December 30, 2010

2,010 Reasons Why I Loved 2010.......... Juuust Kidding!

Dear Mom,

This December was filled with highs and lows, but the year as a whole was one of the best I've had in a while. I feel like I am in a good place right now, and 2010 has helped to get me there. Although I may not be as close in proximity to our family as I would like to be or be employed in the journalism field quite yet, those are all things that can be improved on over time. At least I have a house and a job, period, so I'll continue to count my blessings.

I can't possibly write a good ol' blog post without including one of my infamous lists, so let's countdown the highlights of the wonderful year that 2010 turned out to be:

10. Obviously, winning that international traveling grant back in May and getting the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel abroad for two weeks starting next Tuesday.

9. My first father/daughter dance with Dad at my sorority formal last spring :-)

8. Graduating from college! Not even those penny-sized blisters on my little toes could ruin that day (plus, those yellow shoes were darn cute and so worth the pain!).

7. I held a baby for the first time (I know, I know! I'm in my 20s and had never held a baby. They're just so small and fidgety and fragile and scary!... I'm weird). I couldn't believe one of my oldest childhood friends was going to have a baby-- AND, she was born on your birthday!

6. I started my blog, and I'm so thankful for that. I have found a little safe haven where I can release all my happiness and/or frustration whenever I wish, a new group of blog friends who understand and support me, and a new sense of self altogether.

5. My relationship with John is better than it's ever been-- not that it's ever been bad or anything, but I just feel like we are closer now. I look around at so many relationships that consist of a beer in one hand and a bar tab in the other, and I feel so blessed that we are more than that. We find joy in going to a Tuesday night movie when the theater's empty, coming up with something new to cook for dinner, or picking up coffees and heading to the park. It's the little things that make a relationship hugely successful, and I am lucky to have found that.

4. My wishy-washy friends have weeded themselves out of my life. Normally, this would be a bad thing to me that I was unable to stay close with literally every person I have ever met, but it has almost been a relief that I no longer find this to be a necessity. Last year I would've been devastated if someone I once considered a close friend all of a sudden stopped wishing me a happy birthday or even ceased conversing with me at all. Honestly, I feel happier focusing on a smaller group of friends. I feel more fulfilled at the end of the day by my true friendships, and I think that's what's most important.

3. I didn't lose anyone significant this year nor get news that someone close to me was sick with cancer. I know this won't always be the case as I get older, so I am enjoying it while I can.

2. I have started getting closer with my relatives on your side of the family. A few people in particular have been making such a sincere effort to improve our relationship by reading my blog, writing e-mails, and sending cards in the mail. I even received a message from my cousin telling me how much she looks up to and admires me for my strength, writing talent, and drivenness. It was so sweet.

1. Our happy memories have begun to outplay the sad ones that overwhelmed me after your death. I am able to talk about you more openly, and it doesn't feel awkward or like I'm making the other person uncomfortable. Sharing memories of our life together feels normal and has made me realize that you will continue to live on inside me and all the people whose lives you've touched.

I'm not sure if 2011 can top this, but I am starting it off in Belize on Tuesday, so it's looking pretty good. Now go grab a party hat, an annoying kazzoo, and a festive glittery set of angel wings, and let the real countdown begin!

Happy New Year!

Love,
Sami

December 28, 2010

I Can Hardly Belize It!

Dear Mom,

Two letters in one day, you lucky little lady you.

Before the day is done, I wanted to say that today I am being featured on the homepage of YouTube! I created a preview video for my upcoming international documentary (which I had to edit and redo completely three times, hence some additional stress on my shoulders this month).

If you have been keeping up with any of my friends' comments on recent posts, then the cats out of the bag: I'M GOING TO BELIZE! I leave exactly one week from today. Hooray for two weeks of warm weather, great company, and following my dreams!

I will be reporting on maternal health issues after learning that each year over 300,000 women around the world die during childbirth. That's one woman every 90 seconds. I have experienced firsthand what it's like to lose a mother, but I could not imagine, even for a minute, never knowing you at all. So it's time to bring awareness to this issue, especially because most of these deaths are preventable.

It's finally hitting me that I'm about to embark on the experience of a lifetime, and I'm so excited! I'm very proud of myself; I can only imagine how you, as my mother, are feeling! That must've been why the sun came out today... because you're beaming!

I love you,
Sami

Honesty is the Best Policy

Dear Mom,

The storm has passed-- both outside my house and inside my heart. At last! Writing has become my greatest form of therapy and release. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting the courage to write down what I'm really thinking, while other times what's difficult is reading it through after I've written and posted it.

I have written about this before, but it's still something I struggle with some days. When I look back over some of my word choices and topic ideas, I can't help but think, "Ohh Samantha Ann... once you log onto blogger.com do you immediately forget that other people are going to actually read this?!" You don't know how many times I want to hit the edit button and change something I've said into something else a little less cynical and a little more composed. I mean, in the real world, I am a quiet, pearl-earring wearing, please-and-thank you saying young lady who smiles at strangers in the grocery store just because if they smile back that means that, for even two seconds, they were happy that day. That is the person my relatives and friends typically see... would they respect and love me as much if they knew that, some days, that's only a facade?

I look at some of posts and think, who hacked into my account?! But, it's just me being honest, and I can't be ashamed of the person that grief, even in the smallest ways, has altered me into. If I edit my words and erase my most vulnerable thoughts, that's when I stop being real... and that's when my blog loses its purpose of helping others and healing myself. Once I start censoring myself, this becomes just another one of those warm and fuzzy books about how someday you'll overcome your grief and let go. The truth is, I'm not sure you ever overcome grief, it more or less just becomes a part of who you are and seems more manageable in time. So, I'll just continue being me, and pray that as my friends and family slowly come across my blog over time, that they will still think highly of me despite my weaknesses that I often try to shield from the world.

Thanks for loving me unconditionally,
Sami

December 27, 2010

A Scrambled, Grief-Filled Ramble

Dear Mom,

Here I am again. My 11 day hiatus is over. It wasn't intentional, but I just needed a break... a week or so to clear my head. December has been tough on me this year.

My roommates are all in college, so they have gone home for a monthlong winter break. Since I no longer get a winter break now that I'm a member of this wonderful working world, I've been very, very lonely. Sure, I see John a few times a week, but this month is the first time my four roommates have all been gone, and I have had to fall asleep alone in a huge, empty house.

I may have the intellectuality of a 40-year-old at times, but I also have the fear tolerance of a toddler. How in the world am I STILL afraid of the dark?! I sleep with my TV on for light and my fan blasting to drown out the scary creaking and clicking of the heater throughout the night. In my defense, there were over 100 car break-ins around my neighborhood last year... so what's stopping them from trying their luck with a house instead? There's only one car in the driveway with a girly sorority sticker on the back windshield. If that doesn't scream, "one helpless girl lives here, so help yourself to my electronics!", then I don't know what does. Ugh. Oh, and in case you're reading this robbers, I have MACE... and my strength somehow quadruples when I'm in defense-mode... so... watch it.


I think the bottom line is that, simply, I'm not a fan of change. I do love the peace and quiet, but I miss the comfort of having a friend in the next room to talk to when I need a laugh. I miss being able to visit Dad for more than a night or two. I miss when my birthday and Christmas were something to look forward to. I miss the days when I had so many more reasons to smile than to cry.

Over the past 24 hours we have had the biggest snowstorm we have had in years. I had to get a ride into work this morning because my car was buried up to my thighs. A storm like this used to mean one thing... SNOW DAY! Well, that's not the case anymore. We were let out of work early because the blizzard was only getting worse, which was awesome because that meant I got to pour a big glass of wine and watch a movie! Oh wait, just kidding. That meant I got to shovel my entire driveway by myself. After 45 minutes of intense sweating (with my new chem-free deodorant that does NOT work, mind you) and creating the same noises that I make fun of tennis players for belting out on TV, I was getting absolutely nowhere. Again, my childlike tendencies came out in full force, and I dropped to my knees in a snowbank three times my size, and cried. When did I sign up for this adult life? When did snow stop being beautiful? And when did crying start being my answer for everything?

I'm tired of feeling sad. Tired of falling asleep scared. Tired of spending 40 hours a week at an office filled with people who gawk at my butt more than they do at my hard work. Tired of ABC thinking it's okay to not play a new episode of Grey's Anatomy for an entire month. Tired of knowing I can make it through an important day without you, but a meltdown is soon to follow on any given day.

I'm just. freaking. tired. And feeling annoyingly melodramatic!

And for the record, anyone who thinks that this is the most wonderful time of the year, clearly, has not been thrown through the wringer of grief and hung out to dry under a raincloud.

Alright. I feel better now. Kind of. Maybe because I just ate an entire box of macaroni and cheese for dinner... woops! I guess they call it comfort food for a reason.

Tomorrow will be better... I can feel it.

Miss you,
Sami

P.S. someone plowed my driveway. Are things looking up that quickly?!

December 16, 2010

SURPRISE!

Dear Mom,

Your little girl is 23 today! I'm fairly certain that this wonderful "oopsie baby" of yours is the best surprise you and Dad ever had! HA. Happy birthday to me!

Love,
Sami

December 14, 2010

Don't Sweat It

Dear Mom,

The lump in my armpit is NOT cancerous! I'd throw my hands up in the air and raise the roof all around town if my arm wasn't so sore. Thank God I'm okay. I can handle this aching on the left side of my bod as long as it's not cancer that's putting it there. Relief is an understatement for what I'm feeling.

