Over the past four months I’ve learned that writing about what I am going to write about here is going to be very difficult. I somehow can’t find words to really express how I am feeling or even feel content with the words I choose; they never seem to convey enough. I have been carrying this ball of grief and confusion around with me and it has gotten very heavy. I have pushed it deeper and deeper into the depths of my mind because, well- I could. It’s a complicated thing when you lose someone who you never tangibly had in the first place. How can you accept a loss when you never really had the physical gain? It’s torture, I feel cheated.
I guess I should first explain briefly the concept of what I am a part of. We call ourselves the “Gibbah Girls.” We are a group of 12 girls that met online almost 15 years ago. We found each other before the internet was even remotely what it is today. Each of us had what we called a “diary zine” – we talked about our lives, we shared our pictures, our secrets. It was before the word “blog” even existed, before livejournal, friendster, myspace, etc, etc, etc. What started as simply as a “reply to all” email, never stopped. We were a group of girls who were possibly lacking something in our “real lives” and retreated to the internet to feel connected to other girls our age. We span from California to Louisiana, over to Virginia then Missouri and all the way up the East Coast – New Jersey through Maine. We are actually all so different that a “real life” relationship realistically never would have worked face to face. We never would have been able to attend the same schools and sit at the same lunch table, and actually make it through those humongous years alive. We are 12 VERY different women. Instead of sharing fries and homecoming pictures, we were given such a stronger lesson. We spent our evenings on AOL, writing to one another. Through words, we learned how to understand each other and be patient. We learned about different cultures, family situations, sexuality, fashion, faith and really just how unique every single woman is. We loved each other for so long but most of us had never even met. The love that we developed became such an unbelievable concrete shoulder to cry on. I’m speaking for myself here, but I find such comfort in the fact that our friendship has made it this long- I know it’s not going anywhere. We are too strong to let it slip at this point. Emails come and go in spurts, but no matter what- when someone needs us- we are all there, always.
This is where it all crashes. On April 10, 2011 I received a phone call that has replayed in my mind a million times over. Heather called me and asked me to go on facebook. Rachael and her husband Aaron had died.
I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for 10 minutes now. I am still stuck with that last sentence. To try and make sense of this and to find words to explain anything that has happened or anything about Rachael seems impossible. The love in my heart for her is still so bright. The thought that I will never have the chance to talk to her again seems so unfair. When I tell you that she is one of the best people I’ve ever known, you must know that it is one the truest things I’ve ever said. She was so full of kindness, compassion, absolute sweetness. She had knowledge of what true love was. She had found peace within her faith, I’ve always admired that in her above all else. She was able to really put herself in someone else’s shoes, she always seemed to be ready and willing to help. She loved to wear hats, to treat herself to pedicures. She loved animals, Mr. Darcy, Hanson, Harry Potter, Disney and her morning cup of coffee. She was also able to identify when something didn’t feel right. She knew when she felt weak, nervous and scared. She thrived though, everyday. To be the best wife, friend, daughter and sister that she could be. She was so loved and she loved so much.
I saw Harry Potter last weekend. My schedule was so busy and I had wanted to re-read the book before I saw it. I read the book through the night and when I finally fell asleep I had dreams of Rachael. She was in my dream, and she seemed happy. I ran up to her and I hugged her and she started crying and became so heavy that we both fell to the ground. There was an open staircase behind us and although I was trying to console her in the back of my head I was afraid that we were going to fall down the stairs. Kim (a gib) came up behind us and stood there and made sure that we didn’t fall. I felt safe. That was the dream. I saw the movie the next day and the story is heavy with ideas of death. Harry is often faced with his own demise and although he is scared he is given advice by people he trusts about what would happen next. Near the end of the story, Harry finds himself in what I can only explain as a purgatory dreamland of sorts. He has a choice to “stay” or “go.” There is a train waiting and Harry asks “Where would it take me?” Dumbledore responds simply- “On,” Now, I know this is only Harry Potter and I know that at almost 27 years old, I should have felt peace about death before I read this. Yet, for some reason it really just helped me at that moment. The simple word with the simple punctuation can give a heart and imagination so much hope. Doesn’t the idea of simply going “on,” bring peace to you? Now, Before Harry goes back he asks Dumbledore “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” he answers – “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it’s not real?” That part makes me giggle a bit, but then really makes me feel better about all the crazy things that go on in my head everyday. It brought me mostly an important lesson in learning how to grieve the loss of my friend.
