Sunday, September 9, 2012

Forever Changed

 *I came across this story I had written for Real Simple Magazine's "Life Lessons" contest back in 2009 just the other day. It somehow made it to the top of a pile in one of my desk drawers even though I haven't seen it in years. For some reason, I feel compelled to share it. It's partially because it might encourage someone else but mainly because I realized that I do whatever I want with it since it didn't win the contest! At any rate, I hope you enjoy it. I wrote this when I was just 20 years old and it's about something I never thought would happen to me during college. May you be encouraged if you are also missing someone you lost at any age or season in your life!*
“Hey, Sarah!” I whispered, gently poking my friend. 
We were sitting side-by-side in the back of our Personal Finance class struggling to pay attention as our teacher droned on. This was not the best class to have first thing in the morning during the second half of our senior year. Now, for some reason, hardly anyone in the last two rows of the classroom was able to focus that morning.  I think it was because my teacher was talking about debt and how he managed to pay his way through college by working during the day and taking classes at night and blah, blah, blah. . . No one, except for the people in the front, was interested in another one of his long, elaborate stories. I was only half-listening myself because I was busy with something else - like trying to keep my friend awake.
I turned my head toward our teacher and but almost immediately glanced back at my friend. I moved my desk a little to make it squeak and that did the trick - she woke up! Her head snapped up and she exclaimed loudly, “Oh, woops!”
At that same moment our teacher paused and heard Sarah’s distinct voice. He looked around the room and when he realized that hardly anyone was listening to him, he made eye contact with Sarah and with a quick motion of his hand said, “Ahh...go back to sleep!”
Sarah and everyone else in the class burst out laughing and even our teacher was chuckling. Sarah shrugged her shoulders and responded, “Okay,” then lowered her head back down for a few seconds, but it was no use. She was laughing too hard to go back to sleep. I looked at her, shaking my head, and thought, Oh, Sarah…

Fast forward to nearly two years later. Spring 2009.

“So…how did it happen?” I asked quietly.
I was sitting on a cement bench outside the one of the science buildings on my beautiful college campus in Florida talking to one of my best friends from high school on the phone.
“She hit a tree.”
I gasped. “Oh, no…” Not sweet little Sarah.
“I know. Well, she was going to leave on Sunday, but postponed her trip by a day because she was too tired so she decided to leave yesterday.  She left in the late morning [she was on her way down to visit family in Georgia for spring break] and made it to Tennessee in the early evening, but they think she fell asleep at the wheel. She lost control, crashed into a tree and just…didn’t survive,” she summarized.
“Oh, my gosh…” I suddenly felt dizzy. “Was anyone else in the car with her?”
“No, she was by herself in the car.” She paused. “I don’t know how I’m not crying while I’m telling you this. I think I’ve just talked to so many people about it today.”
“I don’t know how we both aren’t crying right now… Wow, this is too much to take in.”
“I know. We had so many plans. She was actually going to come visit me [her best friend since birth] on her way back from Georgia so we could celebrate her birthday together.” She sounded dejected.
I took a deep, sharp breath. “Oh, man… I thought you two would always have each other and would be doing everything together." I took a breath. 
"Well, not to make light of the whole thing, but she did have this problem in high school, you know? She’d always stay up late working on projects and be falling asleep in class the next day.”
We both chuckled softly, wishing this whole thing could just be a dream.

One Tuesday afternoon, everything changed for me. I woke up early feeling excited about the coming day and what it might hold to feeling as if the life literally had been sucked right out of me, just hours later. I am only twenty years old, but I have experienced a deep sorrow that usually comes much later in life.
The week of my friend’s funeral and memorial services was the hardest week of my life. I had secured a plane ticket home to Ohio for that Friday morning, but I still had Crew team practices and classes to get through before I could even begin to wrap my head around the incident. I got less and less sleep with each passing night which made my daily activities immensely harder to complete. My heart was just not in it.  During that time, however, my friends here in Florida were simply incredible to me—they showed me what true friendship is like. They lent me an ear to listen when I needed to talk, gave me a shoulder to cry on and hugged me when I felt like I couldn’t go on. I will always be forever grateful to them.
When I went away to college and experienced life on my own, I felt like a grown-up, but that all pales in comparison to what I have experienced this year. After that one weekend in March, I felt as if I had aged five years in three days. I am the youngest of two in my family and have always been the one who has been cared for. I haven’t had to take of anyone but myself. That all changed when I went to the services for my dear friend. I had assumed a new role. I had to set aside my own feelings for the time being and offer comfort and support to my friends and Sarah’s family— who were hurting just as much as I was, if not more. I don’t know how many times my eyes welled up with tears when I saw certain people or when I hugged close friends. The whole weekend was very surreal for me, but I could not forget what had happened and the new perspective I had gained on life. There was no way to erase the events of those last days of March. I had said goodbye forever to the best and sweetest friend in the whole world and had officially grown up.
Adjusting to life after her accident has proven to be difficult for me. Some days are better than others, but overall I think I am on the road to healing. Even though I will probably never understand why she had to go this young, I am thankful for the time I did have with her. I had wanted her to be around forever so we could make many more wonderful memories together, but I was fortunate enough to have her around for six and a half years. I can say without a doubt that even if I had only spent one day with her, my life would be forever changed simply because I met her. I have learned so much since her passing almost six months ago.
Although she never lived to see her twentieth birthday, which was just a mere three days after her accident, Sarah led a rich and fulfilling life. Passionate about and talented in the fine arts, she poured her heart and soul into her paintings, drawings, performances and songs. She was also so bubbly—full of joy and wonder. There was never a dull moment when she was around - she could always light up a room by just being herself. If I have learned anything from her life, it is this: to find joy in the simple things. Sarah lived for the little pleasures that life had to offer—like playing pranks, trying new (and sometimes weird) recipes, traveling to new cities and forgetting about homework to spend time with friends and family. As long as I keep waking up every morning, I am choosing to live my life to the fullest in memory of Sarah Katharine Tipps.

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