The doctor looked at me like I had 10 heads when I told him my concerns. Why on Earth would a 22-year-old think she has cancer? Well, for one, because that is not as uncommon as one may think, and two, because losing a mother at 19 may make someone a bit worrisome. Once I explained, he understood completely, and I felt like less of an idiot.

It turns out my deodorant contains too much aluminum and creates a type of barrier on my skin after I shave (if only I lived in France, then I wouldn't have this shaving issue!). Often times, the hair pushes through it, but then there are those unforunate few that aren't strong enough. Instead, they pretty much rebelled and decided to punish me and my choice of deordorant by growing inside my body instead. This creates a feeling of a lump in the armpit which, according to the doctor, is sending a lot of girls my age to his office lately.

A $5 antibiotic and a new chem-free deodorant from the Natural Living Center (can you believe that I couldn't find a single aluminum-free antiperspirant at Wal-Mart?!) should have me back to perfect health within 10 days. If not, I'll have to have a minor surgery to drain the area and rid me of the pain, but he thinks I should be fine without it getting to that point.

Tonight I will be throwing out all my deodorant containing aluminum based compounds (a.k.a. all of them except this new organic one sitting in a paper bag next to me). The FDA claims there is currently no link between deodorant and breast cancer, but I've already had one scare too many and would rather not wait for them to find one. However, some studies do link it to other diseases such as Alzheimer's, like your mom has. I mean, I'd love to forget about all the hard times I have faced in the past three years, but that disease is not a selective one, and I'd end up losing old memories of you too. Sorry Dove deodorant... nice knowing you!


John said today was a "blessing in disguise", and I think he's right. From now on, chances are I may be walking around with sweat stains down to my waist, but I'll take it and wear them with pride... like Fergie.

I love you,
Sami

A Lump in the Road

Dear Mom,

I've been having an aching feeling in my armpit for the past few days. I figured I pulled a muscle or strained it somehow... until I found a lump while I was in the shower this morning. I immediately started bawling and called our doctor (I still go to the same doctor that found your cancer even though I have moved 2.5 hours away... I trust her, and she just gets me and my obsessive worry over my health). She is out today, but her assistant recommended I go to an Urgent Care clinic in my area as soon as possible. I am leaving in a few minutes.

Dad and Gisele tried to reassure me that it's probably just a random swollen lymph node that's causing me pain, but all I can think is cancer. Plus, I'm going to my appointment alone. Isn't that how it works? No one comes with you to your appointment because there's no way anything like that could happen to you, and that's the day your life changes.

Please don't let it be cancer. Please, please, please.

Sami

December 10, 2010

The Grief, the Bad, and the Ugly

Dear Mom,

If I have learned anything about grieving, it is that it is completely unpredictable. Please do me a favor and find Elizabeth Kubler-Ross up there, introduce yourself, explain our situation, and inform her that your daughter believes her "5 Stages of Grief" are a big load of crap. Everyone grieves differently: in different orders; at different times; in different ways.

I'll cut her a little bit of slack because she did make a decent attempt at outlining the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression acceptance). My issue with it is more or less what she named it. Only five stages of grief would be too easy! There are so many other intense emotions that come into play and are worth mentioning. The five stages she named are what is left only after kidnapping grief, skinning it, plucking out its organs, and completely removing all its tendons-- it's just the bare bones.

My stages of grief have gone a little something like this:

First, there was denial. Massive, massive amounts of denial. I thought it was just positive thinking until one night when I was sitting in my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot about to head inside when I got a call from Tom. He told me that he and Dad thought I was living in a world of denial, and that I didn't realize how sick you had become (and how bad things were about to get...). Even when you told us you were dying, I don't think it really set in until Dad explained to me just how little time you had left.

Then, as Elizabeth predicted, I became angry. I was angry at the doctors for not healing you; angry at the Hospice nurse for sucking at her job; angry at some of our relatives for actually showing up for a change and taking up the time you could have been spending with me; angry at God for not keeping you alive. The list goes on and on, but I'll spare you.

I skipped right over the bargaining stage. Like I said, I was angry with God, so the last thing I thought to do was to beg Him to let you live when He never answered my prayers for the past two years to begin with. I can't even bargain with the guy in the carpet section at Marden's (but John got me a good deal at least), so I definitely wasn't about to try it with the Big Man. So, Elizabeth definitely missed the mark with that one.

This is where I would add in a stage of my own: the 'I'm completely in shock walking around like a zombie' stage. This stage took place immediately after your death and lasted long after your funeral for probably another week. Then, it was a sudden feeling of deep helplessness. I wouldn't label this as 'depression' necessarily. It was more like an intense, unrelenting feeling of mourning; just that pure, doubled over, sobfest kind of mourning when you only stop crying long enough to dry heave over the toilet bowl. For this reason, I kind of like Elizabeth's model better. I'd take bargaining any day over helplessness.

About a month later, I woke up to find my new BFF, Depression, in bed with me after a long night of hysterical crying to the point of almost passing out. She let me believe it was okay to lay in bed all day and not go to class; that it was normal to lose the will to live as long as you weren't going to actually kill yourself; that it was perfectly fine to just close the curtains, hide under the covers in your old sweatpants, and just rot away; that anything would feel better than this.

Fortunately, Depression overstayed her welcome within about 24 hours when I realized she wasn't good company to keep and that you would want more for me. With the help of a grief counselor on campus, I did the one thing I enjoy the most: I talked about you. For one hour a week, from January to May, I talked about you to a complete stranger... and it helped. It helped A LOT. But it didn't lead me straight to acceptance like Elizabeth said it would. It led me to a period of just simply coping and trying to get through a day without the pain of losing you knocking the wind out of me like clockwork.

I went through stages of confusion, anger, and guilt (to name a few) before I felt like I had truly found my way to acceptance. Then I lingered between guilt, coping, and acceptance for many more months. It was a vicious cycle that took many years to control (and clearly, I should use the term "control" quite loosely after Wednesday night's escapades).

Now, here I am in what Elizabeth calls the 'acceptance' stage. I'm baffled that this is where she chose to end her theory... like we just eventually accept our loss and magically the downpours stop, the clouds disappear, and goodlooking men, puppies, and chocolate bars fall from the sky to make everything okay again. Well... *SPOILER ALERT*... that is not real life! I can safely say that I don't think I will ever just wake up one day and say to myself, "Well, self, you know what? I'm just going to accept that my mom is dead and move on today. Yep. That's it. Phew! Glad that's over!"

Please, try to avoid bursting out laughing like I did while reading the way in which 'acceptance' is described: "The person simply accepts the reality of the loss." Well that is odd because I'm 99% sure there is absolutely NOTHING simple about what I have gone through in the past three years. Didn't someone read that before it was published? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but you'd think someone would look at that sentence and say, "Yeah... we might want to reword that a bit."

Obviously that wasn't the case, so allow me: If there is another Sami out there reading this right now-- whether she's 22 or 72, or not even a 'she' at all-- I want that person to know that there is no right way to grieve. There is no guide book to purchase or roadmap to follow when you have lost your way.

So how do you find it again?

If there was a right answer to that question, I probably would never have started this blog. Whether a person copes by talking to a therapist, crying to release the pain, or collapsing on the bathroom floor telling her roommate she doesn't know how to carry on, it is so unbelievably important to remember one thing: it won't last forever. Nothing ever does.

If you don't follow Elizabeth's model exactly, or you're going through 12 stages instead of five, or you make all the progress in the world and in an instant slip right back to the start: don't panic. Sometimes you just have to sit back, be patient, and wait for a brighter day to come.

I promise you, it will.

Love,
Sami

December 9, 2010

The Calm After the Storm

Dear Mom,

If it weren't for my swollen eyes staring back at me in the mirror, the damp tissues crumpled up in the pocket of my sweatshirt, and seeing my heartache in writing when I logged on here this morning, I would be convinced that last night was just a terrible, terrible nightmare. I can't remember the last time I broke down like that... uncontrollable sobs; unable to catch my breathe; lightheadedness; the inevitable migraine that finishes me off and finally forces me to sleep. The fact that I can still have those feelings scares me. It makes me panic. Are these feelings here to stay again? How many more nights in my life are going to get this bad? Am I going to wake up tomorrow and not want to get out of bed like that morning three years ago?

Well, I did get out of bed today. I came to work. I smiled and nodded at my co-workers' stories. I made the flyers for our annual employee holiday party. I called my doctor to get malaria pills for my international trip. I cancelled my missing debit card. The sun came up this morning, and I carried on. I feel a little empty still, but I know it will pass, and the love you gave me for 19 years will be enough to fill me up again.

I was surprised that my first thought this morning wasn't about how hysterical I became or how I sat in the bathroom crying to my roommate until 1:30am. Instead, it was: I can't believe I blogged about this. I felt mortified. It was like I was drunk off my grief and could hardly remember writing it. I guess today could best be described as the hangover, and I'm left trying to piece it all together.

I think my embarrassment stemmed from the realization that I just let my guard down and wrote in the heat of the moment. It wasn't thought out. It didn't sit in my inbox for days to be read over, edited, or rewritten. It wasn't witty, and it certainly didn't provide hope like I often times try to sneak into my posts. It was a grim reality check that not every day is better than the one before. It was just real. It was me. And you know what? I don't smile every day. I don't do cartwheels out of my bed each morning in anticaption for a fan-freaking-tastic day. The truth is, some nights I curl up into a ball hugging the teddy bear you gave me in order to fall asleep. I am one of five people in the US that won that video contest, yet I have moments when I still doubt my talents. I'm 120 pounds, and some days I look around at my friends and celebrities on TV and think I'm overweight. Sometimes I do all I can just to make it through the day in one piece. I'm only human.

