The Magic Room

The tragedy weighs me down but his memory lifts me up.

I sometimes think of people as light beams. Some are dim, some are blinding, some shoot across your line of vision too swiftly to even notice, and some shine so brilliantly that they can illuminate your entire world.

That was my dad.  He was my best friend, my favorite person and my source of light.

A little more than three years ago he died in a car accident on his way home from giving a speech about his most recent book. It was called “The Magic Room: a story about the love we wish for our daughters,” dedicated to my sisters and me.

It was like an emotional power outage. Three years later it’s as if there are still a few lights that never came back on, casting dark shadows on some of the most critical spaces as I move through what’s left of my world.

I wear this tragedy on my mind and on my heart. It absolutely weighs me down. It looms over me and every single day I can find a new reason why it’s sad.

When any senseless tragedy strikes, it’s easy to wonder what the heck is even sacred anymore. Personally, I didn’t know what I could depend on if my very favorite person in the world wasn’t even a guarantee.  It was an injustice that I didn’t think I could ever get over.

But then I found a glimmer of happiness:

I didn’t have to get over it. I had to find a way to resolve it.

Ok, I’m not some crazy medium with magical powers to resuscitate the deceased and bring them back to life. I’m not Beyoncé. But I do believe that there’s something I can do.

There’s a beautiful saying in the Jewish tradition. It’s a turn of phrase that continues to move me to tears every time I hear it. It puts death, and part of the meaning of life, into perspective for me.

May his memory be for a blessing. 

As morbid as it sounds, I think that’s what we all ultimately wish for our loved ones and ourselves. Because, one day, we will all become memories, and isn’t that really the best-case scenario?

In the days following my father’s death I made a promise to myself: every good thing I do, for the rest of my life, will be dedicated to him. To keep my father alive in the only way modern science has been able to substantiate: through his legacy.

Of course this tragedy has weighed me down, but I can’t deny the fact that his memory continues to lift me up.  It’s the beacon of light radiating down from the sky reminding me of all of the wonderful moments that are mine forever in the archives of my own mind.

It won’t bring my dad back to life — but it will certainly give me inspiration to do a whole lot of good things in his honor.

Break the weight,

Jordan

This too shall pass

January 8th, 2000 started like any normal Sunday for my family as we headed out to breakfast and to run other errands.  The only difference was that my brother, Josh, who usually came along, stayed at home to play video games.   This was something my dad usually wouldn’t allow.  There was one other difference, as well –  one we never could have anticipated.

We never made it home that Sunday because we were in a car accident that would forever change our lives.  A man went through a red light going 45 mph and hit our car.  Our vehicle rolled over several times and my dad was ejected from his seat. His head hit a telephone pole at the corner of the street where the accident occurred.  Luckily a fireman was outside for his morning run and was able to give my dad CPR until the paramedics arrived.

I have no memory of the accident or the few hours after, but when I came to at the hospital I was told that my dad was in bad shape.  They informed me that they were taking him by helicopter to a hospital in Detroit that would be more equipped to deal with his condition.

The next year and a half was a constant battle for my dad’s life.  He was a quadriplegic and required 24-hour care.  He would be home for a few months and then something would go wrong, sending him back to the hospital and often requiring another surgery.  My dad required an operation in July of 2001 on a bed sore, which is a routine surgery for people who are sentenced to life in a wheelchair.

The surgery was successful, but a few weeks later we started noticing signs of an infection.  He was admitted to the hospital on July 16th and on the 17th we got a call saying that his heart had stopped beating.  They were able to revive him, but he had gone a significant period of time without oxygen.  Brain scans would reveal irreversible damage, and on July 18th my dad’s battle for life came to an end.

My dad was the rock in our family.  After his death we were all scrambling to figure out our new roles while attempting to establish a new “normal.”  Unfortunately this proved to be very challenging, as my mom required a lot of care herself for injuries that she had sustained in the accident.  My brothers and I coped the only way we knew how at the time: through drugs and alcohol.

Our family went on dealing with this loss in very unhealthy ways for many years, when suddenly, we got an even more unexpected wake up call.  My brother Josh’s drug use had become a serious problem and despite a few trips to rehab, he continued to struggle.  I remember how angry I used to get at him because all I wanted was a normal family and I felt like he was preventing us from having that.