Our entire friendship was technically inside our heads, right? All those years of communication were merely memories processed through thought. And now, where are we left? Where has Rach really gone? I’m going to just settle with the most comforting thought I can- “On.” I take from it that although she has moved on, she is still here. Really, she is. I have felt her in the strangest places. Maybe she has really just become someone who is able to be everywhere. Her impact, her actions and her words will really never leave. I think the true test here is for everyone she left behind to be able to embrace the idea of keeping her with us the best we can. I wholeheartedly believe that.
In December there was a benefit for Sylvi’s father. He has terminal cancer and friends and family wanted to get together to raise money for his hospital bills. All the Gibs were invited, but due to mileage- were not able to attend. I started a collection from the girls so we could still send our support. Not only did Rachael send a donation that surpassed the requested amount 30 times over, but she also inclosed a personal letter to Sylvi. Months went by, the benefit came and went, and then April came. During all of our pain and not being able to physically be there for each other- there was this letter. Six of us had a trip planned for a while to go up to Maine, these get-togethers happen only 2x a year. It seemed so perfect for us all to gather and remember Rachael. I knew the letter existed, so did Sylvi. I asked her if I could read it. She had it in her wallet.. we then passed it around and read it one by one. The advice she gave Sylvi is really exactly what WE all needed to hear, but to deal with losing HER. I am so thankful that she was able to give her words on death and to provide assurance that it is after all, okay.
With permission from Sylvi, I am going to share the letter. I’m hoping that anyone reading this who knew Rachael can take her words and apply them to what we all know she’d really want us to feel at all of these hopeless moments. She is such a beautiful soul, her life and existence is really such a wonderful thing to celebrate.
I wish so much that I could be at your dad’s benefit, and just in-person in general during this time. But since I can’t I wanted to send a note to encourage you a bit. (Also sending a donation, along with the rest of the girls, to go towards your dad’s medical bills – or whatever you guys need it for most.)
Hm, let’s see, what do I want to say most? I love you and I’m here for you – even if I can’t be in person. In times like this, I want to help so so badly that I end up feeling powerless! I know you know my spiritual beliefs – so I know you’ll forgive me “uncouthness” in trying to share it with you. You see, it’s what it always comes down to for me in times like this. It’s the one thing that in my life has given me real hope and peace. It’s the best I can offer, haha, so I just can’t withhold it if there is a chance it will comfort and help you, as it has for me.
I just want so badly for you to have the peace that I’ve found! I know it’s so hard to imagine that there is someone out there who is looking out for you – and who has everything under control, especially when everything seems so chaotic and dark. But I know God loves you and your dad, Sylvi. I believe with all my heart He is waiting with open arms, ready to comfort and help you like no one else can. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5) That’s the best way I can think to explain it in situations like this. Jesus is my light, and no matter what happens, nothing can ever extinguish my light. So there is always, always hope. Because I know that no matter what pain I feel, it can’t compare to there ultimate joy that is ahead. He can be your light, too! Basically, all you have to do to receive that is to believe. Believe that Jesus is God’s son – and that He died so we could have life – forever. So that even in our physical death from this world, we have eternal life in heaven. I’m going to list a few of my favorite Bible verses, so you can look them up online if you are ever interested in hearing more.
So there is it: my best attempt at helping and making everything more bearable for you, which is really what I long to do. But you know that no matter what you believe, it doesn’t in any way weaken our friendship, or change my love for you! I’m here for you, no matter what!
If there is anything you can think of that I could do to help – or if you just wanna talk – I’m here!
Talk to you soon. I continue to pray for you and your family…. Hang in there, Sylvi.
Some of my fav. verses:
I can say now that I feel better. I finally wrote this. I feel better that I am able to share her letter. I love Rachael and I am thankful for every memory we have ever shared. She is a part of who I am, who all the Gibs are. We carry each other everywhere we go, we always have. It’s really such an amazing unique friendship. If you knew Rach, please feel free to leave memories or quotes in the comments.
Heather, Rach & I. This is the one time we were together. She jumped on my back after a Hanson concert in Lancaster, PA. Lancaster is nowhere near either of our homes – we had no idea each other were going to be there.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those that mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”