Grieving makes me feel like I'm in a wrestling ring getting my butt kicked to no avail. I'm completely unable to tap out and catch my breath. It's like one second I'm standing up on my own two feet, and then, BAM; one swift kick to the gut, and I'm flat on my back wondering if this pain will ever cease. I look out and see friends cheering me on and supporting me, but there's nothing they can do to help me. It's a battle I'm fighting all on my own, and I don't know how it's going to end.

Is this what cancer feels like?

I miss you,
Sami

Drowning

Dear Mom,

I can't sleep. The only thing I can do right now is cry. And miss you. And wish I could call you or walk downstairs and curl up next to you and vent about my friends, and my job, and losing my debit card at the mall tonight, and John's new work schedule that hardly leaves us any time together, and not feeling prepared for my international trip in 3.5 weeks. A wave of grief is crashing down on me, and I can't stay afloat. I feel helpless.

I may not have cried last week, but I knew these tears would come eventually.

I wish grief was a class I could drop or a team I could quit. I'm just so tired of living without you. It's too hard.

Please come back to me,
Sami

December 2, 2010

Three Years, No Tears (Yet!)

Dear Mom,

Not only am I making it through this day, but I'm actually enjoying it. Yes, you read correctly, I'm enjoying your third Angel-versary (as a friend of mine calls it). I thought these feelings on this day would never come. I'm not staring at the clock reflecting what I was doing at this moment three years ago. Instead, I'm remembering our happy times together; your smile; your laugh; your long nails running through my hair on your lap after I'd had a stressful day; our shopping trips; our pizza date and hotel sleepover when you visited me at college; the warmth of your hugs. We had a blessed life together.

I woke up to a wonderful e-mail and a card on the table from two of my best friends from college this morning, which got my day off to a perfect start. Since then, I have received dozens of text messages and logged on to my Facebook account to find 40+ people recognizing how special we are to them. We are loved by so many.

Regardless of all the attention, I just woke up feeling good today. I didn't have to fake it. I was all worked up for nothing yesterday (although there are still 9 more hours left for this day to turn itself upsidedown, but still I'm trying to think positive). An unknown author sums up the feelings I have today better than I can for a change:

Your Mother is Always with You

She’s the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street.
She’s the smell of bleach in your freshly laundered socks.
She’s the cool hand on your brow when you’re not well.
Your mother lives inside your laughter.
She’s crystallized in every tear drop.
She’s the place you came from; your first home.
She’s the map you follow with every step you take.
She’s your first love; your first heartbreak...
And nothing on Earth can separate you.
Not time, not space, not even death
will ever separate you from your mother.
You carry her inside of you.
-Author Unknown

Some days I miss you so much I am inconsolable, but then there are other days, like today, when I wonder how in the world I could miss you when you've never even really left me at all.

A few days before you died, you held my hand, looked me in the eyes, and promised me that not even death can break the bond we share.

You've never been more right.

I love you, Mom.

Sami

December 1, 2010

365 x 3 = Way Too Many Days Without You

Dear Mom,

I’ve been having a bit of blogger’s block for some reason. I might be a little uneasy that tomorrow marks the beginning of another year I’ll be spending without you. I’m anxious to see how I’ll handle it; it’s been different each year before.

I went to bed December 1, 2008 confused as to why everyone said the first year mark is the hardest day. Well, when I woke up, I was no longer confused. I was miserable. I didn’t go to class; I didn’t even get out of my PJs or leave my couch. I was sobbing all day. In my mind I relived the horror film my life had been just one year prior.

8AM- Exactly one year since your family started coming over to say their goodbyes while you were in a medically induced coma in our living room.

10AM- Exactly one year since I was combing through your thinned out hair with my fingers whispering to you that it was okay to let go.

11AM- Exactly one year since the hospice nurse left our house because she thought you still ‘had more time’.

11:45AM- Exactly one year since I went upstairs to take a nap, and Tom ran up to tell me your breathing had slowed significantly.

12:02PM- Exactly one year since you took your last breath.

12:30PM- Exactly one year since I sat on our front steps hysterically calling my closest friends.

1:00PM- Exactly one year since the hearse pulled into our driveway.

2:00PM- Exactly one year since our last visitor left and the three of us sat at the kitchen table, without you, wondering what to do with ourselves; wondering how we would make it through the night; wondering if this pain would be enough to literally kill us.


This played over and over in my head like a record that I never wanted to hear once, let alone on repeat. Luckily, my best friend came over to snap me out of this tragic trance later in the day. I was so grateful to her; I am still.

On a lighter note, let’s fast forward 365 days to year #2.

I was living in my sorority house with 24 of my wonderful friends (whom we refer to as ‘sisters’, but I didn’t want you thinking dad has 2 dozen illegitimate little nuggets roaming the University of Maine campus). I was the New Member Educator of my sorority. In other words, I was like a teacher and mentor to the new, incoming pledge classes for two semesters. I taught them the sorority’s history and traditions every Sunday night in a classroom in the top floor of our house. I also helped them with their personal issues with roommates, school, boyfriends, stress, etc. outside of the sorority.

In return, my fall 2009 pledge class is one of the main reasons I didn’t have another breakdown when December 2 inevitably rolled around again. Throughout that semester they made me feel appreciated, respected, needed, and more importantly, loved. They went so far out of their ways to write me thoughtful notes, get me little gifts, and show me that I was someone worth looking up to every single day. I started feeling like a mom myself for crying out loud, but I enjoyed every second.

This particular group of 15 girls decided to throw the sisterhood our annual Christmas Party on the night of December 2 that year. All day my friends handed me letters of encouragement and love, and some even brought me flowers. I was too busy smiling to even shed a tear. My love for you was something that others admired, and they weren’t afraid to tell me that. It was refreshing.

When it was finally time for the Christmas party, we ate food, exchanged gifts, and enjoyed each other’s company. One of the girls in the pledge class got everyone to settle down, and she began to talk about how they had been working to raise money. I assumed it was for our philanthropy, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but I was wrong. She announced that they had raised money for the American Cancer Society in honor of you. When she hugged me and handed me the certificate with your name on it, I cried for the first time that day. My tears told a story of pride; you’re still making a difference, but now, it’s just through me.

I don’t exactly know how tomorrow will go for me. I could crumble right back down to square one, or it could be just another stepping stone like last year. I won’t know until I’m living it. I do know that God won’t throw me anything I can’t handle, and I’m going to be okay... but somehow that doesn’t really make it any more bearable.

Is it December 3rd yet?

I miss you terribly,
Sami

November 23, 2010

Lessons & Reflections

Dear Mom,

It’s easy to reflect on all I lost when you passed away, but I rarely consider what I have gained. It’s hard to admit that I, even in the smallest way, benefitted from your death, but here it is, in writing, and I can’t take it back.

Your death caused me to gain perspective. I’ve acquired this on so many levels: in friendships, relationships, life, and loss. In honor of this recent revelation and my upcoming December birthday, I have compiled a list of 23 Life Lessons to Learn Before Your 23rd Birthday (is it a coincidence that it's also November 23rd and there are 23 days until my 23rd birthday?! This better be a good omen!)... Enjoy!

23 Life Lessons to Learn Before Your 23rd Birthday

23. Don’t be afraid to let go of a friendship that has clearly expired. Right or wrong, I would always fight it out and hold on for dear life. I have learned that it’s okay to move on from the friendships that are no longer benefiting either party involved.

22. Not every friend needs to be the forever kind. All our relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends fail except for the one we marry, so why do we expect friendships to be so different?

21. Live by the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, but with a slight alteration. Do treat others the way you want to be treated, but don’t expect them to return the favor. Chances are the person you let cut in front of you in the grocery store is that same speed demon that will hop in her car and cut you off in the parking lot. Don't take it personally.

20. Only welcome people into your life that continuously make you want to be a better you. I thought I was a fairly nice person, that is, before I met John and his heart of absolute gold. He was going to school about an hour away when we first started dating a few years ago, so I didn’t see him as often as I would’ve liked. He came up to visit one weekend, and on our way home from lunch we saw that someone I knew had a flat tire just outside my house. He immediately wanted to go help her while I pouted and said, “But you’re only here for the day, and who cares, she’s not even nice to me anyway.” He responded, “Well, wouldn’t you want someone to help you?”

19. Be genuine. I can’t even count how many times I have written “Love you!” to friends that I am not even that close with. If you tell everyone you love them, then the words lose meaning. Save it for the people who truly deserve your love. And when you say it, mean it (Thanks AS).

18. Focus on quality over quantity. Again, the more popular you aim to be, the least genuine your relationships are. Not everyone is going to enjoy your company, and instead of trying to change that, focus your energy on the ones who love you already without needing convincing.

17. If your body is telling you something, listen to it. There is only one thing worse than hearing your mom say, “If only I would have gone to the doctor’s sooner when I could tell there was something wrong… then everything would be different,” and that’s knowing she is right.

16. Don’t snoop. If a cell phone, e-mail account, or Facebook inbox does not belong to you, then don’t look through it. If you do, it reveals more about the kind of person you are-- not him. Don’t be nosey. Get a hobby.

15. If your boyfriend tells you, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you”... RUN!

14. If you repeatedly catch the same boyfriend flexing alone in the mirror in his tighty whiteys... RUN FASTER!

13. Don’t be na├»ve. Just because you are a trustworthy, confidential person, doesn’t mean everyone you air your dirty laundry to is also. If you can find one or two people you can trust, consider yourself lucky.

