My friend was murdered last week.
I'm in complete shock.
Several years ago my friend's husband died of a drug overdose, leaving her as a single mother to her young son. Looking back, her situation reminds me very much of the one I was in, except that in the end, my drug addicted husband left, and her's died. I always thought mine would die.
Not long after he died, she met someone and got pregnant. She was so happy — that is until her new boyfriend hit her. So while still pregnant, she left him.
I took care of her son on the day the baby was born. I'll never forget him asking me every five minutes to call his mom and see if his sibling was born yet.
My friend had a little girl and thus became a single mother to two children without fathers.
My friend changed her life. She recognized the pattern she was in and she decided to put an end to it. She became an advocate for taking charge of your life and an ambassador of self-respect; a loud, outspoken, caring woman who spent her time teaching teenagers that you create the life you want to lead, and that you are worth more than the people who try to bring you down.
She lived for others and exuded everything that I've always aspired to be.
Last year, 9 years after her 1st husband died, 8 years after she left her abusive boyfriend and gave birth to her daughter, she got married. She thought she had found the life she was always looking for; the same life that so many single mothers and DV survivors hope to one day find. She had a complete family and she was thrilled.
But then just a couple months later, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Not one to back down from a challenge, she kicked cancer's ass.
Two weeks after getting a clean bill of health, last week, her brand new husband, her chance at a fresh start, murdered her.
I saw it on the news first, but I didn't know that it was her. I talked with my nonprofit team, whispered amongst ourselves that there had been a domestic violence murder, and wondered what we could do to help.
One of my board member reached out to the victim's place of employment and offered counseling services. Another reached out to the newspaper to offer our contact info as a way that women could reach out if this was the wake up call they needed to get out of their own abusive relationships.
But then I got the call and a mutual friend informed me it was her.
I'm not sure why I didn't put the pieces together sooner, but in my wildest dreams I would have never imagined it could have been her.
It shouldn't have been her.
30 minutes later I was on the phone with Mr. Attorney Man for an unrelated matter, choking back tears as he cheerily discussed modifying our nonprofit's intake paperwork, and confirming a meeting that we had scheduled for the following day.
Through suffocating tears that I was desperately trying to hold back, I canceled our meeting. I told him about my friend and then in what I can only equate to as emotional word vomit, I disclosed something that I have been feeling for some time, but haven't wanted to face. A creeping feeling that's mere existence has felt like a shadow on the wall that I hide my face from as I attempt to go about my day.
A shadow that reared it's ugly head that afternoon and in the shock of my friend's death, I finally said what I've been wanting to tell someone for a really long time.
I feel like I have absolutely no control over my life anymore.
This last year has been rough. In many ways it has been the toughest year that I've had since my ex left. The funny thing about life's trials is that they come in different ways and at different times. When my ex first left, I was thrown face first into a life-altering change of plans. There was nothing enjoyable about having my entire life ripped out from under my feet and knowing that there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. My entire existence had already been fraught with abuse and domination, and there I was again, in a situation that I had no control over and no say in what was happening to me.
I was walking a path that I never agreed to walk on and I wasn't happy about it, but when the dust finally settled and I was able to really look around, I realized something.
For the first time ever, I was free.
All those years of living in an abusive marriage, and all the years before that where I had grown up in an abusive household, I'd never been able to be anything other than who I was allowed to be.
But suddenly there I was, free. The realization didn't make my situation any easier, it didn't calm the pain in my heart or the worry in my head, but understanding that for the first time in my life, that I was the only one in control of my life, it changed my outlook on the situation.
I could be who I wanted to be, and I could do that by doing what I wanted to do.
Three years later I've built myself a life that I'm proud of. I charged ahead in a direction that many people never would have taken, and for the most part it has turned out well. I feel like once I was finally able to breathe, that I was finally able to grow.
But lately I've been feeling like I hit the ceiling of the freedom department.
