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Grief

Merriam-Webster’s definition of grief

  1. a: Deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement
    b: A cause of such suffering

As someone who has experienced a lot of death in her short 24 years of life, I often come across a specific conversation with people my age. A young adult finds out about the loss of my brother or about my blog and they immediately start apologizing. They say things like, “I have no idea what that must of been like” or “I can’t even imagine.”
It is not common for most 24 year olds to have never experienced a death, but they have all experienced grief.
So no, they can’t imagine losing their brother to cancer.
Just like I can’t imagine losing my brother to a car accident, it didn’t happen that way so I cannot relate to that type of trauma.

But we ALL can relate to grief.
“A cause of such suffering.”

Friend, I can bet you’ve suffered.
I can almost guarantee some of you who are reading this right now are suffering.
If you are suffering, you are also grieving.

Do not limit YOUR grief because mine involves death.
Grief is not defined by death.
Yes, I have grieved the dead, I still do.
But I also grieve lost opportunities, my anxiety, lost relationships, bad days, and even moving across the country.

Grief is a cause of such suffering.
If it has caused you to suffer, you are grieving it.


“Grief is not something you complete, but rather, you endure.”
Did you know that endure means suffer patiently?
Grief is when you suffer, PATIENTLY. Meaning, you don’t grieve for one day and then the time has passed and you are healed.
You grieve patiently, you grieve over time.
And often times, you are grieving MANY things patiently. Not just one loss, but multiple.

At one point in my life I was grieving the death of my brother & my cousin, the death of many who attended Route 91, my own experience at Route 91, the ending of relationships, and moving across the country. I was grieving many things, patiently.

I believe we are always in a state of grief.
We are always grieving something or someone.
And it looks different for every one; some may be depressed, while others suffer silently in their hearts.

We do not just grieve when someone dies.
In life, our grief is constant.
We are all suffering, patiently.

And that is okay, that is normal, that is allowed.
You are allowed to grieve whatever you are going through in your life.
You are also allowed to grieve in whatever way YOU see fit.
Grief is often associated with crying and long bouts of sadness.
But do you know that I grieve Cooper with a smile when I hear the song “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw? Do you know that I grieve my anxiety joyfully when it is not present, haunting me?

You do not have to grieve in sadness all the time.
You can grieve in joy.
You can grieve in smiles.
You can grieve in tears.
You can grieve in screams.
You can grieve in laughter.

I cannot imagine living the rest of my life associating grief with sadness. I’ve lost too many things, hurt too many times, to let myself sit in sadness 24/7 over the people and things I’ve lost.

I must choose to grieve in sadness when needed and ALSO grieve in joy.
I must acknowledge what I’ve lost and also acknowledge what I’ve gained.
I lost two humans I love beyond words, but I gained two angels who protect me every day.
I lost opportunities I thought would lead to success, but I gained a life of purpose I wouldn’t have if those opportunites had gone the way I wanted them too.

It’s all perspective.
It’s all about what lens we choose to view the world through.
It’s all about what lens we choose to view our grief through.

Don’t be afraid to suffer, patiently.
A vulnerable heart is a healing heart.

Celebrating Life

Where most have funerals, we have celebrations.
After awhile, attending funerals with tiny caskets gets depressing.
When you’re surrounded by childhood cancer you begin to lose count of how many funerals you’ve been to for a CHILD.
I personally have been to more funerals for someone under the age of 18 than I have adults. It’s sickening.

I remember the first celebration I felt completely connected to, my close friend Leah won her fight with cancer and was sent up to heaven.
Her mom put on the most beautiful celebration of life, filled with all the things our Leah loved.
I remember sitting at the church thinking, I’m so happy Cooper has 95% chance of living and I will NEVER have to sit in the front row of a church as the “family” of the person who passed away.
Oh how naive I was.
Years later, I would find myself in the same church in the front row.
How ironic it is that most of the time, our worst fears become reality.