12. Certain people will talk about you sometimes. Save yourself the shock and heartache and accept, early on, that some people are just plain immature. It doesn’t make it right, but again, that’s what makes the paragraph above so critical.

11. Don’t rely so heavily on first impressions. People change completely once you actually get to know them.

10. Just because someone isn’t here anymore, doesn’t mean you have to act like he or she never existed. It’s difficult to talk about someone you lost, but do it anyway. You’ll feel better. People are probably too nervous to mention that person because they’re afraid you’ll have a mental breakdown at the sound of her name. Show them they’re wrong. And if you do happen to cry, that’s okay too. Grieving isn’t a week long, it is lifelong.

9. Stop comparing yourself to your significant other’s exes. They broke up for a reason, and you will too if you keep it up.

8. Distance changes friendships, but it doesn’t need to end them. A little effort goes a long way.

7. Be yourself. A friend once relied on me so heavily to help her think of what to write in text messages to a guy she liked, that eventually, I had to remind her that in doing so he was going to end up liking ME instead of her.

6. Friends should always come before boyfriends or girlfriends for the first two decades of your life, but eventually, you have to allow yourself to change your priorities when the right person comes along. I blame the nimrod that once said, “Boys come and go, but friends are forever!” for brainwashing me and making this transition so difficult. It took me a very long time to realize that it was my friends that were coming and going while one boy was the constant. I am lucky that he was so patient with me while my brain ever so slowly made this connection.

5. Now, with that being said, this by no means implies to put all your eggs in one basket and to rely solely on this one person. That is what I would call relationship suicide. Putting my boyfriend first, for me, means something like not ditching out on our plans because my friends decide to get together last minute. But remember, it’s still so important to have friends and spend time with them often. It’s all about balance.

4. Life can be short. Don’t waste a minute letting someone be a part of it that doesn’t deserve to be. Friends don’t put you down, make you feel badly about yourself, or refuse to work things out when you two are going through a rough patch. They just don’t. And if they do, it’s time to let them go (and refer to lessons 23 & 22!). Although you love them, you need to love yourself more.

3. “Consider the source.” That’s what my co-worker told me when someone said something that hurt my feelings. Some people are ruthless and don’t think twice about what they say... and neither should you.

2. Not everyone has the same perspective as you. I feel bad because I get short and frustrated with my friends sometimes. I have to remember that they haven’t been through what I have been through, so they don’t know what I know. And they are lucky for that. Often times I wonder if my little outbursts of irritation stem from pure jealousy. I used to joke that I was a 40-year-old trapped in a young girl’s body because of my high level of emotional maturity at such an early age. I know that deep down I am in many ways envious of my friends’ untarnished hearts.

1. Forgive. Maybe not initially, but eventually. Forgive your friend who didn’t come to your mom’s funeral after you had argued a few days before; forgive God for taking the person you love from you long before you were ready; forgive yourself for letting that anger linger longer than it should have. There is no better feeling than waking up with a clean slate and an open heart.

Here's to another year of lessons and learning!

Love,
Sami

November 18, 2010

TOOT TOOT!

Dear Mom,

This post title is the result of me tooting my own horn. Twice.

Toot toot!

Make that four times.

Aside from all that makes this time of year hard for me, I just have to share what's making it a bit easier this time around. I'm actually quite surprised I haven't mentioned it yet because it's a pretty big deal (toot toot!).

During my final semester of college last spring, my broadcast journalism professor encouraged the class to enter online video contests (and by encouraged, I obviously mean she made them mandatory homework assignments that we dreaded doing), and, like the good little student I am, I did my homework.

The video assignment for the Pulitzer Center's 'Project: Report' contest was to document a day in the life of someone the world should know about. John had heard about an 82-year-old woman from Naples, Maine who sewed pillows for injured American soldiers in Iraqi hospitals. After many dead ends, I finally got Alice Fogg's contact information from a nice man at the National Guard. I called her immediately, and she invited me to her house the very next day.

I drove 6 hours round-trip to spend the afternoon at her home, which she has lived in for 60+ years. She welcomed me with open arms and a warm embrace, hours of wisdom and personal stories, and an invitation to stay for dinner before making the trek back to college. I kindly declined so I could get back before it got dark. She called her daughter to tell her she made a new friend and felt so blessed to have met me. She fed me chocolate chip cookies to fill me up for the drive home, and we spoke briefly about you passing away. She made sure to hand me some pamphlets about God that she thought would be helpful and gave me the two pillows she had made during my visit. A part of me felt bad taking them because it was two less soldiers that would be comforted, but it would have been worse to see the look of disappointment on her face. I mean, I had already declined her dinner invitation! So I took the pillows.

I created and submitted my video just before the deadline the next day. It was the first video I created that I actually felt proud to show my peers. They loved it and felt I had a real shot at being one of the 10 contest winners. I wouldn't hear the results for a few weeks, so I waited patiently.

Spring break rolled around, and all my friends left for Jamaica. Now, when I say all my friends, I am being completely serious. Over a dozen of my college girlfriends were on a plane to the Caribbean, while I was in my car driving two hours through snow and sleet to go home for two weeks. I instantly regretted my decision to save money.

In the midst of stuffing my face while sprawled out in front of the big screen in my PJs and tousled hair, I received an e-mail. I was one of the top 20 potential finalists for the contest, and they needed my address and phone number in case I was chosen as a semi-finalist in the next few days. All I could think was, "If I would have gone on that trip, I would be missing out on this potential opportunity." Everything happens for a reason. I slowly closed my laptop, placed it beside me, and did a happy dance for the next 35 seconds before calling practically everyone listed in my phone.

The next afternoon, I got a phone call from a man named Donte. Donte quickly became my new favorite human after he told me I was officially chosen as one of the 10 semi-finalists. I was beyond excited! He interviewed me quickly for an online story and press release, and then the doorbell rang. I looked out the window and saw a UPS truck. My exact words may have been something like, "HO-LY-CRAP."

I have never gone down our stairs faster, and I'm 99% sure the delivery man was completely terrified by my eagerness and abnormally exaggerated smile. He unloaded multiple heavy boxes into my arms that were already weak and shaking from excitement. I quickly thanked him and parked myself on the floor like a kid on Christmas morning.

Inside the first box was the new Sony HD video camera. I was speechless. Inside the other box was the newest laptop available from Sony. I started crying. Could something this wonderful truly be happening to me? For the past two months I had been using a laptop that would only work if I forcefully held the charger into the back of it with one hand and typed with the other. I was a college student; I couldn't afford a new one. I had no idea how I was going to get through the next three months of school. Suddenly, the answer literally showed up at my doorstep. I couldn't remember the last time I cried happy tears. It was the greatest feeling.

As I mentioned, this win qualified me as a semi-finalist. There was more work to be done in order to be a grand-prize winner. I had to create another video documenting a story or issue that was unreported on by the media. Once submitted, I would need to solicit votes from the public to determine my fate in the contest. I was definitely up for the challenge!

I couldn't wait to tell my classmates. They had always been so supportive. I e-mailed my professor right away, and upon my arrival back to school I was bombarded by media outlets. I'm about to toot my own horn a few dozen times, so prepare yourself: I was featured on multiple news channels, in half a dozen newspapers, on a radio station, and in my sorority's national magazine. I was photographed for our campus alumni magazine and the 2010 brochure mailed out to potential incoming students. I even got a phone call from my friend in New Hampshire that one of the pictures was used in the new University of Maine commercial (I saw this after while watching TV with my roommates a few months ago!). I was so overwhelmed that I almost didn't even have time to actually create my second video! I forced myself to come back to reality and buckle down.

I spent weeks debating a topic. I was beyond stressed. It got to the point where I thought I was going to run out of time, when out of nowhere, the kind of idea I had been waiting for (the one that makes you say, 'yes! That's the one!') finally came to me. I had never seen a Deaf person on the news. I had been taking American Sign Language classes on campus for the past two semesters, and I had spent months learning about the hardships my teacher faced as a Deaf woman. I e-mailed her that night and had an interview set-up for the end of the week. John's friend's brother was hard of hearing, and he agreed to participate too. And just like that, everything fell into place.

After weeks of soliciting votes from the public for my second round video through the media, social networks, etc., the 5 finalists were announced. I, coincidentally, was out to dinner with my sign language class and a few Deaf people. I took a peek at my phone and saw that I had a missed call from the Washington D.C. area. I excused myself and ran to the lobby. All I remember hearing is, "Congratulations, Samantha!" in that voice mail before screeching in the waiting area of the restaurant.

I had just won a $10,000 international traveling grant to create a short documentary anywhere in the world.

I returned to the table, unable to share my news with anyone because I didn't know exactly how to sign all that. Oh, the irony.

Next thing I knew I was graduating from college and driving straight home after the ceremony to hop on a flight to Washington D.C. the following morning. I met the other 4 winners (I am the only woman to have ever won the Project: Report contest), and we were welcomed by a fancy dinner and reception at the National Press Club. If you would have ever told me that executives from National Geographic, Google, Youtube, Sony, The Washington Post, etc. would be gathering at an event to honor ME, I would have called you a fool!

The following day, the five of us met at the Pulitzer Center and discussed the details of international travel and potential story ideas. That night, the videos we previously made (which had each accumulated over 200,000 views after being on the homepage of Youtube for a day!) were shown to the public at George Washington University. We went up on stage to accept our plaques and give quick speeches before heading out to another reception to mingle. It was humbling to meet so many aspiring (and professional) journalists who were inspired and impressed by our work and talent. It was a unique experience to have people come up to me saying, "I like how you did this" or asking "What made you do that?". I experienced the most exciting thing to ever happen to me, and yet all I wanted to do was call you to tell you about it all. Bittersweet doesn't even begin to describe the feelings I had... although my guess is you were there with me every step of the way.

