“I love the way she survived. Survival looked good on her. There were no dark marks under her eyes. Maybe deep inside, but I liked the way she looked through them and laughed at life. She did it gracefully. She’d walked over glass and through fire, but still smiled. And, honestly, I’m not interested in people who haven’t lived and died a few times, who haven’t yet had their heart ripped out, or know what it feels like to lose everything. I trust those people, because they stand for something. I knew what she’d been through. I wanted to thank her for surviving, and her to know that she now had someone willing to stand with her, too.” -J. Raymond
Two weeks ago today marked one year since you left all of us here to navigate this world without you. I still wake up every morning and have to remind myself that you’re gone. In those 379 days, I’ve seen your smile on a thousand passing strangers. I’ve heard your laugh on the lips of countless others, and I’ve felt my breath catch each time when I realize it’s not you.
And it will never be you again, except in my dreams.
Everyone told me that once I got through the first year without you, it would get easier.
It hasn’t, yet. Just different. I’m not as angry. I’ve learned things about the last weeks of your life that help me understand your decision a little better. I don’t feel guilty anymore when I laugh. The nightmares don’t come as often. I remember you and smile more than I think of you and cry.
I don’t walk around feeling like my bones are shattered inside my skin anymore.
It’s not just me that’s different – a lot has changed since you’ve been gone. We didn’t have Easter at Sassie’s this year. How could we, without you there to find the golden egg? I made it halfway through the day before I realized the date.
Last year on that day, I was standing in the receiving line at your funeral.
Last year on April 5th, I stood at that funeral home and I tried not to look at the life sized portrait of you to my right because I felt like I was going to throw up when I saw your casket, and it was hanging right above it. I stood at that funeral home and I hugged your friends and mine, and I tried to breathe, and I read the eulogy I wrote for you and I tried not to look anyone in the eye so I could get through it without breaking into pieces right in front of them. I listened to person after person tell me they were sorry for my loss and all I wanted to do was tell them I was so sorry for theirs. Because we all lost you. Not just me.
I never wanted to hear the phrase “she’s in a better place” ever again.
The funeral home was standing room only, and then some – two huge rooms with people crammed in like sardines, sitting on staircases and floors, holding each other up, trying to make sense of the fact that you weren’t there to make us laugh inappropriately at something or someone.
Every single person that was there that day has missed your laugh just as much as I have for the last year.
I’m not the only one.
“Pretty terrible timing, isn’t it?”, someone said to me that day, because my wedding was less than two weeks away, and I was standing at your funeral trying to remind myself to breathe instead of punching whoever said that in the face.
Because, precisely what would have been a good time for you to kill yourself?
But now, a year later, as my one year wedding anniversary is approaching, I’m able to look at things in a different light. And in retrospect, maybe I should thank you for the timing.
Before I explain myself, let me make something clear – I would give anything in this world to go back to that day and stop you from pulling that trigger. I would do anything in my power to go back to that week and find a way to let you know that you were stronger than your disease, that you had 10,000 reasons left to fight, that you were worth more than you knew, that you were so incredibly loved and admired by the same people you thought had every reason to hate you for who you were when the heroin took over. I wish with every ounce of my being that I could go back and tell you that I still believed in you, that the world you thought had been shattered could be pieced back together, that the person you were before your addiction was still in there, and I would help you find her again.
Sarah. I would have given my own life to save yours.
If I could have, I absolutely would have.
But everyone keeps telling me not to think that way, and I’m trying my very hardest to take their advice.
Believe me, I am.
You see, every single day I have to find a way to convince myself that there was nothing I could have done or said to save you from yourself. So if I’m of that mindset, I have to believe that what happened was inevitable, in a sense. Sure, I had to figure out how to put my feet on the ground 12 days after your funeral and walk down the aisle at my wedding. And all of our friends and family had to find a way to focus on the happiness of that day instead of the hole in all of our hearts that was left when you died.
But I did it. And so did they.
And now, this year and every year from now until eternity, I’ll be holding my breath for a couple of weeks or a month before the anniversary of your death. Maybe that time will dwindle as the years pass, but it will never go away.