December 28th, 2006 I awoke to my mom screaming for help.  I instantly jumped out of bed and saw her shaking my brother while she was yelling for me to call 9-1-1.  While waiting for the paramedics, I was able to get my mom to sit with me in her bedroom as we braced ourselves for the worst news of our life.

Josh passed away in his sleep at 19-years-old of a drug overdose.  Losing my dad was difficult, but easier to accept because he was very sick.  Losing my brother to something completely preventable was the worst feeling in the world.  So many “what if’s” were running through my head, but what made me feel worse was that I was struggling with the same issues Josh had.  My brother was not only my a sibling – he was my best friend.  We did everything together and thinking about spending a lifetime without him was something I could not bear.

It took me six trips to rehab and years of therapy to get to where I am today.  I have struggled with depression and anxiety as I have tried to find meaning in all of the loss that I have endured.  I have been drug free since February of 2009, but removing drugs from the equation was only the beginning of my journey to a healthier me.  My battle with anxiety has probably been my biggest challenge.  I was constantly fearful that something bad was going to happen to me or someone I loved.

As a result, I cut a lot of people out of my life in an attempt to “protect” myself.  Really, it just ended up hurting me more.  I tried numerous medications for my anxiety, but what has made the biggest difference in my life has been exercise.  Natural endorphins released during exercise have made my anxiety mostly something of the past.  I know my life isn’t going to be smooth sailing from now on, but I do feel like I have more tools to deal with the emotions as they arise.

If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone struggling, it would be to never put a limit on what you think you are capable of.  Six years ago my life seemed hopeless and I was very close to dying from my addiction.  Now, I’m six weeks away from graduating with my B.S. in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University.

Not only will I be graduating, which is something I never thought myself capable of, but I will be graduating with honors.  I have decided that the best way for me to honor my dad and brother is to live my life in a way that would make them proud.  I am a huge believer that everything happens for a reason and as horrible as my life was for many years, the future is finally looking bright.

Jessica is four years sober and plans on traveling before starting a job at Quicken Loans.  She is engaged to be married and one day hopes to start her own business; one that allows her to give back as a result of her life experiences.  

For more information about Jessica’s place of recovery, visit www.dawnfarm.org

Never ever ever give up

My struggle with my weight has been a life long journey. For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched the numbers on the scale climb and fall along with my self-esteem. Today I am happy to share my story from a place of peace with my body and my mind, but make no mistake, every day I wake up and recommit to this process, and continue to work my ass off.

My weight has definitely been the result of a variety of factors. Obviously genetics is a key player, but dealing with traumatic situations at a young age has also been a huge barrier for me. When I was 9 years old and away at summer camp I was woken up early in the morning by my counselors who told me I was going home. My first response was, what’s wrong? That’s when I learned that my dad was sick and in the hospital.  Being as young as I was, I didn’t think it was anything too tragic, but I was wrong. 
 
He had suffered a massive heart attack, significant brain damage, and was on a ventilator. He passed away two months later. At such a crucial time in my life, I was destroyed. It wasn’t long before I started wearing my emotional pain in pounds.

At age 11, I joined weight watchers. It worked for a short period of time but soon I found myself back to my old habits.  My weight was fluctuating so frequently, and my mom did everything in her power to try and help me. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t gain control over the situation. In high school, we met with a doctor who prescribed diet pills. I worked with him and lost around 80 pounds, but you can’t be on pills forever. Needless to say, as soon as I stopped taking them, I gained all the weight back, plus some.

It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I realized I was fed up. I decided that I refuse to continue being unhappy with myself and my weight, and I was going to do whatever it took to change my reality. I wanted to make changes that were healthy and would be sustainable, because there are no quick fixes to being overweight; there is only hard work, dedication, and changing your eating habits. So that’s what I did.  


I reached out to Ricki, founder of Break the weight and told her I needed her help. I did the Break the weight program for 4 months and lost 25 pounds. The program held me accountable, which admittedly I didn’t always like, and taught me how to eat correctly. The most important lesson break the weight taught me was to keep moving.

However, I started noticing there was more to this journey for me that I had neglected, which was working on myself on the inside as well, I fell off the wagon for the last time.