Over the last year I've watched the optimism towards the world of possibilities that my new found life brought me, slowly become suffocated out by the realization that I am being forced to live in a very tiny box. It's like three years ago I was finally let out of a closet and free to explore the house, but every time I think I've reached the end of a dark and dismal hallway and I'm about to step outside and into the light, I turn a corner and there's another equally unappealing hallway waiting for me to navigate my way through. Eventually I'm just left feeling like I will simply never get out.
I feel so completely and utterly trapped by many of my life's situations; our genetic condition, my son's health, my ex's refusal to pay child support, the court system, my financial situation, the public benefit system, and even by my anonymity in this blog, that I'm slowly feeling like I'm being pushed back into a closet.
Because of that, I feel myself fighting back on anyone who tries to help me. If I even think someone is trying make a decision for me, I feel an almost a visceral urge to push them and their suggestions away. It's as if I've lost so much control over my life already, that the very last thing I want is someone taking away anymore of my control. It's an angry kind of feeling that for obvious reasons I don't enjoy, and it's making me feel sharp and prickly towards the people in my life.
A few days ago I went to my friend's funeral. My nonprofit board members and my friends were texting me all day to make sure that I was OK,
But I wasn't OK.
My friend, mother of two sweet children, had survived abuse and changed her life, only to be sidelined by cancer, and then ripped from this world by the person who was supposed to love her the most — in a situation that we had all thought she would never find herself in again.
How is it OK that her children are now motherless? How is it OK that she never really got a fair shot? That when she finally said "enough, I'm worth more than abuse, I'm going to use my life to make an impact on this world," that the world would give her cancer and then horrifically kill her in the end?
How is any of that alright?
I was a mess. A good friend of mine (and mutual friend of hers) met me at the funeral. I wasn't sure what to expect. A murder had occurred and the anger felt ripe. I noticed her daughter darting around the church, climbing over the chairs, and running up and down the stairs. Her hair was somewhat of a mess and she was not really appropriately dressed for the occasion, and for a brief moment I caught myself thinking "didn't anyone take the time to dress her up before she came here? And why isn't anyone making sure that she behaves?"
And then I remembered; She has absolutely no parents anymore.
Hoards of people showed up to pay their respects and then the service started. The Pastor got up and said that unlike most funerals, that this one had no agenda. There would be no sermon, no songs, and no scripted memoir of what my friend had been like in life. That after knowing my friend well, he was confident that we as a crowd could throw her an unscripted celebration of life that would be fitting for who she was.
He then said that the next hour would be spent in what would basically be an open mic night. He explained that he was going to turn the microphone over to the crowd, and then asked if we would come up and share stories of how my friend had impacted their lives.
Before anyone could stop her, my friend's daughter (who is just a year older than The Girl Child) went running up onto the stage. She grabbed the microphone out of the pastor's hand before he was even done talking, and she started to speak.
"I want to say something about my mommy!" she exclaimed. "Um... she was really nice and she was the best mommy ever! I miss her.... and... I really want her back." Suddenly she burst into tears and nearly collapsed before three people ran up on the stage to get her. As they were carrying her out of the church, her little voice, through gut-wrenching sobs, echoed throughout the sanctuary "I just want her back."
I lost it, as did every single other person in that room. Tears poured down my face and I wiped my nose on my jacket. The woman to my left excused herself as she had started to dry heave. To my right, my friend, a prison correctional officer, had his face buried in his hands and by the visible shaking of his shoulders, it was quite obvious that he was crying too.
I couldn't stop thinking of my own Girl Child and how narrowly I had avoided being my friend.
We all sat there sobbing in silence until someone finally went up to the microphone to speak. It was a teenager that my friend had worked with, and the teen talked about how she left an abusive relationship because of my friend's guidance. After that, a woman who had struggled with depression started talking about how my friend had actually saved her life at one point. A man spoke next, bravely talking about his struggles with low self-esteem and reminding us that my friend made everyone feel like they were the most special person in the world; how she always had time for people and made everyone feel like a priority. People began to line up and for the next hour a solid stream of stories spilled out over the crowd. Each one detailing exactly how much my friend had impacted their lives, and not even in the typical funeral sense of "she was a wonderful person and blah, blah, blah," but how she had LITERALLY changed the destiny of so many people for the better.