Shortly after Cooper passed my parents decided we would wait a couple weeks to celebrate him. Cooper was very popular, EVERY ONE loved him. We knew it would not be a small affair and wanted to make sure we were ready for the overwhelming amount of people that would attend the ceremony.
Eventually the day came, the guests arrived, and as I stared at myself in my bathroom mirror it dawned on me… here I was curling my hair, putting on water-proof mascara, to celebrate the fact my brother died.
Let that sink in, to CELEBRATE the fact my brother had DIED.
Nothing about this process is normal.

We got in the car eyes full of tears, us five, all wearing Coopers jerseys.
Cooper loved sports and collected sports jersey’s so we encouraged all out guests to wear sports gear as we were wearing his jersey’s.
We pulled out of the drive way and I remember saying aloud, “Were going to celebrate.”

Although none of my direct family was able to speak at the ceremony, I was honored to have been asked by my parents to write a letter on behalf of us five.
It is still the most beautiful piece I’ve ever written, it is also the first time I ever sat down to write.
Cooper is the reason I write, he is the person who showed me a talent I never knew I had, he is the reason I write.

Although I do not remember much of the day we celebrated Cooper’s life, I do remember the moment Nate, a childhood pastor of ours, got up and read my letter. It was slightly surreal as he read my words and tears ran down every face in the audience. The moment that service ended, was the moment our new lives began, without Cooper.

Below is a portion of my first piece of writing, dedicated to Cooper and his celebration of life:

“18 years with my Cooper was not enough.
But like David who trusted that God would provide what he needed to beat Goliath, I will trust God, because he promises me I will see my Cooper again.
Paul says, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever”
1 Thessalonians 4:17
God used David, an average kid, to rescue his people.
God used my Cooper, to rescue his people too, by showing them that they are redeemed.
God used Cooper to bring together Gods people under one name, Jesus.
I am forever proud of Cooper for the Jesus love he showed every single day of his life.
I am proud to be his sister, to have been able to know him since the day he entered this world has been nothing short of spectacular.
Bubba, I miss you more than any words can explain, more than any tears can express. I miss you yelling at me for singing in the car, I miss you begging me to buy you McDonalds or asking me to pick you up snacks from Target. I miss driving you to your friend’s house; I miss watching you play basketball.
I miss you. That will never change.
Neither will my love for you; my love for you is continuous, Bubba.
Cooper has changed the world and continues too.
My prayer is that you take Coopers legacy and go make a difference in the world, be kind, have grace, and be brave. Be brave to stick up for your beliefs while helping those around you. Cooper left a mighty legacy and it is my mission to continue to live it on, because Cooper would of wanted it that way.
So tomorrow be a David, be a Cooper, in your schools, work places, and homes.
And change the world. “Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” Luke 22:43

I love you Bubba, Forever Together”

If one thing has come from Cooper’s death it is that my purpose is to live a full life. I am meant to do astounding things, I meant for more, and I have to live my life as such.
If you learn one thing from my writing, I hope it is that life is short.
You are not promised tomorrow. Please don’t waste your days doing things you hate, live a life that you LOVE, with people that you love.
Go out and change the world.
Because let me tell you, even if you only help one person, you’ve changed the world.

I often wonder if Cooper knew what kind of an impact he was making on this world.
I like to believe that in his final days he was sharing with friends and family how to continue his legacy.
I don’t think he directly told me I would be the one to share bits and pieces of his story, I think he is continually nudging me to go out and do the impossible. To share the hard things.
To be vulnerable when it’s uncomfortable for every one else.
To be the one that changes the world by sharing not only his story, but sharing MY story.

Friends, THIS is just the beginning…

Ashes Ashes we all fall down

I picked out a necklace that holds my brothers ashes.
It’s him, inside the necklace, his body.
That’s suppose to make me feel better about the whole “leaving his body at City of Hope” thing right?
Uh. The answer to that is no.