Then, 6 months after college graduation, a totally new life venture took place; I joined Weight Watchers for the final time and told myself I was going to stick to it no matter what. I started to go to therapy and truly focus on healing my painful past.  I also kept in mind notes of what break the weight had taught me: 

  • Make sure breakfast is the biggest meal of the day
  • Make sure dinner is the smallest meal of the day
  • Drink 64 oz of water everyday
  • Walk 10,000 steps everyday

I became a pescatarian and went completely dairy free (well, besides the greek yogurt I have in the mornings). The weight just starting falling off. Now, I work out 6 days a week, and never do the same things two days in a row.  My activities vary between the following:

 

  • Yoga at Blue Yoga
  • Cycling and Rowing at Cycle and Row
  • Boot camp at Get Some Fitness
  • Orange Theory Fitness
  • Pure Ryde

 

To date, I have lost a total of 95 pounds, and could not be happier about this accomplishment. I continue to see a therapist once a week to talk about how I’m feeling and to deal with my father’s passing. I still have about 15 more pounds I’d like to lose, but I know that it’s a marathon not a sprint.

I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life.

So for anyone who might be facing a similar struggle as mine, my best advice is don’t give up.  No matter how hard it seems at times, just keep fighting. I fought every odd that was against me, through emotional pain, and through nearly a hundred pounds of excess weight. 

Don’t ever settle for a life that isn’t the one you want to live. It’s never too late to get up and start all over again.

Break the weight,

Shelby

*Shelby, 24, is currently living in Birmingham, Michigan. She thinks being 24 is “old” and loves organizing closets.  She can be reached at:W[email protected] 

The Little Voice: A Love Story

Of all the relationships I’ve had in my life, my time with alcohol was the most important and destructive of all.  I loved that stuff.  Looking back, any mind altering substance had me at day one.  Alcohol, however, grabbed me and took me on a long, turbulent ride that completely beat the crap out of me.

At first it seduced me and made me feel powerful, but slowly it took control and always had me coming back for more.  I could stop drinking for short periods in the beginning, but I could never stop once I had started.  One sip and I was off to the races.  Between the wanting and the needing, the little voice inside my head would ask, “problem drinker” or “full-blown alcoholic?”  It was the same voice that told me “be very afraid” and also justified my drinking with, “Tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’ll stop.”

It went on for 30+ years, the back and forth of denial and realization.  Sneaking, lying, doing whatever I had to do to get my fix.  I’d switch from liquor to beer to wine, always making deals with myself.  Only on weekends, only after five, etc.  I’d worry about the clinking bottles as I took out the garbage in my quaint suburban neighborhood.  I worried about my kids having a loser for a mother.  Despite all of that, nothing and no one could stop me.  I was on a mission – a mission that was going to kill me.

I ended up developing hypertension and hyperlipidemia.  I was put on medication for both and I had gained twenty pounds of bloat and fat (my poor liver).  I drank for any and every reason.  I was a high functioning addict; never missing a day of work, not even for a crushing hangover.

Slow and insidious, addiction is a chronic, progressive and fatal equal opportunity disease.  It gets a hold of you and won’t let go.  Most people had no idea how very sick I was.  Inside, in private, I was unraveling and falling apart.

Both of my parents were alcoholics, so I was familiar with the genetic component of the disease.  In the early 90’s my father was in rehab at Maplegrove in West Bloomfield, Michigan.  I attended several lectures with him there and somehow, I knew I would end up there for myself.  I was also aware of the physical complications from the disease: cirrhosis of the liver (which is fatal) and wet brain which is loss of brain function and a severe result of end stage alcoholism.  There is no coming back from that.

I lived with extreme shame and guilt every single day.  Me, a regular mother and wife with a good job and a great looking life.  I suspected I would die if I kept going and feared I would die if I stopped.  I couldn’t function without it, but the little voice kept saying “tomorrow.”  

I couldn’t imagine going to a wedding or a party without drinking because I believed my life would suck if I quit.  I even grabbed a friend and went to an AA meeting once, putting my big toe in the water, but too afraid to jump.  It was there I heard how there are three eventual outcomes other than recovery: jails, hospitals or death.  Even that didn’t deter me.

It was February 9, 2005 when I woke up and had a moment of clarity.  I guess I just got sick and tired of being so sick and tired.  I wanted to fall asleep and wake up instead of passing out and coming to.  I knew I needed to be an example for my kids because they certainly deserved much better.  I saw my bottom so clearly and I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to hit it.  I got in my car with a raging hangover after having blacked out the night before and drove myself to Maplegrove.  It was like someone else had the wheel, so much so that I really don’t remember what my thought process was, but it really doesn’t matter now.  I got there and I was ready to stop dying.  I wanted to live.  When I look back, I see that it was nothing short of a miracle.

