9 years with, from now on without: Finding the joy since your passing

A shared blog post from Casey Papp, former SandCastles participant and current volunteer. Casey is a Teen Buddy at SandCastles Camp Erin – Detroit and continues to support the SandCastles mission in so many ways. Thank you, Casey, for providing SandCastles with your endless compassion, insight, and passion for helping others!

9 years with, from now on without: Finding the joy since your passing

As of 2:28 am, October 31st 2018, I will be living more of my life without my mother than with.

For those who don’t know my story, my mother Carole passed away from a 4 and a half year long battle with ovarian cancer on a cold, wet, windy, Halloween in 2009. A lot has happened in 9 years since my mother has passed away and this letter serves as a symbol of how far my dad and I have come in our grief journey, so here it goes:

“Dear Mom…

It has been 9 years since that day God called you home. And let’s be real a lot has happened and I am still learning from the day my life was changed forever. Let’s take it all the way back to day 1 of this grief journey. Mom the days leading up to your death and your funeral will forever be days scored into my head. I can replay each and every moment of those days down to the very minute. The amount of people that attended your funeral still amazes me, for crying out loud we filled the whole funeral home and I didn’t leave my spot talking to people for the entire two days. But what amazes me most is how much of an impact you left on this world. It’s been 9 years and I still have people come up to tell me just how wonderful you were and how much they loved you. The best and my absolute favorite compliment is when people say that I look and act like you because truthfully if I become half the person you were in your short 45 years, I will be one hell of a person.

When you first passed away I thought I would never see the light in the day again. But thanks to a whole lot of faith in Jesus, some words of advice from dad, and our favorite Sugarland song lyric, I found my light again. It is true when Sugarland says that, “some believe in destiny and some believe in faith, I believe that happiness is something we create.” And dad’s advice of saying that I could let your death defeat me or define me, which is advice that I still live out every single day that I miss you. In reality, we did find happiness again. We went to three full years of grief counseling to help us adjust to finding our new normal. I hate to say this, but we have adjusted to our new normal so well that I couldn’t even tell you what it is like to have a second parent. It wasn’t always easy, traveling to different family members houses each night, fighting over things that a girl just needs her mom for, driving me to every club & sport I decided to play, and just figuring out how to live our lives without you. We did it though, we found our happiness again, and we became stronger because of it. Each year I live out dad’s advice by going back to the grief counseling we went to and help as a counselor to other children just like me. In fact I feel so normal at camp that sometimes I even forget I am a motherless daughter.

In the 9 years since you have been gone. I have attended 4 new schools. Middle school was the worst. High School gave me more memories than I can think of and college, oh college, has been amazing with what I have encountered so far. It was definitely rough going through    middle school without your guidance, but I would say dad did an amazing job. High school was seriously the time of my life. I followed in your footsteps and picked up a camera that I haven’t put down since freshman year. I am so blessed with my business.

Mom, a lot of friends have come and gone since you have passed, many though I wish that you could meet. Hollee is at Michigan State studying to be a vet, while Macee is at Purdue studying engineering. The three of us still bicker like sisters and they are still there for me just like the morning you died. I honestly don’t know where I would be in my life without them. Erika has less than a semester left and Tyler is graduated from college and working. Doesn’t it seem just like yesterday you were babysitting them when I was 3. One of the friends I wish you could meet the most would probably be Gabe. He has been one of my closest friends throughout high school and honestly you would love him probably just as much as dad does. Oh and Brandon, no worries we are still friends. I wish you could meet everyone that I have met since coming to GV. I have such a good circle of friends now and wish you could meet each and every one of them. There are honestly so many people that have come into my life in which I wish you could meet. Then of course there are my friends that I have made because of your death and although if you hadn’t died I wouldn’t know them, I still want you to meet them. Honestly mom I don’t know what I would do without Jaclyn and Kaden. I know I wouldn’t know who to call at 2 am when I just need to talk about things some of my other friends just don’t understand. (and trust me this has happened quite often lately)

This last year has surely been one of the hardest without you. It has definitely been a big year of transitions that I wish you could be apart of. First, going through all of senior year knowing you would not be in the stands the day I walked across that stage to get my diploma was a hard pill to swallow. But what really got me was at graduation when Macee looked at me and said, “She should be here” after we threw our caps. I may have carried a picture of you in my cap, but I just wish you could’ve been in the stands. Moving to college and watching all of my friends being able to call their mom for advice, deliver them groceries, or say they miss their mom’s cooking has been a little bit of a struggle. Moving to a place where no one knows that you’re gone has also been very weird. I find myself telling your story more often since I have moved to Grand Valley.

I have a lot to thank you for. You may have only been physically in my life for 9 years, but I still learned a lot from you. I am incredibly thankful that you recorded your voice reading “Don’t Forget Your Manners” by the Berenstain Bears for your future grandchildren and as a reminder for me. I am thankful that you wrote letters to my future self that I am still receiving for big moments of my life. I am blessed that people claim I am a mini version of you in a lot of ways. I am thankful for you (and dad) for raising me to be the strong independent woman that I am. I am thankful to be attending Grand Valley State University working towards becoming a nurse to give back to all the nurses who cared for you and to help the living win the battle that you undeniably fought and unfortunately lost. Most of all I am thankful that God blessed me by being your daughter. Mom, I am so proud to be your daughter, so proud to share your story, and so proud to know how much you fought to be here with dad and I.

You see mom, when you first passed away my word to describe my grief was “hope.” Hope for my future. Hope for what was to come. Hope that I would be able to survive not knowing what having a mother is like. But in these 9 years I now know that I can live life without you, even if I don’t want to. I know what my future looks like even if I still have an eternity to go. My new word going forward is “joy.” Joy that I got to spend even a sliver of my life with you. Joy that I am the happiest I ever been in my life. Joy that I get to help others just like me on their grief journey. From here on out, I do not have hope for my future, because I am living in the future. From here on out and always I plan to celebrate you and the life you got to live. There is honestly so much more that I could write in this letter, but I have full confidence that you have been right here on my shoulder watching over me all these years. Mom, your biggest fear was being forgotten, yet here 9 years later I am still telling your story. I love you forever Mom, for I will forever be your biggest fan.

~Love, CaseyBell”

For those that read to the end, thank you. Thank you for going on this journey with me. Thank you to those who have been there every step of the way. I hope it allowed you to get a deeper look into my grief. Telling my mother’s story is the number one way I keep her memory alive. For those suffering in their grief I hope it gives you hope for your light at the end of the tunnel and most importantly leads you to your joy.

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