Even now, I don't feel like my friend got the life that she deserved. I wish that her life hadn't been so hard and that it had been a hell of a lot longer, but as the pastor reminded us all in closing, "she made a bigger impact on this world, despite her struggles, and in a shorter amount of time, than many people do in their entire lives."
And he was right.
When the service was over I made my way down to the front of the church. Before the service I had stood in the visitation line for several hours but had not even made it close to the front to see her family, and before I left I wanted to make sure that they at least knew I was there.
I saw her son first and as sad as he was, I felt a mixture of pride and worry at how well he appeared to be handling it all. When my friend's 76 year old mother saw me and our mutual friend, she grabbed hold of us in a hug I'll never forget. "Eden, you guys came" she said. "You have no idea how much you meant to her." She then paused, looked around at the thousands of people who had packed into the church, and her eyes eventually settled on the urn that was sitting in the front of the church; the urn containing her daughter. After a moment she looked back to us and said "it was good life. She did everything she ever wanted to, and she should be so proud." Glancing over at the two grandchildren that are now in her care she went on to say "her work is done and now it's up to us to continue on with her legacy. I'm going to need a lot of help with these kids, so I hope you guys are up for it."
And I am.
My friend was taken way too soon and I'm still having a hard time accepting that, but if there is anything that her death has done, it has given me a knew perspective. Through her husband's death, an abusive boyfriend, single parenting, cancer, and murder, she has changed the course of more lives than I could even imagine having an impact on myself. And if you knew her, you would know that her only goal in life was to better the life of others.
So she didn't lose, she won. She wasn't given the best set of circumstances, but she still accomplished her goal. Her life may not have been what anyone would have wanted for her, but she used it to do exactly what she wanted to with it. She set out on a mission and come struggle, pain, and even death, she still managed to accomplish it.
Sometimes in life we find ourselves in relentlessly hard situations that we can't seem to get out of; chronic illnesses, monotonous jobs, financial constraints, and suffocating life situations, and we feel trapped. We feel like we can't accomplish what we want to do, because we can't move from where we are. Yet what I've come to realize this week, is that as much as I talk about moving forward with our lives, I've completely neglected the fact that we don't always have to be moving in order to be accomplishing our goals.
I'm trapped by a lot of things that I just can't seem to get out of right now and I'm stuck in situations that I would really like to move forward from, but I can't, and there isn't a damn thing I can do about that. The reality is that I can't move very much right now, but that doesn't mean that I can't make my time here, right where I am, worth something.
My sweet friend never really got ahead in life, but in the place she never moved from, she changed everyone around her.
If you feel like you have somehow stepped in wet cement on your sidewalk of life and you are stuck in the damn middle of your journey, don't forget that moving is not a requirement for changing.
Flowers sprout, bloom, grow, and never move from where they are, but that doesn't mean that they never lived, or that no one ever saw them.
You aren't dead, you're just not moving.
I'm not entirely happy where I am at right now, but I am alive. My children have a mother, my friend's have a friend, and even if I never move from this spot again, that doesn't mean that my life's work can't be done right here. My friend never really moved out of the place that she was in, but that doesn't mean that her life shone any less brightly.
In fact, the world may move more than the sun does, but it's the sun that we all circle around.
I can't move very much from where I'm at, so while I'm here, I'm going to take a lesson from her and be the sun.
So to my friend, thank you, for however unconventional you managed to teach me your lesson, thank you for shining some light on my darkness. Thank you for warming the world even while you continued to watch people move on around you. Thank you for never dimming your ways and for the constant bright spot you were in so many people's lives.
Thank you for being my sun.
Dear readers, you may be stuck where you are, but that doesn't mean you need to stand in the darkness. If you feel like everyone is moving around you and you are stuck standing still, take that opportunity to be the sun.
Shine on people, you may not be moving as fast as everyone else is, but the world can still see you.
Beloved Friend, Amazing Mother, And Changer Of Lives.
Her Sun Set October 2015.
Please keep her family in your prayers.
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