My international trip plans were finalized just a few weeks ago. Any guesses on where I'm headed?! I'll fill you soon!

The moral of this story: Do your homework, kiddos! You never know... one assignment could instantly change your life.

TOOT TOOT!

All my love,
Sami

November 15, 2010

Inspiring an Inspiration

Dear Mom,

Today I hopped on to this nice little meeting place of ours and found a very pleasant surprise! No, I didn't receive an e-mail from you or anything (perhaps heaven's outgoing internet connection is down?!), but this still made me smile pretty big.

I logged on this morning to see that I inspired one of my blog friends to write some letters of her own. I'm ecstatic when I hear how special my writing and the idea behind it are, but it's another feeling completely to actually see that I am encouraging someone to open her heart and let her emotions pour right out through her fingertips. She titled it 'Letters of Release (Thanks to Sami)', however, it is me who is truly thankful.

Carly is 21 years old and has stage IV ovarian cancer like you did. She is living my biggest fear, yet does it with poise, strength, love, and faith. She is the true inspiration. I feel fortunate for this chance to get to know her, honored to read her thoughts, and excited to follow her journey towards her next cancer free day.

People often underestimate how their words can completely change someone's day, the way they feel about themselves, or their outlook in life. Carly is definitely not one of those people! She recently wrote me the sweetest message that I immediately printed out to reread a million times over. Here are some pieces of it:

I absolutely love your idea for blogging and the way in which you do it. It is so real, and every time I read it, it makes me happy to know that someone else is opening up and giving themselves a chance to feel their way through the roughest part of this. It's tough to write sometimes, but you have hit the nail on the head-- you connect yourself to what matters while still being able to move forward and grow through each experience. Your blog is especially inspiring to me. :-)

I'm so happy that you enjoy reading my blog. I worry sometimes that I've lost a little bit of my zeal or sunshine in my recent posts, but according to you, the beauty is still there. Thank you so much for your kind words. It's wonderful to know someone my age reads it and understands it... and what's more appreciates it. I'm a very lucky girl.

I have to say that after that, I'm feeling pretty lucky too.

Love,
Sami

November 14, 2010

I Probably Wouldn't Be This Way

Dear Mom,

I heard this song on the radio and thought of you. That is all for today. Miss you.

Love,
Sami

--------------------------------------------------------------------

You oughta see the way these people look at me
When they see me around here talking to this stone.
Everybody thinks I've lost my mind,
But I just take it day by day...

I probably wouldn't be this way;
I probably wouldn't hurt so bad.
I never pictured every minute without you in it,
Oh, you left so fast.

Sometimes I see you standing there;
Sometimes I feel an angel's touch.
Sometimes I feel that I'm so lucky
To have had the chance to love this much.

God gave me a moment's grace
'Cause if I'd never seen your face,
I probably wouldn't be this way...
-LeAnn Rimes

November 10, 2010

Friends, Fun, and Foliage

Dear Mom,

Before this year, I never really took the time to notice how beautiful the fall season is here in Maine. I mean, I have lived here my whole life, but I feel like I am truly experiencing it for the first time. Since John and I both work full time now, we've been making sure to do something fun during our weekends off to enjoy the outdoors.

In October we headed north on a roadtrip one afternoon to Almanac Mountain:



We walked out onto "The Ledges" that overlook several connecting lakes. It was a sunny, beautiful day and the colors of the foliage were just icing on the cake!



Note: Unless you have a truck or jeep-- avoid driving up this mountain! John's poor car found that out the hard way (but she still came out in tip top shape!). We ended up having to pull over and walk part of the way to save ourselves from a flat tire and having to hitch hike home, but all in all, it was a wonderful day.

Another weekend, we went down to Brunswick to attend our friends' wedding. Bobby & Angela put together one heck of a great wedding, and we had a blast. We had no idea that some of our friends were actually friends with the groom too, so that was a very pleasant surprise. We ate great food, had lots of wine, danced all night, and still managed to take the bride and groom out to a bar afterward (oh yes, wedding dress and all!). The best wedding I have gone to, by far!



We also drove down to visit Dad a few weekends ago. John really wanted to go to the beach while we were in town, which didn't appeal to me whatsoever because it was pretty cold out, but I caved since he didn't grow up right near the coast like I did. I am glad he thought of taking a trip out there. I've never seen the waves around here get so huge (although they may not look too big in the pictures)!



I love this next picture-- I look completely foolish, but I'm so genuinely happy in it that I don't even care!



And here's John. I assume you approve, I mean, just look at him! How could you not?!



And it actually snowed on Halloween this year. Enough so that my little neighbors made a snowman before they went trick-or-treating!



Now that all the leaves are making their way to the ground and the days are getting shorter, it's clear that winter is just around the corner. People are already complaining about the cold weather (although no one is stopping them from moving away...), but I won't be joining in. I am actually excited to see what fun things John and I will get ourselves into. Bring on the snow, mittens, the winter coat you bought me, ice scrapers, hot chocolate, and yes, even those freshly shaved legs that get prickly the second you step foot outside the door. I'm ready!

Love,
Sami

November 4, 2010

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Dear Mom,

As much as I love writing this blog, sometimes I wonder if it is doing more harm than good. It makes me think about you a lot more often, which is great, but along with that comes some very terrible memories of the years you were sick. I'm crying a lot more lately than I have in the past year or so. It might be because three years ago during this time I was watching you slowly start to die, and maybe I would be emotional right now regardless of if I had started writing or not.

One of my continuous setbacks from October to December is thinking back to what we were doing on any given day at a particular time in 2007. In October, I was being told I had to live a life without you; in November, I was frantically trying to imagine how I could possibly do that; and in December, I was suddenly forced to figure it out. These months are still so hard on me.

So I need to make a change. What I am going to try to do this year is exactly what I think you would want me to do: focus on the positive. I can't let those final three months control my life and how I remember you. Rather than thinking back to what we were doing and how we were feeling on November 4, 2007, I'm going to push myself to recall happier times from years prior.

Let's go back to 1997. Today, I was 9, and we were probably at Diane's house getting me and Brittany ready to perform during halftime at the high school football game with our All-Star cheering team. This was the only time I actually got to wear make-up, so it was a pretty big deal, as you can imagine. You always insisted on curling my bangs, and curl them you did- right into the skin on my forehead. Nine times out of 10 I cheered with a burn mark on my head, but the show must go on! You were always in the front row, cheering me on, and never missed a game. I was one lucky little girl.

Although there are still a lot of difficult moments left to write about, there's no rush. My future posts this month will be more positive; I owe it to you-- and myself.

I love you,
Sami

November 1, 2010

Another Tragic Loss

Dear Mom,

Today Tom’s friend lost his mom in a car accident when she swerved to avoid hitting an animal. If there was ever a day I felt lucky to have been given a fair warning that you would pass away, today is that day. I can’t imagine what it feels like to wake up to that news, completely blindsided. All day I couldn’t stop picturing what he might be doing at that moment to try to cope or how helpless his girlfriend feels knowing there’s nothing she can say to lessen his heartache. Everything I have felt for the past three years is exactly what he is just beginning to feel today. Life is so unfair.

Why is it that murderers can live to be 100 years old in jail wasting our tax dollars, yet we lose the people who just want to be around to continue loving their children and the ones who can’t even bear to run over a porcupine? I know God enjoys the company of precious angels like you, but can you nonchalantly mention in conversation that it’s making life a little bit difficult down here for the rest of us?

I'll never understand why some of us have to say goodbye to our mothers when our lives are practically just beginning... but what I do know is that... I really, really miss you today.

Love,
Sami

October 29, 2010

OMG, What a TMM.

Dear Mom,

College kids, for the most part, have it made... or at least I did: Classes two days a week; weekends that start on Thursday; living in a house with 25 of my sorority sisters (therefore never running out of things to wear and friends to procrastinate with... jackpot!); having a fantastic cook at my disposal Monday-Friday; school vacations that totaled to be about 6 months a year. I could go on all day. College students even have their own special, shortened lingo. Having a bad day? A simple ‘FML’ when you walk through the door will inform your roommates. Can you be excused? No, but you can certainly BRB. Accidentally insult someone? Don't worry, she totally knew you were JK.

I graduated less than 6 months ago, and unfortunately there was no slow transition from college girl to working adult. I work 5 days a week with an occasional Saturday shift; my weekends consist of cleaning, doing laundry, and trying my hardest to stay awake past 9PM; Fridays are even more exciting now because I get to wear jeans to work; and vacation? What’s that again? I get zero days off until I work here for a year. ZERO. Count ‘em. Oh that’s right, you can’t.

And lastly, I became a true member of the adult world when I could no longer keep up with the lingo used by my younger friends and had to ask for clarification. I recently learned that ‘TFM’ stands for ‘Total Frat Move’ and is used to describe something that only someone in a fraternity would do. For example, “I spend money like it’s not mine... because it’s not. Thanks Dad. TFM.” And that was the only one appropriate enough to share with you. Ugh. Way to go people. Nothing like giving Greek Life even more of a bad reputation! Fortunately, I do not have any TFMs or TSMs (Total Sorority Moves, of course) of my own to add. What I do now on a daily basis is more likely labeled a TMM...

A ‘Total Mom Move’.

