Monday, June 25, 2012

Coping with the Stages of Grief: Depression

I'm on my knees
only memories 
are left for me to hold

Dont know how 
but Ill get by 
Slowly pull myself together 

Theres no escape
So keep me safe
This feels so unreal

Nothing comes easily 
Fill this empty space 
Nothing is like it seems
Turn my grief to grace

I feel the cold
Loneliness unfold
Like from another world

Come what may
I wont fade away
But I know I might change 

Nothing comes easily 
Fill this empty space 
Nothing is like it was
Turn my grief to grace

Nothing comes easily 
Where do I begin?
Nothing can bring me peace
Ive lost everything 
I just want to feel your embrace

This past week has been difficult. I've tried to find the energy to write a long post about it but I've barely had the energy to function.  This week I've been dealing with probably the most prevalent stage of grief (at least for me): Depression.

I realize as I'm writing this that I'm missing a step.  Two actually: Anger and Bargaining.  Bargaining is all about the "what if's" and the dealing in hypotheticals, which leads to blame, which can lead to anger.  I should have posted about the other stages first.  Because once you get past the anger and blame, the whole thing is just sad.  That's when the depression happens.  So yes, I suppose if I were writing a book, Anger and Bargaining should have come first.  Good thing this is a blog.  I'll post about it all eventually, but this is just so... on my mind.

My Experience with Depression

It's pretty straight forward.  I am tremendously sad.  Anger and dealing in hypotheticals has never really been my thing.  So I skipped to depression pretty quickly.  I've gone from crying violently, to just lying in bed and not talking to anyone.  We've all gone through the initial hardcore grief.  I cried everyday for two weeks.  Then it subsides a little.  What happens after that, it varies.  Or so I've gathered.

After a week or two, people want me to be okay so badly.  And sometimes I actually was.  But every moment of okay comes with that crash, and every crash reminded me that for the rest of my life, there will be a cap on my happiness.  Some of the most amazing moments of my life are yet to come: My wedding day, having a child... And even though I know I'll be happy for all of these things, I worry that I'll never be as happy as I could have been if I hadn't lost her.  I know that I can't think like that, but I can't help it.  And then THAT made me sad too.

Then suddenly... I really was okay for a while.  In fact, I remember how relieved I was.  I thought it would take me so much longer to feel this okay again.  I didn't feel like crying all the time, I didn't feel guilty when I had moments of joy or felt like flirting with my boyfriend, I actually wanted to get my resume together and felt the urge to do laundry, and I could talk about Jenna and miss her, but feel grateful for having her.

Then as stealthily as depression crept out, it crept the hell back in.  Ninja bastard...

For me, I've realized recovery is much less like a straight line and much more like the curly/sprial tail of a pig:
It is traveling in a specific direction, but it loops back pretty regularly. Grief is very much the same way. Recently, I looped the hell back. I imagine it was a combination of things. Two weekends ago, it was my birthday AND Father's Day. I talked about how we made Mother's Day delightfully distracting, but this was almost too much in one weekend. And it involved me slipping back into old habits of pleasing others before I pleased myself. I got tired out.

And soon enough, I found myself looking at pictures of Jenna and feeling that knife I thought I'd pulled out weeks ago. It came crashing down on me all over again that someone who was supposed to be a fixture in my life has been ripped away from me for no good reason. The worst part is that she still feels so friggin real. So three dimensional. I'll be flipping through her iPod and see songs I don't know. Then I realize that there are pieces of her that I don't have and may never have because I can no longer access them. An image will flash through my head that will be as simple as the curve of her shoulder under a black hoodie she always wore. And I'll know I'll never see that particular line in front of me ever again. That's when the air feels too thick and starts to choke me all over again.

I didn't get out of bed for an entire day that week.  I picked fights with my boyfriend.  When I was driving home from what I thought was a successful night of fun karaoke, I had to call a friend (who had just left before me, so I knew he was within reach) and cried on him in the parking lot of a friggin Steak n' Shake.