This much I know for sure.
But then I’ll watch the flowers start blooming, your smile covering the earth in the form of daffodils and magnolia trees and all the beautiful colors of spring. I’ll finally be able to exhale, and celebrate the anniversary of one of the happiest days of my life – our wedding day.
You see, that’s what I do, now.
I search the stars for silver linings.
It’s what I have to do, now, in your absence, without you here to find them for me. It’s so my grief doesn’t swallow me whole.
I look to the sky and I stare at the stars and I see your eyes in place of them and I find a silver lining to hold onto and it is there that I find my breath again.
It is there that I find the strength to keep sharing your story with the world. I just wish you were here to tell it in your own words.
God dammit I wish you were here.
Instead, I’m trying my hardest to make sure your voice is still heard, even though you’re not physically here. I’m learning as much as I can about the disease that took you from us way before your time, and I’m using that knowledge to try to help other people who have somehow found themselves in your shoes. Or mine.
All of this, I’m doing in your name.
We’ve done a lot together in this past year. I have hundreds of thousands of words of thanks from people all over the world. All because of you.
Your story has given countless other “Sarahs” the strength to stand up where you fell. They’ve bared their souls to me in message after message. Each one breaks my heart all over again, knowing that someone else feels your same pain, but we have brought them hope. That’s what I hold on to from their words.
“Your posts are a reminder for me to not dwell on my mistakes but also never to forget them, ever. Your words have changed my life for the better and I appreciate the time you take to discuss issues that affect not only the user, but the user’s friends and family.”
“Awareness is the only tool people have to save their loved ones who suffer from addiction. Having someone like you on ‘our’ side will end up saving more lives than you know. I wish more people would have the strength, instead of feeling ashamed like they do – please realize your sister’s passing will save countless lives if you continue to spread this message of hope.”
“I admire how you TELL her story. No holding back, no keeping things ‘just for the family to know’ because of judgments and what others may think. It’s like you have a way of putting in words what we feel every day when we don’t necessarily know how to do that for ourselves. You and your sister are the perfect people to advocate for us and educate people.”
“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.”
As much as they tell me that your story has helped them, these other people’s Sarahs have helped me understand you and your struggle in ways I could have never grasped just by reading a book about your disease. And I’ll be forever grateful for that.
“If it gives you ANY comfort to know that she was in there, all the amazing things you remember about her when she was little, all the characteristics you loved about her, they were all there and she felt them every day. She just didn’t know how to reach them from where she was.”
This is what I need to get through my day. Here you are, in the form of someone else’s loved one, telling me how to make sense of something I thought I’d never be able to wrap my brain around.
And there’s more.
Your voice has given others, who have found themselves in my shoes, the knowledge to help their “Sarah” fight the hardest battle they’ll ever know. You know how I always used to tell you that your smile alone could bring a downtrodden stranger hope?
Your smile isn’t here anymore, but your story is, and it’s given hope to so many.
“I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for making me realize that my sister is a person, with feelings. Not just an addict. She is that too, but we’re ironing things out one day at a time. I just thought you should know that you inspired me to lift my sister up instead of kicking her when she’s down. I am so sorry for your loss, but you have truly helped me navigate through this and I’m very grateful for your story, and hers.”
“I feel empowered and hopeful from not only your immense strength but your honesty about addiction and the anger you have felt dealing with the loss of your sister. I am currently dealing with a sister who is someone I no longer know due to her addiction. You have helped me to understand not to hate her – you have helped me gain more of an understanding about her disease and taught me that I can’t resent her forever. I will keep reading as it gives me the strength to keep looking up.”
“You give me the courage to try to understand a close friend’s struggle with substance abuse. I have more patience with her now, and because of you I realize that she isn’t “choosing” to be an addict, that she can’t “just stop”. I’m forever grateful to you because I can see her struggles in a new light, and now I feel as though I can be the person she needs me to be in order to help. Keep educating those who are in the dark on the subject. Like I used to be, before finding you. And Sarah.”