One of my more major TMMs was just a few weeks ago. I wrote a letter to an old friend of mine that was extremely heartfelt and sincere. I cried through the whole thing. I wanted her to know that even though we drifted over time, I will never forget all she did for me and all she got me through during the most difficult years of my life. She was to me, how Gisele was to you. She was the friend I never had to say ‘but don’t tell anyone!’ to because I just knew she never would. She was the one college friend of mine who got to meet you. And she was the only friend who provided me support after the funeral when everyone else must've assumed grieving couldn’t possibly last more than a few weeks or something. I hope with all my heart that someday I will have a friend my age as wonderful as her again. She is the definition of a true ‘best friend’, and I am lucky just to have had her in my life for a short time. I learned from you that it’s not the number of years you spend together, but the quality of the moments that matter and are most impactful.

Weeks went by, and I hadn’t heard from her. I was trying not to feel hurt or take her lack of response as a loud and clear message that she didn’t feel the same. Bottom line, I told her how much I care about and appreciate her, and that was what was important to me. What a TMM. But at least now she knew, right? No harm done.

I check my e-mail every day out of habit. Eventually I stopped opening it with hopes of seeing her name in my inbox. That’s when the message appeared. At first glance, I could tell she spent a lot of time on it. It was fairly lengthy, and, from our many unproductive trips to the library where we got dirty looks and the occasional “SHHH!” after our frequent outbursts of laughter, I knew that she hated to sit down and write. It was also grammatically correct with capital letters, punctuation, paragraphs, indentations-- the whole shebang! This was huge (this observation? Obviously another TMM). After actually reading it, I was in no way disappointed by her.

She felt the exact same. She recalled funny memories from our past and sentimental moments she shared with you that she had never told me about. Again, I cried. I don’t think people understand just how much it means to me when they tell me stories about you. It brings you to life all over again. She described dark times in her life when I returned the favor of being a true best friend. She felt lucky to have had me in her life too.

One time when we went to the mall, there was a fortune teller there. We obviously just HAD to get our fortunes told. I went over after she was done with hers, so the lady had no way of knowing we were there together. She first hit the nail on the head when she mentioned that I lost someone recently. She said, “she wants you to know that she is not in pain anymore, not to worry about her, and that she loves you so much.” That was pretty generic, but I was so fragile at the time that I ate it right up (and I know all those things are true anyway). She also mentioned that I recently ended a relationship with a boyfriend that I felt was always burdened by my situation. Ding ding ding! I was convinced I had just met the 21st century version of Nostradamus after that comment. She went on to talk about my future career path and some other mumbo jumbo before telling me that she was feeling a strong connection between me and someone she had just spoken with. She said we were “meant to be sisters, but were just born to different families.”

Although neither of us mentioned the desire to be close again in our letters, we both acknowledged that we will always be a part of each other lives and a support system for one another. I think we both know how different we have grown to be, and that having a friendship like we did two years ago is impossible right now. We would both end up being disappointed. Maybe things will be different down the road, but we still have a long way to travel.

My little TMM paid off this time, but if I get carried away and trade my heels for tennis shoes and my bikini for a one-piece, you better send me a little sign from above that I’ve gone too far!

Your favorite/only daughter,
Sami :-)

October 24, 2010

A MidAutumn Night's Dream

Dear Mom,

Some people believe that the dead can come to you in your dreams at night. I'd like to believe that too, but I don't recall ever meeting that werewolf that kept reappearing in mine back in high school, so I'm not completely convinced. Nonetheless, I keep trying to find a hidden meaning when you appear in my dreams, like last night, and are dying all over again.

The first time you ever showed up one of my dreams was a few months after you passed away. While I was asleep, I relived everything from the night in the hospital when you told me you were stopping chemo treatments, right up to me clinging desperately to your casket in the snow before they lowered your body into the ground. I woke up to find that I hadn't only been crying in my dream. I was hysterical and shaking. I had been working so hard to move forward, and that dream sent me right back where I started. It wasn't just a dream, but a representation of how much I really hadn't gotten over yet. I hadn't even begun to deal with losing you. I just wanted one day without crying. Just one day. So I pushed those memories out of my head instead of working through them. The realization was devastating. I stayed in bed for the next 24 hours, completely numb. Even crying seemed like too much work. That’s when I made my first appointment with a therapist. She saw me immediately.

Since that day, I have never had a dream quite like that one, but there have been two other variations. I have dreamed that you are dying, but I make it clear that I know you have already died before. I always comment to someone random that you “came back to life, but are really dying forever this time.” I feel a rush of urgency and desperation because this is actually the last time I will see you. Your funeral is never exactly like it really was, but the feeling I had that everyone was staring at me is intensely magnified. Then I wake up, and my sobs carry over to real life. It’s pretty much a given that the rest of my day will be emotional and gloomy, and that was no different when I woke up today. I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake the feeling. Gisele thinks that maybe it means that there are still some moments or emotions that I haven’t worked through. But that leads me back to my original question: are you coming to me in my dreams to tell me that? If so, you’re pretty twisted, Mom.

I’m not at all convinced that you have a hand in me reliving the worst time in my life over and over again while I’m asleep. The other dreams you have been a part of however, are what are keeping me from ruling this possibility out completely.

The next time I dreamed of you was a few months after my initial bad dream. It was a simple and beautiful moment. You and I were sitting on your bed watching a movie with Dad and Tom by our sides. I stopped watching the movie and just stared down between us for the remainder of my dream-- we were holding hands. It was so peaceful. I woke up feeling happy and loved. I want to believe that you were letting me know that you are still holding my hand through my life’s journey like you promised. A simple, heartfelt message.

This past summer, you appeared again. This particular dream was in reference to my fear of the world ending on 12/21/12. I got all upset while watching a documentary on TV the summer before—silly I know, but hear me out! It’s a scary thing being told that we are all going to die in a few years (whether it’s true or not), and all I could think about was how you must have felt being told that you, and only you, were going to die in just a few months. My heart ached for you. Luckily, John was with me, and I literally cried on his shoulder while I shared my thoughts with him. In moments like that I appreciate his silent nature. His embrace comforts me more than any words ever could. Things like “she’s in a better place” just don’t do it for me when I’m upset. You didn’t want to die; you didn’t want to leave me. So those words aren’t comforting. Unless someone simultaneously hands me a postcard from “Better Place, USA” letting me know you’re in it, let’s just save the BS for another day when I’m more stable. Did I just go off on a tangent? Weird, that never happens…

So, in my dream, I’m guessing it was 2012 because I was visibly upset that the end of the world was relatively near. I was back at home, and Dad recommended I talk to you about it. You pulled into the driveway in the little red truck you loved so much, and I ran out to see you. We had a long chat about my fears about the world ending. You explained that death doesn’t hurt, so I shouldn’t be scared. You told me that heaven is indescribable, and that what we feel as ‘happiness’ on Earth doesn’t compare to how you feel once you are in heaven. You also talked about what God is like, and how he visits you every day. I told you that I was worried that, since there are so many people in heaven, John wouldn’t be able to find me after we die. You promised me that he will, just like Dad will find you, and we will all be together again.

I believe you.

All my love,
Sami

October 22, 2010

Whoever Said "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems"... Was Probably Broke & Bitter

Dear Mom,

I realize that slow and steady isn't the ideal blogging pace, and that my nickname should be 'turtle' rather than my little green Toyota Echo parked in the driveway. My old high school cheering coach once told me that I don't speak much, but when I do, it's always something worth listening to. Let's hope this is a similar scenario.

Before I continue, yes, I know what you're thinking... YOU?! Not talk a lot?! I can practically hear you, Dad, Tom, John, and Gisele laughing from here. But I know you all secretly love my long-winded, overly-detailed, never-ending stories.

Anyway! Back to my point...

Over the past week or two of my absence, I have been preparing for a new chapter in my life; something that I will be financially responsible for for the next 18+ years. That’s right... I'm having a baby: her name is College Loans, and she's due in a week.

Oh I'm bad, I know. Feel free to take a few moments to compose yourself.

I am in fact entering the dreadful land of College Loan Repayment. All aspects of college loans have been absolutely terrible: taking them out, getting them on time, using them up too fast, talking to the phone robot for 20 minutes before I can hit '0' to speak to an actual human being, and now, preparing to pay them off. I envy anyone who does not have my $65,000 worth of debt (and don't forget about the $30,000+ interest that will accrue over time as a nice little bonus!).

But Sam, didn't you go to school in state? Oh, I most certainly did! I guess that's what you get when your mom dies when you're 19- absolutely nothing. I lost all my financial aid once your life insurance showed up in Dad's yearly income the following semester. Did anyone take a minute to question if that money went towards your casket? Your funeral? The burial? Your headstone? What about the stack of hospital bills that kept coming to pay for the previous chemo treatments, surgeries, and frequent emergency room visits?

I was told I could repeal the decision made by those sweethearts who determine financial aid packages, but that it probably wouldn't get me far because that added income made it seem like Dad makes 'too much money'. I completely understand that, but last I checked it was ME enrolled in college, not my dad. It would make perfect sense if he were actually paying for me to go to school. However, he's trying to teach me a little something called financial responsibility, and unfortunately these love little penny pinchers are making it a tad difficult for me to be thankful for that at the moment.

It’s safe to say that life was much less hectic when you were filling out my FAFSA forms every year and calling the school and loan companies to get things squared away for me each semester. I was spoiled rotten! And all those hours I later spent trying to figure it out by myself after you passed away was just one of the many wake up calls reminding me of how lucky I once was.