I remember the day the man delivered my brothers body to my house.
He knocked at the door and my mom had to sign for him, just like a package, she signed for my brother ashes.
The strangest moment of my life was being handed a necklace filled with Coopers body (that’s also the strangest sentence I’ve ever written).

What once was a young man filled with joy, passion, and a life full of possibility, was now wrapped around my neck like sand in a jar.
To be honest, I did not like wearing that necklace.
It seemed morbid and wrong to think I was deserving of holding his life around my neck.

As if I wasn’t already broken, receiving Coopers body, his physical being, shattered me.
I questioned every ounce of who I was because I felt a certain obligation to live a life Cooper would be proud of, almost as if I was no longer just living MY life, I was now living life for the BOTH OF US.

And just like the song goes; ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
I fell down.
I was broken.
How do I live a life for me AND for Cooper?
How do I live in such a way that honors my life and the life he lost?

Friends, the answer is in the question.
It’s so simple I couldn’t figure it out.
I LIVE.
I CHOOSE TO DO THE THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY.
I CHOOSE TO GO TO THE PLACES THAT BRING ME JOY.
Its THAT simple.
I LIVE.

So, I moved to Florida. (and thats a whole other story)
But the point is, I did what I wanted to do to live the life I always dreamed of living.
And guess who came along for the journey?
Cooper.
His ashes.
Him & Me conquering the world.

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” – Cicero

the day after death

We drove to the only motel that would take us.
Every place was sold out for the night.
We got into the bedroom, 2 small full size beds and a tiny bathroom.
All we had left of Cooper were his blankets, each of us holding one tight.
My parents in one bed, myself and two sisters scrunched into the other, we sat silent. I’m not sure what was running through their heads, but mine was running a mile a second.
He was gone.
We were not going back to the hospital tomorrow to get him.
He was gone.

It’s interesting, when someone dies you think about how horrible it must be for the family. But you don’t think about the details, the details of having to wake up the next day and do all the things you normally do, without that person.
I still remember the rock sitting on my chest when I woke up the next day to realize I wasn’t dreaming, this was actually my reality.
Cooper was dead.

Shortly after waking up my Mom approved to let the “Team Coop” world know of his passing.
I immediately shut my phone off because I knew what was coming.
The phone calls, the text messages, the Instagram posts, the Facebook posts, the Tweets, the news reports, the donations, the flowers, the cards, the gifts, the awkward conversations. I knew of this because right before someone passes away, a social worker comes to talk to you about all the next steps. She even told my sisters and I that we would lose friends over Cooper’s passing, simply because they wouldn’t know how to treat us.

As a family we had decided that our chapter at City of Hope Hospital was not quite finished, so we took one more trip to the hospital grounds.
We walked around, we saw Coopers doctor one more time, went to a peaceful garden, and even left some special notes for Cooper.
I felt at home there, mostly because I knew Coopers physical body hadn’t left the hospital yet. I still couldn’t get over leaving his body there, so going back for a couple hours made me feel very close to him.

We sat in a serenity garden all quiet. It was a garden we had walked in many times before, feeding the koi fish.
We went to the prayer garden and prayed for the next adventure we would be going on together. Which was going home, facing an empty house, and even worse, Coopers empty room.

We left City of Hope and headed towards Las Vegas. When we arrived home, Coopers best friend’s family had filled our fridge and kitchen with food, blessing our family in more ways than one.
None of us knew what to do, do we go into Coopers room? We brought his clothes home, do we wash them and put them away? What about all of Coopers medicine at home? The questions were endless.
No one knew what to do next.

The days following his death were mostly a blur. We went to a candlelight vigil held by Coopers high school, thats where I would have my first panic attack after his death.
All of us were trying to figure out what to do, but there honestly was nothing we COULD do.
We couldn’t bring Cooper back.
We couldn’t solve our sadness.
Everything was broken and nothing could be fixed.