Maplegrove gave me a chance to get my life back, but I had to want it and boy, did I ever! I immersed myself in rehab and recovery.  I sat in the front row at all the lectures, asking questions and absorbing information with the heart of a child.  Something in me had shifted and my obsession had disappeared.  At that point, I knew there was something greater than me taking charge here.  I got my ego out of the way and surrendered.  I decided to listen with a sincere passion.  The speakers at meetings all shared a common thread: long-term sobriety and the 12 step program.

The 1st step states, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.”  Hell yes!  I could not deny that.  I grabbed ahold and have held on for eight years.  I worked the steps (more than once) with a sponsor and have sponsored many others.  I lost twenty pounds and my blood pressure and cholesterol are back on track without medication.  I am now spiritually fit and I attend AA meetings on a regular basis.

I’m proud of my journey and call it “the gift of a lifetime.”  I have good days and some not-so-good days, but I have many friends in recovery that I can talk to.  I have an arsenal of tools and knowledge to keep my disease at bay.  I will never be cured, but I know what I need to do – just for today.  I stay true to what I know: I’m patty, I’m an alcoholic and I have a healthy fear of what could be.  The monkey is off my back, but the circus is still in town.

Patty works as a medical assistant in a Michigan based doctor’s office.  Her recovery is the most important thing in her life and she attends 12-Step Meetings regularly.

She makes herself available to women looking for experience, strength and hope and speaks to the patients at Maplegrove as part of an alumni group.  She also runs a weekly “big book” study group at Henry Ford Hospital.

Healing a broken heart

Every child you have changes your life, but some change it more than others.  Our third son, Colin, who was diagnosed at the 20-week ultrasound with four congenital heart defects (CHDs), turned my life upside down.

Colin was born via C-section on October 20, 2009.  He was with us for 100 days after his open heart surgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan when he was 9 days old. He fought long and hard to come home with us, but it didn’t happen.  Nothing went how anyone expected and he confounded us all.  He struggled from the very first night of surgery when we nearly lost him and every day after that in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) was a battle against congestive heart failure.

To cope, I threw myself into advocating for him: researching, reading and immersing myself in anything relating to CHD.  I would review his flow charts and all of his blood work.  I practically became a secondary nurse, so much so that doctors and nurses meeting us for the first time would ask if I was one.  That is how fluent I had become in medical jargon, but really, I was just a mom grasping at any chance to exert some control over this truly out-of-my-control situation.  I didn’t want to miss a possible solution to any of his complications.

Life with Colin was a roller coaster: short, fast, exciting and terrifying.  After it was over, all I wanted was to do it again.

The loss of my son is the single most transformational event of my life, but in the beginning those changes were often for the worse.  The day after his funeral in February 2010 was the day that my emotions seemed to get turned off—like water at a spigot.  I was completely numb for a year.  I went to work and took care of my kids. Hell, I even managed to get a new job during this time.  Knowing all of that, I look back and realize there are complete chunks of that year I don’t remember.  I don’t know if I’ll ever remember.

On the bright side, I threw myself into the CHD community.  My husband Mike and I began assembling and delivering comfort bags to Children’s Hospital for the CHD organization It’s My Heart.  I was constantly looking for ways to connect with people who had lost children to CHD.  We did a 5k walk to benefit It’s My Heart and I joined the planning committee for a walk the following fall.  I put most of my energy into charity work to try to make meaning from our loss; to make sure he wasn’t forgotten.  The rest of my energy was dedicated to making sure my kids’ lives stayed as normal as possible.

Back on the dark side, however, I stopped taking care of myself.  I ate too much, sat too much and wasn’t taking my medication properly.  I have Factor V Leiden which is a clotting disorder and also had a Deep Vein Thrombosis in my right leg in 2007.  I am on lifelong anticoagulation and I should have switched to an oral anticoagulant, but I insisted on remaining on injections.  In November 2010, I wound up in the hospital recovering from the pulmonary embolism I ended up with as a result of my noncompliance.  As soon as I was home, I soldiered on and stayed busy.  No stopping, no resting and burying feelings.