I know how much you loved taking care of me. I was (and still am) your little girl! But if I could turn back the clock, I would have been more independent. Not emotionally, because our endless phone calls and girl talks were the highlight of my daily routine. But I would have wanted to be more independent financially. Not necessarily paying for things on my own, since that's nearly impossible at 14, but just being involved in the every day financial process at home. I think all of us could have benefited from that. You enjoyed taking care of the check books, bill payments, and all the other household and business paperwork. You were organized, dependable, and methodical with your assorted notebooks and folders (which, by the way, made it easy for me to find the ‘Sami’s Car Payment’ folder the following January to tell Dad you somehow started paying off my car for me over the past few years, and now it was his turn… woops!) And it’s completely fine that you wanted to be in charge of that stuff-- afterall, you were the parent!-- but I wish you would have at least taught me how to do it too. I mean, I learned how to write a check when I was in like 4th grade, but I wish I would have learned other things from you.

Maybe we could have sat down together, put the phone on speakerphone, and had me call to set up a loan—that way you were still there for guidance, but I was the one talking (we could have even started with baby steps and just had me order a pizza for crying out loud. I developed a weird nervousness about calling companies for things, so I always relied on you to do it!). Or we could have talked about budgets together once I started working at Alex Pizza in high school. Clearly, that would have not been high on my priority list, but I honestly wonder now if I thought money literally did grow on trees since I had zero savings when I went to college.

I’m not trying to knock your parenting skills in the finance department in even the least bit. It’s easy to look back on everything now and pick it apart. There are a lot of things we would have done differently if we didn’t think you’d be around to help me. You were a great mom—the best mom. And you obviously did something right because I at least have the ability and drive to figure things out for myself after a valid attempt or two. And that’s just what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks with my college loans.

I have been calling each company multiple times to set a better payment plan that doesn’t involve me sleeping in a cardboard box for the next 15-25 years of my life and living off saltines and puddle water. Four pages of loan questions, an astonishing excel spreadsheet, and three color-coded folders later—I have finalized my repayment schedule. Hooray! I guess in the days that I’m not blogging, I’m spending my time becoming a little more like you, and that sounds pretty good to me.

Love you,
Sami

October 11, 2010

Michelle

Dear Mom,

I finished reading Diary of a Dying Mom early last week. So much for it supplying me with another 2 weeks of reading material… I just couldn’t stop turning the pages (I printed out all the entries, highlighted certain parts I loved, and made little comments in the margins—I plan to pass it on and wanted to include my own thoughts along with it). My heart breaks for Bill and their children, who are about a year behind me in my own grieving process (theoretically at least, we all definitely grieve at our own pace—I see this in even our own family). In reality, Michelle was in heaven long before I even knew her blog existed, but for me, she was very much alive. Until last week. And for that, I am sad. There are no more pages left to turn; no more new, witty comments left to read; no more comfort to seek. However, that in no way can take away from all I have gained from her words.

A big question I had prior to reading these final posts was whether she knew the end was drawing near. Obviously she knew this all along, but I mean… could she tell when her body was finally really failing? I learned that, yes, she most certainly could. She wrote, “I now need help to walk from the bed to the bathroom, and I am gasping for breath when I return to bed. I am beginning to accept that this is a battle I cannot win… I’m tired everyone. I have fought a long and hard fight, but I need a graceful exit strategy now. Of course my heart is broken and my dreams are shattered, but I feel in my heart that the most loving thing to do is set myself, Bill, and the kids free. I have to follow my heart.” In a weird way, this puts me at ease. It helps me to feel as though you allowed yourself to go, rather than that you were taken from me. To think that you went (internally) kicking and screaming, makes me feel sick. I want to picture you allowing yourself to slip away into a much happier, more serene existence. And that’s what I intend to think from now on. It’s reassuring that, while you were in an induced-coma for the hours before your death, each of us provided you with permission to let go… and you did. Is that what you were waiting for all along? For months you noticed severe changes in your body and what it could and could not handle. You became too tired to shower; too weak to walk; unable to digest food… everything became a challenge. Now looking back on our final night together, I am certain that you knew it was your time (however, this is a recollection for another day).

Ironically, Michelle touched upon the topic of ‘pictures’, which I did previously in my post on regrets/lessons learned. She said, “As I poured over photos over the last few weeks, I realized how few I had of me and the children. I was always the one behind the lens. ‘You cannot see me,’ I thought to myself, ‘but I was still there.’ I realize now that I will never really leave. My children, husband, family, friends will carry me with them in their hearts and their memories. Perhaps that is eternal life.” Not even all of my favorite things in the world (deer, corn on the cob, John’s fuzzy couch blanket, a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese, Jodi Picoult books) COMBINED could make me feel better than this. Through this I realized that the words I needed to hear have been staring back at me for 3 years right there on your headstone: “Our family lives on because of the love we shared”. NOT because of our pictures together. When I close my eyes, I can still remember what it feels like to hug you and hold your hand. Things like that give me more comfort than any photo ever could.

Michelle wrote that “in some ways it’s a privilege to die slowly. We have had so much time to adjust and prepare… In some weird way I feel lucky.” For a while, I went back and forth between what was “easier”: having years to build up sadness and anxiety in anticipation for losing you, or if you would have just passed away randomly in a car accident or something. To the everyday person, duh, you’d want time to prepare; time to say all you wanted to say and make those final lasting memories together. But, as someone actually having to wake up every morning and wonder if her mom was going to be dead in the living room when she went downstairs to eat breakfast… I was slightly torn. I once also said that if I could go back in time to relive this and have one more day with you, I wouldn’t do it. It hurt too much to lose you and try to move forward without you. Now that I have had years to process my feelings and let go of some of the pain—I am 100% certain we were lucky, and I would relive my life again and again, even with the same outcome, just to have one more moment with you. Losing you in a slow fashion hurt; it hurt terribly. And not just emotionally or mentally—it hurt physically. My heart, literally, hurt. Some days to the point where I thought it was going to give out on me from the immense stress and sadness, and this is in no way an exaggeration. But I couldn’t imagine living a life you weren’t a part of, even if you were only in it for a little while. Our lives together were like an extra large cup of Maxwell House coffee… good to the last drop ;-) I cherish every minute, no matter how difficult. The joy from our laughter outweighs the hurt from my loss; it just took me time to realize that.

Today marks two years since Michelle Mayer passed away. I grew attached to her in merely a few months just through her writing, so I know there are some deeply aching hearts out there tonight. You have my permission to watch over them during this difficult time-- but just for the night-- I'll need you back tomorrow!

Dream sweetly,
Sami

October 4, 2010

Come One, Come All!

Dear Mom,

Today I took it upon myself to continue growing my blog audience. Not that Gisele, Aunt Dot, and a few other people here and there aren't enough of course, but my hope, as you know, is to have my words reach someone that can pass this on to people who could really use them. So what better way to do so than to google 'blogs about cancer'? Geeenius. A few dozen people just received a notification that some girl in Maine writing letters to her deceased mother is 'following' them. Not at all creepy, right? [For those of you just tuning in, read my 'about me' before continuing!]

My criteria on which blogs to start following was simple- read the first paragraph of the most recent blog post, and if, in that 30 seconds, I have done any of the following:

1. laughed
2. cried
3. related to the author
4. stayed awake

then, congratulations! You made the cut! Lets be friends!

On a more serious note, I think reading some blogs about actual survivors and those still fighting will be a nice change of pace (especially as I finish up reading Diary of a Dying Mom in these next few weeks). And after recently coming across statistics like 'one in every three women will develop cancer in her lifetime', it doesn't hurt to remind myself that not everyone's story ends the way yours did. If cancer ever comes knocking at my door someday, I'm going to need to remember that.

Missing you,
Sami

P.S. I just realized I have my first follower ever! Thanks Alli! What a great start to my day.

September 29, 2010

My Guilty Pleasure

Dear Mom,

Over the past few years I have developed quite the list of guilty pleasures- like eating fresh strawberries complete with a mound of store-bought chocolate frosting twice their size, watching hours of DVR'd episodes of reality television (except Jersey Shore. I know they--whoever they are-- preach to 'never say never', but seriously: I. will. NEVER. watch that show.), and, of course, the Twilight Saga. Ohh Twilight. Unfortunately, you have missed this recent vampire phenomenon. I've even got Gisele hooked on it. Seriously, she read all 4 books (that are, keep in mind, like 700+ pages each) in about a week AND watched the two movies that were released. Quite impressive, I know. Anyway, I became seriously obsessed with the books, the movies, the characters, etc. I don't know how much you would like the whole vampire glistening in the sunshine/feeding on poor, innocent forest critters and humans thing, but the fact that Gisele has converted into a fanatic gives me some hope.

My other guilty pleasure, that I continue to mention, is Diary of a Dying Mom. It is what truly sparked my blogging adventure and gave me the drive to start writing again, so I feel forever indebted to Michelle.

It is a guilty pleasure for two reasons. One being that some people I have mentioned her blog to find it completely morbid that I enjoy reading about someone else's death (which I think it is hard to blame them for because these same people have not lost a parent and cannot possibly understand what I'm gaining from reading it). The other reason being that Michelle's blog literally provides me with a feeling of guilt and pleasure.

I feel this weird sense of guilt and sadness while I read it because I already know the outcome regardless of her hopeful posts and positive outlook. My heart breaks each time she writes that she is feeling better because I know the end is near, but she doesn't. Yet, I also find a sense of peace and pleasure from her every word. Whether it's a post about her children, death, or friendships, I find comfort in her thoughts. She is so candid and open when discussing her eventual death, but still, at the end of the day, looks for the positives. I feel like that is how you handled yourself (although more privately and not in blog-form). She is loving, motherly, funny, and sometimes admiringly inappropriate, and she continues to remind me of you in those ways and several others with each and every post.

