As I sat home on a March evening in 2013 watching a movie and sorting through paperwork, my best friend from high school’s life was changed forever. Her daughter died in a car crash on a cold Iowa highway. Addie had only recently turned 18. For those short months she had lived as an "adult", her Facebook posts and text messages reflected that life at college in Iowa was going well: she had a new boyfriend, a career direction she was passionate about, and felt a growing sense of independence.
I had known Addie since she was born, and although she lived in another state, we had stayed in fairly close contact. As it sometimes goes with teenagers, there were years we'd talk more than others. Yet when she needed me, I tried to be there for her and she certainly helped me keep tabs on my youngest son. On many occasions she knew more about what was going on with him from several states away, than I did living with him in the same house. And when she came back to town to visit her dad's family, she always made time to visit us.
It has been one year and just over nine months now since Addie passed away. Addie's birthday is January first, so when the calendar changes to a new year; I am reminded that it begins without her in it. I think of her every day, sometimes more than once a day. I talk to her, too. All the time. She pops into my head when I need strength, patience, advice, confidence, or calm. She’s my go to help… and she always comes through, especially when I need that patience or wisdom to deal with my kids.
This "help" started soon after she died.
I was able to attend Addie’s memorial service at Cornell College soon after the accident and I helped her mom face the impossible task of cleaning out Addie's dorm room. What a strange awkward thing to do. Going through the remnants of someone’s life interrupted – it felt like such an intrusion, and yet it had to be done. Addie's mom, Jan, had flown into Iowa for a day and a half and had this one chance to get Addie's stuff all cleaned out. My heart nearly broke for her. We shared a lot of tears as we pawed through Addie's private things, boxing up what Jan wanted to keep (or what she was too exhausted to go through) and giving the rest to the local Goodwill or the friends who stood awkwardly by.
Jan asked me if I wanted something of Addie's and my first thought was "no", I couldn't take anything. It felt wrong, selfish, maybe even a bit creepy. But as I sorted through things and came across a soft, blue blanket; I reconsidered. I knew if I took her blanket I would think of her when I wrapped it around me, it would keep her memory close. And as I pictured the rest of her belongings being used by strangers (who I knew wouldn't think of her when they wore her shoes or her shirt) I decided maybe I would bring home a few more things. I had no idea then that she would become more a part of my life in death, than she ever had been in life.
That day I also felt compelled to ask for a necklace from Addie's eclectic collection. I let Jan choose which one she thought I should take. I have no doubt it was Addie who guided her to the perfect necklace for me. A simple silver chain with a charm that says “Follow Your Heart.” The words could not have been more perfect for me as only a month earlier I had done exactly that when I quit my “safe” job and left the business world I knew to take a leap of faith and “follow my heart”. I have taken the necklace off maybe twice since that day.
Except for the four or five times it randomly fell off in the weeks after my trip to Iowa.
The first time it happened I was certain the necklace had broken---I was drinking my coffee before school—I was substitute teaching at the time, and it fell off my neck and into my lap. In dismay I picked it up only to see that nothing seemed amiss. My husband confirmed as he put it back around my neck that it had just come undone. It seemed odd but I assumed it hadn’t been latched properly.
Until it happened again another morning. Same place. Roughly the same time. I paid attention to what I was doing at the moment it happened again, somehow realizing that it was no coincidence. I knew Addie was trying to send me a message. She wanted me to notice something. To stop and pay attention.
Deep inside I questioned whether this was really a message from her, or maybe I was simply wishing for it to be.
But as the days went on and the necklace continued to fall off at strange times (always in places where I wasn't in danger of losing it) it became clear that someone or something was guiding me. I choose to believe it was Addie. I started meeting people who introduced me to new things and new ways of thinking, I reconnected with people I had lost touch with, and I started noticing unusual words that kept popping up in conversation or my news feed. (That is how I became a GROOVE dance facilitator, how I learned about Reiki and energy, and how I came to understand that I was a highly sensitive person.) All life re-directing events for me.
I followed the nudges. I worked to open my mind and heart. This led me to many places I would not have ever gone. I reconnected with my intuition, something I had long ago buried, and it changed my life in big beautiful ways. I started living more in the "now" and in short order the world became a beautiful awe-filled place again. I felt connected to the earth and to the universe. I became the person I had been born to be. And soon, instead of only shedding tears of sadness, I began to shed tears of joy and wonder. I now look at the world through "new" eyes.
I am not the same person I was a year and nine months ago. So much has happened. Growth. Acceptance. Love. Understanding. Joy. Wonder. Faith. So much has changed. For the better.
It is easy to get lost in the sadness of Addie's death, to cling to the bitterness about the senselessness of it all --- but I also see how many lives she has changed, how many horizons she has expanded. That is magic.
Part of me learning to let go of the control I clung to and the worry I lived with for most of my adult life, came from the realization that there was more to life than I had ever acknowledged. I am now able to live with hope and trust, joy and wonder, appreciation and grace instead of negativity and worry about the future. Without question Addie's death has created positive change in my life, and for that I am truly thankful.
I think of Addie at least once a day. I bet I always will. Calling her beautiful face to mind is as easy as breathing to me. Many times throughout a day I find myself holding the charm from her necklace between my fingers.
I wear her shirt to GROOVE in. I wear her Ugg boots around town. I carry her blue purse. She is always around me. She is always in my thoughts. She is forever with me. Thinking of her never fails to remind me to be thankful in that exact moment. For her. For my family. For my friends. For this life. And for the lessons I am lucky enough to be learning.
What matters is the love that is right in front of you. I hope to never take it for granted again. To never stop appreciating it. To never live for some time so far in the future that I miss today.
Follow your heart. Believe in fairies. Trust in love. Know that magic exists. Make your dreams come true while you still can. I hear you Addie, I'm trying.
RIP sweet girl -- I hope your spirit soars freely and with great abandon in Neverland.