Colin died on February 7, 2010, which coincidentally, is the beginning of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness week.  During that week in 2011, I was loaded up with commitments for fundraising and awareness efforts.  Our state senator was introducing a resolution to officially recognize February 7-14 as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week in Michigan.  

The senator was going to talk about Colin on the senate floor and I was ecstatic, but I was also exhausted.  I was tired of running from the grief and it caught up with me when the week ended.  I woke up in the middle of the night with a start—I felt as though I was having hot flashes and my heart was racing.  I realized later that it was a panic attack, but my brain was convinced it was a heart attack.

After ending up in the ER with absolutely nothing wrong with me, I realized I needed help.  I had spent so much time helping others and concealing my pain by staying busy that I had completely forgotten about me.  I reached out to a therapist and finally allowed myself to grieve fully.  I had coped through trying to control everyone and everything in an effort to make up for a situation that had been totally out of my control: Colin’s too-brief life.

The therapist helped me to see my desire to control everything.  He asked if it would really hurt to stop doing and start being.  So I began to meditate again. I began to let things go again. I began to start livingmy life instead of just doing my life.  With that, the floodgates opened: there were tears, rages and meltdowns, but the difference was—it was all OK.

In the desperate need to channel everything that was coming out of me, I started to write again.  I started with little bits and then began filling pages.  I wrote poems, songs, essays and blog posts; I began to find my voice again.  I began seeking opportunities to help others through my writing and through the organizations I had been involved with all along.

In the past year, I’ve increased my involvement with advocacy and awareness now that I am able to feel and live my life fully.  I began writing for an online magazine and I was privileged to appear in the documentaryTransforming Loss.  I’ve begun working on a memoir of our time with Colin and I’ve finally started to take care of my health.  I’m compliant with my medication and I’m a boot camp regular.  I’ve shed 15 lbs. and 5% body fat since January 2013.

I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for Colin.  I wish every day that he was here with us, but I know he wants me to be strong, happy and healthy.  Languishing in mourning and anger after his loss wasn’t getting me there.  Facing the loss head on, helping others on his behalf and placing him squarely in my heart to carry with me for the rest of my life—that is what has gotten me there.

For Colin Timothy Kain

10/20/2009 – 2/7/2010

Rachel works in IT and is on the walk committee for Tomorrow’s Child.  She has spoken to legislators on their behalf.  

She recently became the Advocacy Chair for the Michigan chapter of the Children’s Heart Foundation, serves on the parent advisory board for Baby Heart Screening, continues to write for Still Standing Magazine and has her own blog, Writers Write.

Her dream is to write full-time and be able to spend more time with her children, Ethan and Austin, her husband and her efforts to help others.

My mother, my MOM.

The story I’m about to share is how my mother’s life and death lead to the formation of Mind Over Matter (lovingly referred to as MOM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and suicide prevention in Michigan.

My mother was no stranger to mental illness.  Her own mother was ill for most of her life.  Psychiatrists first classified my grandmother as schizophrenic, but later changed her diagnosis to “manic depression,” now referred to as bi-polar illness.  Diagnostics aside, my grandmother’s illness was a major source of stress for my mom and her six siblings.  She was hospitalized half a dozen times while they were growing up and as much as they tried to hide it, word got around.  Sadly, other neighborhood kids weren’t allowed to come over to their house to play.  My grandfather did his best to hold the family together, but he was killed when my mom was just 17-years-old.  A decade later my mom would lose her little brother to suicide.

I’m not sure if my mom ever fully dealt with her mother’s mental illness or the tragic deaths in her family.  She just sort of pressed on knowing that someday she’d have her own family and it would all be different.  She would give her children the happy childhood she never had – and she did.

My three siblings and I grew up in a house with plenty of laughter and joy – and my mom was the pulse!  She had an energy about her that was absolutely contagious and people gravitated towards her.  Friends and family were always stopping by to see what she was up to and what she had in store for us that day.  She was always coming up with new games, activities and things to teach us.  We were never bored and we always felt loved, especially on our birthdays.

In our house, a birthday started with breakfast in bed (and I don’t mean a Pop Tart) and ended with the best party you could imagine.  Even though money was tight, my mom placed no limit on the number of guests we could invite. She knew we’d only be young once.  She’d go all out: decorating the basement, making party favors, baking cakes and planning original party games.