Then last Friday, I woke up and I felt better.  Not a LOT better, but I felt like I was coming back.  It's still shaky.  I know I'm still on the curve of the tail before the point I was at, but at least I'm not at the furthest point.  God I hope that makes sense...

Like I said, we've all gone through the initial hardcore grief.  I hope that you all got through okay.   in the spirit of Jenna (who loved to make lists), here are...

Amanda's Do's and Don'ts for your Next Grief Relapse

These are tailored specifically to me from my experiences this past week, but perhaps you can get some use out of them:

Cry. It's okay. Cry a lot if you have to. In your room, on a walk, even in the parking lot of a Steak n' Shake if you must...

Cry alone every time. Sometimes crying alone is okay, but try to cry with someone (to tell you it's going to be okay) maybe... A third of the time.

Get mad at your significant other for letting all that crying wear him out a little. He can't help it and he's doing the best he can. He's been your rock. Cut the man some slack.

Find more than one person to talk to about what you're going through. It's tempting to put it all on yourself or on one person. It's even easier in some ways (at first). But it's not fair to yourself and/or that one person to let that be your strategy. There are so many people who would love nothing more than to fill that role for you.

Get frustrated when people don't say the right things, don't know what to say, or say the same things over and over. Not everyone is a wordsmith. They're there and they're listening.

Try something new to help yourself. I'm going to try taking walks in the morning.

Abandon the old stuff that helped. You may have just been forgetting to do it.

Drink when you feel sad.  This is only something I've done accidentally (I didn't realize how sad I was UNTIL I'd had a few drinks), but for those of you who do use this strategy often, drinking is something that should simply ENHANCE happiness, not enable it.

Recognize when you need to go home when you're out doing something. It's always good to push yourself to do things, but if you're feeling worn out, BE DONE. Everyone will understand. And if they don't, they'll get over it.

Give yourself recovery and alone time if you really need it.

Isolate yourself.

Lose patience with yourself.  This will happen again, and THAT IS OKAY.

Talk to Jenna when you're feeling your emptiest. Even if you don't feel up to it or it feels forced at first, it ALWAYS helps.

Write lists.  Not just because Jenna loved them, but because they help.  Write a list of things you're grateful for.  Write a list of things that make you happy.  Write a list of things Jenna loved (then send it to me).  Write goals for yourself.  Any of these things.  I chose goals.

My Goals List:
  • Go see that goddamn grief counselor. I know you don't want to go. No one wants to go. And maybe you'll get nothing out of it because you're a very self-analytical and open person, which pretty much nullifies like three quarters of what they are equipped to do for people, but hey! There's still that one forth left and maybe that'll give you something you haven't thought of yet. Maybe. At the very least it'll get your very loving and concerned father off your back... o_O
  • No more than one pajama day a week. Even if you don't go anywhere. No seriously. I'm cutting you off. You're done. Go shower.
  • No sleeping past 10am. At all. Nope, not even after karaoke night. Get up.
  • Get a fucking job.
  • GET. A FUCKING. JOB. Really though, it'll help. Do it.

I think that's an acceptable list of things to do over the next week. Hopefully it'll help.  But I also need to accept that no matter what I do, this sadness thing isn't something I'll ever be able to totally control.  I'm just going to be sad for a while.  And the only thing I can really do is set little goals to get me through each week and keep moving me forward.  Because that's the thing, when it comes right down to it, you have to surrender to a balance.  I'm coming to realize more and more that there is a spectrum.  On one end is "BASKING IN THE GRIEF" - In which you let the grief consume you.  You can never move on, you feel guilty about feeling happy, etc.  On the other end is "DENYING YOUR FEELINGS" - In which you force yourself to be okay, even when you aren't ready.  You push it down until you don't feel it.  Then it either eats away at your insides or explodes all over your outsides.  Neither one is any good.  You need to let yourself feel, but take control of the process.  Keep working and pushing forward, but try not to focus too hard on the finish line.  This isn't the kind of thing you just get over, and when I think about it, I wouldn't want to if I could.

I'm just so tired of being sad.

Emotional Physical Therapy (Just go with it...)