As humans we are wired to be fixers, we want to fix the broken hearted, the sick, the homeless. But what we must realize is that some things must remain broken for a certain period of time, in order to find true healing.
Our hearts needed to be broken, we need to experience the extreme heart break, it was the only way we would gain clarity on the grief ahead of us.

Friends, my advice to you as the outsiders of the grieving, is to let us grieve.
Don’t have expectations.
Don’t over-do your sympathy.
And don’t avoid talking about the love one we lost, for me personally, I enjoy sharing about my one and only brother.

People often ask me how many siblings I have, I’ve always said “three”. And I still do, I have two sisters and a brother and regardless of where they are physically, they are still my three people.

Don’t avoid conversations with the hurting.
We are all hurting, whether publicly or privately.
And to those hurting, take the chance to be vulnerable, to let someone know that you are going through the trenches, because even when you feel alone, there is always someone fighting the fight right along side you.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, YOU get stronger and more resilient.”

Five

Cooper would pass away Tuesday March 29th, at 7:10 PM.
It was raining in California that day, I remember around 5:00 PM staring out the window sipping a crappy cup of hospital coffee wondering what it would be like when Cooper died. At this point in our journey Cooper was heavily medicated to keep his pain under control, he had been asleep for a day or two. I believe that he could still hear us talking to him, but he couldn’t respond, we truly lost him days before he actually passed.

At some point around 6:00 PM my mom crawled into bed with her baby boy, laying with him for what would be one last time. I sat on the other side of my baby brother holding his hand softly. We watched TV and blissfully sat in his presence, holding him, just us three.

Soon enough my Dad came back into the hospital room.
I remember the look on his face so vividly it pierces my soul every time I think about it.
He calmly said to my mom, “Mary…”
I immediately turned my head towards Coopers chest and watched as he took one of his last breaths.

My physical body was in complete disbelief.
I had emotions and pains in my body that I’ve never experienced before.
I hurled my body on top of Cooper screaming for him to come back.

And then the strangest thing happened, they started packing.
My family, my Aunt and Uncle who were graciously around the corner to help us, packed. They weren’t just packing my stuff or my families stuff, they were packing COOPERS stuff.
My mind could not comprehend what was happening.
“You mean we’re actually LEAVING him here?”
ALONE?”

As they packed up, I, still hunched over Coopers lifeless body, looked around.
I saw a white board filled with Coopers vitals and medications.
I saw Coopers XBOX and his gamer gear.
I saw suitcases and comfy sweatshirts lining the make shift air mattress my sisters and I slept on for a week, as we watched our brother die.
I saw my Dad, who had done every single thing he could to keep Cooper alive, to keep our family afloat, to save us.
I saw my Mom, who had sacrificed years of her life to live in a hospital room, who had just seen the worst of the worst, yet still had the courage to get up and believe there was something better out there for her one and only son.
I saw my sister Julia, who holds everything together with the grace of a ballerina, she promised Cooper she would be strong and she was doing just that.
I saw my sister Jenna, who suddenly became the rock everyone was leaning on, as a young teenager she took on the weight of the world for her brother and she would do it again in a heart beat.
And I saw Cooper, I’ve seen him in a million hospital beds, but not one quite like this. When I looked at him, he didn’t look like the Cooper I grew up with. Friends, he looked like Jesus. He looked like peace. He looked like heaven.

And then there was me.
There I was, holding Coopers lifeless body, never wanting to let it go.
I would of stayed there forever.
I sat there questioning every single ounce of the religion I believed in with all of me.
I sat there KNOWING my life would never be put back together again.
I sat there broken.

You see, I saw the strengths in every single one of my family members that day, except myself.
Because I never thought I would be strong enough to leave that room, walk to the elevator, get into the car, and drive away from Cooper FOREVER.

But I was.
I walked all the way down to the car and turned to my Dad and said,
“We’re just going to leave him here?”

We got in the car and left as a family of 5.