I could go on and on, but the point is, my mom was an extraordinary woman.  There was no one else like her and no one I’d rather have as a mother.  She inspired our creativity, taught us to be lifelong learners and truly believed that we could do ANYTHING we put our minds to.  She encouraged us to stay in school and make our dreams a reality.  Unfortunately, my mom’s mental health deteriorated soon after my three siblings and I went on to college.  She had what doctors would later describe as late onset schizophrenia.

My mom believed she was fighting a religious battle between good and evil. She was convinced that Satan himself was scheming to kill her.  She saw horrific images, heard voices and began living every day in utter fear and desperation.  The hallucinations and delusions impacted her ability to sleep, which only made things worse.  She began obsessively reading the bible, went through several deliverances and even embarked on a 40-day fast trying to kill the demons she believed to be inside her.  Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work.  She bounced around from church to church changing denominations every time someone insinuated that maybe she should see a psychiatrist.

We had her hospitalized on three different occasions, but each time she would somehow manage to check herself out and stop taking her meds.  The untreated schizophrenia took over my mother’s life causing her to lose her job, her home and her place in society.  So many people opened their doors and tried to help my mom, but it’s hard to help someone who can’t accept the fact that they’re ill. It’s especially hard to help your mother when you’re the kid and she’s the parent.  Still, I held out hope…

Two years after graduating from Michigan State University, I was working as an engineer at an automotive plant in Indiana. They were getting ready to shut down and I was offered a promotion at another plant in Kentucky.  I wasn’t thrilled about moving farther away from home, but it was a good career move and I saw it as an opportunity to help my mom. No more bouncing around from apartment to apartment or sleeping on people’s couches.  I could afford to buy us a nice home where she could feel comfortable and settled. She wouldn’t have to worry about money and other daily stresses.  She could just focus on her health.

Our mom had lived in Michigan for 48 years and did not want to leave, but after much convincing, she finally agreed to come live with me.  It was a HUGE weight off my shoulders.  I was relieved and as excited as any 23-year-old girl could be about their mother moving in with them.  I knew it would be challenging, but things were falling into place.  I was going to “fix” my mom and give her a new lease on life.  Of course, I never got the chance…

On May 1, 2005, two weeks before the move, my mom overdosed on prescription-strength Benadryl that doctors had prescribed to help with sleep. I was in utter shock and disbelief.  I didn’t see this coming.  She promised us she’d never do “that.”  I was devastated, I was angry; I was every emotion under the sun.  I blamed myself, I blamed my mom, I blamed the hospitals and the doctors.  How could this happen?  How could I ever trust another human being again, let alone myself?  How could I ever be happy?  I went around in circles like this for a while until I realized that I could not live in the past. I had to find a greater purpose and move forward with my life.

In 2006, my siblings and I formed Mind Over Matter, lovingly referred to as MOM.  We put on the MOM Race for Mental Health Awareness & Suicide Prevention in our hometown of Royal Oak each May.  It’s the ultimate tribute to our mother and the ultimate therapy, as well.  We are bringing families and communities together to talk about mental illness.  We are sharing stories of loved ones lost to suicide.  We are showing the world that our loved ones are so much more than the manner in which they died.  We are providing hope that, together, we can help erase the stigma and start to save lives. 

Julie has recently become a mother and put her engineering career on hold to raise her daughter, Abigail.  Her main focus is on her non-profit organization and helping with her husband’s business.  

She lives in Royal Oak, Michigan.

To date, the MOM Race has raised $90,000 for Michigan-based suicide prevention efforts and brain research.  The 8th Annual MOM Race is scheduled for Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 10 AM in Royal Oak.  The 5K run/walk starts and ends at Starr Jaycee Park, right across the street from where the Boledovich family grew up. 

Proceeds from the upcoming MOM Race will benefit brain research at the University of Michigan Depression Center, suicide prevention programs by KnowResolve, and crisis intervention services by Common Ground.

To register or for more information on the MOM Race, please visit MOMrace.org.

 For more on the charities benefitting from the MOM Race, please visit the following websites: 

The UofM Depression Center

KnowResolve

Common Ground

My Friend Natalee:

On May 25th, 2005 at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I walked into my Mom’s house only to find out the news that would shape my life forever.

I moved to Birmingham, Alabama when I was starting high school and became friends with a wonderful group of girls.  We all had so much fun together and shared countless memories, just as high school kids do.  It was our senior year and we were planning the trip of a lifetime to celebrate graduation.  The place was chosen: Aruba, here we go!

