early morning spin class, and when it ended she would wait for me to get there so we could chat while I ran. At first it was difficult for me to see how thin she had become, but soon that faded away and all I saw was my wonderful friend who was one of the most stunningly beautiful girls I've known. What had always attracted people to her was her effusive and warm personality. The same held true even years later as she struggled with Anorexia. We would spend those early morning hours talking about everything, our lives, what we were and weren't doing now and what we dreamed of doing and how differently things had turned out than our teenage selves had expected. Monica always had the best advice about everything, whether it was guys or work or family. She asked me one morning why I was running so much and why I was losing weight. This was a sensitive subject for me and many people in my life had asked the same question. I couldn't lie to her, I never could.  I told her that I wanted to get to my goal weight of 95 lbs. She stopped walking on the treadmill next to me and hit the emergency stop button on mine. she grabbed my arm, looked at me in the eye and told me in no uncertain terms to stop losing weight. I could see the sadness and desperation all over her face. She said that she didn't want the life for me that she was living. I don't know what would have happened to me had she not reached out like that, but I do know that I was headed down a dangerous and destructive path and that she was the only person who could convince me of that. Afterwards, we went back to giggling at the impressions she did of the meatheads lifting weights and the ladies who would flirt with them. Monica was the only person in the world who could actually make me look forward to going to the gym at 6 a.m.
I will forever miss my amazing old friend.  Monica came into my life when I needed her most and she will always be in my heart. She'll always be Monkey to me. I can't find the words big enough to express my sadness and grief at having lost her. I think of her every time one of my dogs wakes me up looking for comfort during a thunderstorm. Every time I'm riding a horse and I mess up, I think of her and how hard she tried to teach me to be a better rider. I think of her whenever I hear songs that we used to sing and dance to while driving to so many horse shows...and of how young and carefree we were. I know the impact that her friendship had on my life and I know that she touched so many others in the same way. Monica was such a rare combination of intelligence, perceptiveness, beauty and wit. Sherri, Dale, Chelsey....please know that your dear daughter and sister will always be remembered with love and will never be forgotten.

Monica was truly one of a kind.

you are truly missed by all.........m