Brave Tuesday Story: Facing Grief
Everyone grieves differently. The common denominator, though, is that we all must inevitably face our pain.
Each week’s Brave Tuesday Story draws from a member of our community. Today we are thrilled to feature a beloved member of our immediate framily (<-- not a typo!): Ed Hernandez. We love Ed so much for so many reasons, not least of which: how happy he made Julia, and how loved she felt by him. Their decade-long best friendship rivaled the greatest partnerships throughout history.
This week is the perfect week to share Ed’s poem, as he’s been instrumental and essential in coordinating the logistics for our online fundraiser and NYC event happening this Thursday! Of working on both the fundraiser and on this post, Ed put it best:
“This has renewed a passion in me that I'd lost after the accident. [...] As cliché as this may sound, I do not want Julia's death to be in vain, without respect or resolve. That same tender heart we know she had — I want the world to know it.”
I'm unfortunately super introspective when bad stuff happens— Or actually, more like reclusive, which is one reason this has taken so long. My natural inclination when I feel sadness, or anger, or emptiness, is to withdraw.
This was one of Julia's wonderful attributes: she'd force me to deal with things. She’d literally bang on my door without giving me a heads-up because she knew I'd avoid the phone, or she'd pick me up and drive me where I needed to go. When I was diagnosed with cancer, she was the one who took me to my doctor’s appointments.
Staying positive while sitting in a cold waiting room, alone, surrounded by sickness can feel impossible, to say the least. But with Jules by my side, the severity of my situation felt less, well, severe. Her energy calmed me. She kept my pre-appointment jitters at bay. She made me laugh. She stuck by me. It takes a brave person to really be there, on each drive and in every waiting room, and to not only acknowledge the harsh reality, but to also look beyond today’s dreary outlook to tomorrow’s possibilities. I could sense that many people in my life were too scared to ask me about my condition. But Julia remained unafraid to talk to me openly about my treatment, and about the next steps. And that made me feel less like a patient, and more like myself.
Julia and I met in August 2006, when I started working at the Beachcomber Cafe. I was shy and nervous, but she was easy to talk to, and made me feel welcome there. Drinks after work soon turned into long lunches on our days off, LOTS of sleepovers, and family functions. She quickly became my closest confidant. We talked freely, deeply and honestly about our personal struggles. Nothing was taboo. She never judged me. She cared — and that care, and devotion, is rare.
One of my biggest regrets is not dropping everything and coming to the Gardners’ home the morning we got the news. I was worried that I’d be fired, but, in retrospect, that was totally stupid logic. I also think I was in some form of shock. I didn't — or couldn't — wrap my head around the fact of what had happened, and I instead chose to ignore it. I don't know. I guess I'm not good at dealing with horrible news. (But really, who is?)
All of these thoughts are scattered in different parts of my journal. I’m thinking of calling everything I’ve learned since the accident, “The Jules Rules.” For example, when confronted by something terrible, DO NOT run away from it. Because when it catches up to you — and it will — the pain will hit you like a battle axe. That pain is unavoidable, but it’s also an intrinsic part of the healing process. We can’t heal from a deep wound, unless we acknowledge that a wound exists.
DO surround yourself with loved ones and grieve together. Laugh together, too. That option seems so much more therapeutic than the alternative. We should seek community, not solitude. This kind of loss is a first for me, and it's deep. I've had relatives pass away, but nothing like this. This was sudden. Losing Jules not only hit close to home; it bore a hole through my heart.
I felt angry. I went through a period of, "I wish it had been me, it should've been me." My logic was, "I had cancer, I'm sick, I'm a shitty person, please take me instead.” But that's also stupid.
This leads to another rule: DO NOT be angry or beat yourself up. The anger consumed me, which in turn made me run even further away. Julia was, and always will be, my best friend. But now that she’s no longer here with me on earth, I need to be my own best friend. I need to be kind and gentle with myself, the way I know she would be with me.
DO look at the bigger picture. God's plan is already written: it's in the stars. I realized in all of this pain that I must retain faith in His plan. And it's okay to get mad at the Lord; He can take it. DO, however, get your head out of your own rear, though, because living with anger feels awful. And it's infectious, so instead, DO mirror the image of the person you lost. In my case, that’s Jules, and I vow to mirror her every way I can, everyday: to get happy, to laugh, to dance and to love.
And the start of all of that, lies in this poem:
It's taken a long time to get my thoughts down,
But I'm finally getting there albeit with a frown.
When it comes to Jules, there's lots to say,
She brightened our lives all day, everyday.
I was fortunate enough to call her a best friend,
I thought we would take this journey together until the end.
When we met at the Comber it was love at first sight,
I was like a stray dog she rescued from the night.
She loved me, stood by me and made me feel great,
I knew meeting Julia was destiny, it was fate.
We stumbled together, took care of one another,
She listened, genuinely cared and her love was like no other.
I'll never forget that dreadful morning when I woke,
There's been an accident I heard, this wasn't a joke.
The news was confirmed when I spoke to Carol,
Her voice was full of agony and the undeniable peril.
Of the fact that our lives would never be the same,
I should've dropped everything to see her but I was lame.
I chose to ignore the awful truth,
And worked the rest of my week pretending to be aloof.
It finally caught up though, the reality, my friend had passed,
I never cried so hard, the emotions had amassed.
I was angry, I was sad, I wanted it to be me,
Please take me instead Lord, and let her be free.
Why now, she's so young and she found her way home,
She was free from the bondage in her mind and was coming into her own.
That's not how it works though, I know that it's His choice,
But can I please have a final something, maybe hear her voice?
Her laughter, her verbiage, it's all very unique,
Just thinking about the whole thing makes my stomach weak.
My mom says that God takes the good ones home with Him,
He needs their pure hearts, their devotion and wisdom.
So now as we celebrate Julia's legacy with all of our hearts,
It gets easier knowing we are not far apart.
And the family we've made with our sisters and brothers,
Will grow stronger with I Keep Dancing and we'll join to help others.
We'll always remember, be strong and live life to the fullest,
But Julia you're irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, and the coolest.
I LOVE YOU, JULIA CAROLINE GARDNER.
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