As I was leaving my Moms for the senior trip meeting, she stopped me on the way out to ask where the destination was going to be.  I told her our decision and she told me to have fun.  I came home a couple hours later and my Mom had suddenly decided not to support me in going to Aruba.  I thought my life was over.  I knew I was going to be missing out on so much and to an 18-year-old, girl that was pretty awful.

I asked my Mom to give me one good reason why I couldn’t go.  She told me she was afraid that I wouldn’t make it back home safely.  My friends and I would laugh about her reasoning.  They even tried to put together a fund to support my trip, but I lost the battle and was not able to go to Aruba.

The afternoon of May 25th, I walked through the door and my Mom said she had some news to share.  She told me to sit down.  She explained that Natalee was not on the flight home from Aruba.  My first reaction was, “I can’t believe she missed her flight, that is so unlike Natalee.”  My Mom then expressed that it was a little more serious than that.  She told me they actually had no idea where she was.

From that point on, everything was a blur to me.  That entire summer, while everyone spent so much time searching for her, I remember thinking to myself: “Well, they found Elizabeth Smart after two years, so we still have time.”  Today, as I write this, it has been almost eight years since I last hugged my dear friend.

In the beginning, it never felt like Natalee was no longer with us.  I found myself worrying that she didn’t have the things all girls need – the little things: a hair tie or clean underwear to change into.  I see now that my heart was in tremendous pain and I was just so confused.  I honestly couldn’t comprehend the fact that someone would want to hurt her or keep her from family and friends.

That summer, I occupied my time by helping to raise awareness for Natalee’s disappearance.  It turned out she didn’t need much help in that area because her Mother was so unbelievable in getting Natalee’s beautiful photographs all over national television.  Still, to this day, it seems crazy to me that I can write about her and almost everyone who reads this will have heard about the person I am talking about.  For a while I was very angry about that.  I thought, “Random people shouldn’t know who MY friend is.”  I would hear people talk so casually about Natalee, a person I knew so well, and I just wanted to slap them in the face.  They would never understand that this girl wasn’t just my co-worker, neighbor, or even schoolmate.  She was my friend.

We shared so much together: days on the lake, sleepovers, and a mutual passion for dance.  We would tell each other juicy gossip about who we were crushing on and so much more. To me, she was “Hootie,” not the girl that went missing in Aruba.

So as I said before, my life changed forever.  I became consumed by fear, realizing anything could happen at any moment.  I was in constant fear that something terrible was going to happen to the people around me.  I would get out of my car and run to my destination, so terrified that someone was following me and might get me.  I had night terrors about death.  I would check to make sure my doors were always locked.  I constantly had a feeling in my stomach that just wasn’t normal.  My body was full of anxiety and grief and in my head the only way to cure it was by numbing my body.  So I turned to drugs and alcohol, which of course worked for a while, until it didn’t.  Three years later, after putting my body through hell, I was so broken down that I finally had to ask for help – and I received it.

During this time of healing, I wrote a very personal letter to Natalee.  I stood at the shore of the Pacific Ocean and read her my goodbye.  I then burned the letter.  That was my funeral for Natalee.  I finally allowed myself to let her go and was able to truly start the healing that I so desperately needed.  I wish I could say that my life changed rapidly for the better, but I have to admit I’m still grieving and working on my issues with death.  The difference is, today I can get up, get dressed and make it to work everyday.  It has been a long 4 1/2 years since I decided to face my grief and trauma, but I am so grateful to be healthy and sober.

I am grateful for my story and my experiences.  I still miss Natalee very much, but honestly – for me – the anniversaries and birthdays aren’t the hardest.  It’s times when I hear Lynrd Skynrd or watch the Wizard of Oz that make me miss her the most;  the things that remind me of the memories we shared.

I wish I could offer some advice on how I get through those tough moments, but all I can tell you is this: I breathe, put one foot in front of the other and try to imagine Natalee in a better place, one that is free of pain.

Mallie, 26, is currently living in Utah.  She has 4.5 years sober and works as a client care coordinator for Ascend Recovery in American Fork, Utah.  She was born and raised in Alabama.To find out more about Natalee’s story and how you can help bring awareness to the search for those who have gone missing, visit: The Natalee Holloway Resource Center and Help The Missing on Facebook