As much as I love the blog, it poses one problem: like everything else, it ends. I just finished up reading the month of August, and I'm having a smidge of anxiety while I try to come to terms with the fact that her posts will stop in about a month and a half (which is approximately another week or two of reading material for me). I know it sounds silly because, outside the blogosphere, Michelle passed away several years ago, but in my tiny little bubble where Michelle speaks to me daily, I worry that it will feel like another death has occurred in my life. I'm eager to continue reading, however, a part of me wants to slow down to allow us, in a way, to have more time together. But I'm just dying to know (poor choice of words, perhaps, I guess I don't want to know that bad) what she has to say in her final months. What will her last post say? Will she ever find out what was shaking her bed at night?! Will she make it out to buy her children's final birthday gifts? Can she tell her body is shutting down?

Could you? I wish she'd slip that into an entry somewhere.

I predict that reading it will stir up some emotions that were once very familiar to me as the end of her life draws near. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, there's only one way to find out.

So tomorrow I will begin reading September's blog entries during my free time. Here goes nothing!

I love you,
Sami

September 17, 2010

LIVESTRONG

Dear Mom,

I wrote this column back in high school when I was the chief editor of our school newspaper in 2005. You had just been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer earlier that summer.

-----------------------------------------------------------


On July 12, 2005, my livestrong bracelet became more than just a fad; it became my lifestyle.

I went into this past summer filled with excitement because I was finally going to be a senior in high school. I found myself eager to discover where I would be once the next year had come and gone because it would be the beginning of a very new,
life-altering stage in my life.

Little did I know that this wonderful life I live would throw yet another stage at me before the day I'd graduate. That new, unplanned stage in my life has changed me more than receiving a diploma ever could because on one drizzly evening in July, I was told my mother had cancer.

Even as I say it now a lump instantly forms in my throat. My mother has cancer. Most people don’t see what the big deal is nowadays because it seems like everyone has it, but it’s different when it’s not your brother’s friend’s aunt; it’s different when it happens to someone you love.

The word cancer is so simple and yet so complex at the same time. I eat, sleep, and breathe cancer. My vocabulary has become bombarded with other obscure words like platelets and flatus; words that most adults don’t even know and that are now second nature to me.

This summer it seemed like my life had completely demolished in front of my eyes. It made me bitter and angry. I couldn’t figure out how people could still go on with their lives when mine had completely fallen apart in the matter of seconds. My senior year hadn’t even begun, and I was already dreading what was supposed to be the best year of my life.

It took a long time to adjust to this new life, but once I did it got a little easier. Not easy though—just easier.

And sometimes I take myself back to the beginning of this mess to the first time the word cancer was linked to my mom and indirectly to me. I never thought that the emotions from that night would still continue to feel so real. I was always told to never look back, but doing so helps me in so many ways. It hurts to think of where I’ve been, but realizing how far my mom has come makes the trip down memory lane worthwhile.

I’ve learned to appreciate and care about my family so much more. There are few teenage girls who feel they are lucky to have the family members that they have, and now I am one of those few. There’s no way that I am thankful for cancer, but while it’s a huge part of my life I need to somehow turn it into a positive thing.
Everyone has a story, and as a journalism student it’s my job to write about those stories. I decided to turn the tables on myself, not for pity or for attention, but for you— the guy or girl reading this right now who experiences my story firsthand every day when you go home. You are not alone, and the worst thing I did at first was think that I was.

Don’t underestimate the power of what it means to livestrong. Every time I glance down at my bracelet, I’m reminded of my mom and how my love, support, and encouragement make all the difference in the world to her.

Some say I wear my heart on my sleeve, but they’re wrong. I wear it on my wrist.

----------------------------------------------------------


Thinking of you,
Sami

September 16, 2010

You Are the Company You Keep

Dear Mom,

Of all you have given me over the years, my favorite, most treasured gift is not one of material posession. You would be shocked to know it's not even this to-die-for olive skin tone I inherited from you or my curvacious derriere that makes my super-thin friends quite envious. Your most special gift to me has come in the form of an unexpected, yet irreplaceable friendship.

Unexpected couldn't be a more appropriate word to describe it. I am fully aware it's not normal to be BFFs with your high school ex-boyfriend's mother... really I am! But I wouldn't give up my friendship with Gisele for the world, and I honestly feel as though it was your final gift to me that truly keeps on giving.

I am a firm believer that, in a healthy relationship, you don't just date the person-- you date the whole family. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the break-up. I think it takes a very special connection between two mothers to continue being friends even after their children end their three-year relationship. Although it was just slightly awkward that you and Dad attended her older son's wedding afterward, and I wasn't invited, it still made my heart happy that you two had found the truest of friendships in each other (and that I had a big hand in that!).

I have, for the most part, encountered two kinds of friends (with a few amazing exceptions along the way). There's the friend who thrives off feeling needed, and once she "fixes" you, she ventures off to find her next emotional basketcase, and then there's the friend who fears comforting others and only wants to be a part of your happy days.

Gisele single-handedly messes up any categories I have previously created. She is pretty much her own unique breed of friend. She was the kind of friend to you that I have only read about-- the kind that is there when she is needed, and even when she is not. There were people in your life who only called you when they heard you were back in the hospital, and then there were people who would disappear until you were well again. But Gisele was there for you always and in so many ways.

She was your partner in crime (in those lovely orange and black outfits) yelling my name as I performed at football games and in cheering competitions; she treated you to dinner and a movie the night before your chemo treatments; she bought you chicken noodle soup from Panera Bread when the broth is all you craved during your final months on Earth; she stood by your bedside as you breathed your last breath.

I remember watching the color drain from your face in that moment. It was unlike anything I had seen, and even the most realistic movies don't get it right. I began thinking about a million things at once. She's dead. I am mother-less. She won't see me walk down the aisle. She'll never meet any grandchildren. Will our family fall apart without her?

But all I managed to get out was, "That's it? She's gone?!" in a shakey, panicked voice that I didn't recognize. In response to my words, I heard someone let out a sob (that I can still replay perfectly in my head, although I'm not sure who it belongs to) from the kitchen where many of our relatives had gathered that morning. Then I collapsed, sobbing in Gisele's arms. Little did we know that in that instant we were bound together for life.

In one of Michelle's blog entries, she writes, "Life gives you many mothers, not just the one of your birth. You will always have a mother when you need one. You just need to look for her." Those words seriously need to be in some book of quotes to live by because they are a must-read for any grieving daughter (or for any woman, actually).

Still, almost three years after your death, I call Gisele multiple times a week to tell her about my day and to inquire about hers. We vent; we laugh; we swap stories that no one else would appreciate or think are funny. As much as I love every aspect of our friendship, for quite a while I felt extreme guilt about it. You are the person I used to talk to daily, so I couldn't help but worry that, wherever you watching me from now, you feel sad and replaced.

I saw a therapist once a week on campus when I got back to school that spring, and during one of the sessions I brought up these feelings I had. She said, "If I died, I would find comfort in knowing that my daughter had someone to talk to. It would be the worst feeling to leave this world without being sure someone would be there to give her all the girly advice she would need later in life." That's exactly what I needed someone to tell me. I know you would never want me to sit somewhere by myself and deal with my feelings and questions about womanhood on my own.

A year after that discussion with my therapist, I then found a new problem slowly creeping in to occupy my mind and put an ache in my heart (there's always something, right?) I began to struggle with what other people may have thought of my friendship with Gisele. If I wanted to stop in and visit her when I went home for the weekend would Dad be jealous? Would Tom think I was replacing you? Was it secretly upsetting my boyfriend that I was so close with an ex's mom? Would my aunts resent me for not having that same relationship with them?

I had to rid myself of this knot in my stomach. I couldn't take it anymore. So in the middle of my sobfest and wallowing in self-pity, I picked up the phone and called Dad. We talk often now about any and everything, but this was something I hadn't shared with him. He gave me all the comfort in the world and reassurance that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my close relationship with Gisele. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I called Tom too and continued to spill my heart out. He is the greatest big brother. Our talk took away my worry and endless guilt. I allowed myself to be the vulnerable, defeated, comfort-seeking little girl that I hid for so long and sometimes still feel like inside. It felt nice.

I talked to John about my worries (he is my new boyfriend- well, not new to me since we have been dating for almost two years, but new to you because you never met him). I actually introduced him to Gisele before I brought him to meet Dad. "And this morning we're going out to breakfast with my ex-boyfriend's mom!" If that's not the pick-up line of the century, I'm not sure what is. Luckily, he's such a good sport about my semi-nonconventional life. He noted that it was a little weird at first, but that my friendship with her is a part of who I am, and he accepted that and me. He has a way of making me quickly wave goodbye to my insecurities. You would love him (insert a big, bittersweet sigh here).

I also started keeping in touch more with my relatives. Just because we didn't already have a close relationship didn't mean that one couldn't be formed eventually. With our little messages and e-mails here and there, I feel much closer to several of them and am a happier person for it.

I owe this tremendous growth to this wonderful friendship you have given me. Gisele shares your sincere enthusiasm, encouraging words, and warm heart. I think, subconsciously, you kept her in your life for a reason- to not only be your friend, but to eventually become mine.

If we really are defined by the company we keep, then damn,
I look good.

Love,
Sami