Because of you, a myriad of Sarahs now have the support they need to fight another day.
Because of you.
God knows how many people are out there in the world, wearing your story as their own medal of valor.
Your beautiful spirit has opened minds and hearts everywhere. People who didn’t understand how powerful this disease was before are now looking upon their fellow human beings who are fighting your fight with empathy and compassion instead of hate and judgment. Others who work in the medical profession and have become hardened to the addict’s plight are letting me know that they have you in mind when someone comes in, clearly in the throes of the disease. Fear of the unknown is being replaced by knowledge.
“You and your sister have singlehandedly changed my view on people who suffer from addiction of any kind. I am now able to be a supportive and understanding link instead of throwing sympathy at the struggle. I feel like someone has literally opened my eyes. Nothing is greater than the human spirit and it is clear to me you both have enough of it to keep the fight going.”
“I was at the hospital with my mom, and there was a guy there going through withdrawal from heroin. He was alone, and scared. I had an overwhelming desire to go over and talk to him, but I was very afraid. What if he hurts me? And then I got an overwhelming sense of your sister there. All I could think was that this kid was someone else’s Sarah. I wrote him a note and told him to keep swimming. Your sister gave me the strength to reach out to a stranger… if you hadn’t shared her story, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did today.”
“I think of you when I am at work, and I argue with people about why I can’t give them drugs when they are addicts. I used to get mad and frustrated. Now I think of you, and I think “this is somebody else’s Sarah” and I soften my approach, and I explain that I won’t help them kill themselves, and that I don’t want them to stop breathing or die because they mixed a medicine that I gave them with heroin, and I ask them to get help. I offer them a boxed lunch, Motrin, anything that won’t get them high. They often storm out cursing at me, but I know that I treated them with some respect, and that’s what they deserve.”
And then there are messages that encompass everything I’m trying to accomplish in your honor, that reassure me that your death was not in vain.
“Thank you for doing your sister such a wonderful justice. Thank you for keeping her memory alive. Thank you for being strong enough, not only for addicts or potential addicts, but their families. The friends, the strangers we run into on the street. Thank you for opening their eyes and hearts. Thank you for making people stop for a few moments to read and think. To realize, it’s everywhere. Thank you for being stronger than all of us. Thank you for making me open my heart and take my fence down.”
These are just a mere fraction of the words from people who have gained some strength from our loss. This is just a sample of the people you have touched, even in death. And these are only the people who have found the courage to reach out to me. Who knows how many more are out there, walking around with your name tattooed on their brains, reminding these “Sarahs” that they’re worth more than they know, teaching others that their loved ones need support instead of judgment, reminding yet others that we are all human here.
And every life is worth saving.
Every single one.
Today, a friend reached out whose sister has had a setback in her recovery process. She’s being released from detox this Saturday, and her family was asking for pictures of people holding up signs in support of their Sarah. I posted something on my Facebook page asking for everyone to send me those pictures so I could pass them along.
Within hours, over 100 people had sent me messages of support for her.
I rallied your army, and they showed up in droves to help save a stranger’s life.
In your name.
I was overcome with grateful emotion at the impact you’ve had on so many who were taking time out of their lives to help someone they’ve never met fight to see another day.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t simultaneously overwhelmed with sadness that I didn’t have this knowledge while you were still here. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like breaking into pieces at the thought that here I was, rallying this army, and you didn’t have that when you were still here, trying to claw your way out of that well.
I’d be lying.
But I know one thing to be true – even if you had that army you would have told them to help someone else before helping yourself. You would have opted to save someone else’s life before saving your own.
I know this. And I find comfort in this. I always will.
None of this will bring you back, but I hope you can see what a difference you’re making. I hope you know how loved you were and continue to be. Your friends have become mine – they have lifted me up and shared some of your spirit with me when I’ve needed it the most. And today we will look to the sky and smile a little brighter just knowing you’re up there, looking down on all of us and continuing to be the angel you always were here on earth.
I love you with everything I have and I miss your laugh more than I miss anything in this world. But together, we will move mountains. I hope I’m making you proud.