Jenna just stretchin' the ol' spine
I had a conversation today with my boyfriend's mom.  She's a physical therapist and she talked about how impatient she was when she herself had to undergo physical therapy some years ago.  It made me realize that's really what we're doing here.  Emotional PT.  Kind of an oxymoron but you get what I mean.  We've had a piece of us ripped off.  Nothing will ever be the same, but that doesn't necessarily mean our life is over.  It'll just be different.  And the road to recovery is going to be a process.  We can't push ourselves too hard to speed it up or we run the risk of doing more harm than good, but if we don't push ourselves at all, we'll just plateau and we'll settle for a level of function that is nowhere near what we had or what we could have.

We'll walk again, but it's going to take time, it's going to take many falls, it's going to give us a result very different than what we've been used to, and it's going to take way longer than we want it to.

It may sound cliche to say "one day at a time," but life is too short to do it any other way.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy Birthday/Mother's Day/Father's Day - Emphasis on Happy.

New Business

I updated the color scheme.  I think it's more Jenna.  Less "Welcoming a Baby Boy", more summer and happiness.  She was even more of a creature of summer than I am.

Also, we have a facebook page now!  Like us on facebook for updates on the blog, inspirational/nostalgic pictures and videos, and for a chance to help me with my writing by sharing your Jenna stories!  Click here to check us out!

On to the Actual Post...

This will be a quick post.  I have lots of stuff to do today and my parents are coming into town.

It's my birthday this Saturday.  I'll be turning 25.

I think one of the worst things about losing my sister so young is that there will come a day years from now where I will have lived longer without her than I have with her.  I'll be 48.  I'll only be about halfway done with my life.  There will still be such a long way to go...

Please don't misunderstand.  I have not only have a passion, but a HUNGER for life.  I know I must make my life twice as amazing for both of us now and I will never truly be without her as I do it.  It's just... sad sometimes.  And that's okay.  I'll ramble more about that when I write about Depression in my Stages of Grief posts.

We already made it through one holiday - Mother's Day was really fun.  We had a really wonderful dinner with my roommates, went to Medieval Times, saw Dark Shadows (which totally sucked), and then had drinks with my friends.  Medieval Times was awesome because it reminded my mom of...


My mom saw this horse show and thought it would be cool to take my sister and her friends to see dancing horses for her 13th birthday!

What she thought it would be like:


What it was actually like...
Fancy Trotting
More trotting (but fancy!)

All to music!

My mom was humiliated.  My sister was humiliated.  Years later, it was hilarious.  I mean... I had been to a horse dancing show in Spain that year and I thought it was great!  There were flamenco dancers and TONS of spectacle.  I thought it was cool.  Then again, I was a weird kid.  And even if my impression of a dancing horse show was more epic than how they do it in the states (it's actually a thing over there in Spain), it probably still wasn't the best idea for a preteen birthday.  But it made for a fantastic story and hilarious ammunition for future banter.

During Medieval Times, there was a whole section with lots of fancy trotting and bowing.  My mom started laughing and reminded me of the epic fail.  It was great.  It gave us exactly what we needed on a day like today: A proper distraction combined with something to make us feel connected in a positive way.  I'm hoping this weekend can be similar.

I don't know what I would do without my friends.  They are absolutely the best medicine for days when we feel the most hollow.  They are so warm and wonderful.  My parents plan on adopting them.  I think that will also be a topic for a future post.  *Writes it down on her list*

We're postponing Father's Day until my dad's knee heals up (he just had surgery) so we can go paintballing.  Yes paintballing.  I'm fuckin terrified.  It'll be great.

This weekend will be filled with friends, grilled meat, the beach, and laser tag.

I'll go more in depth on the events when the weekend is over (I'd really like to start posting more often).  My cookout on the beach is in less than three hours and I have to get dressed.  For now I will leave you with Jenna and my facebook wall posts on each other's birthdays over the years.  We didn't always remember to write on each other's wall  - Or rather I didn't since I didn't use facebook to it's full potential until a couple years after it was launched.  Jenna being in high school, however, was all over that shit - but they are amusing.  They're also the type of thing I want to go into this weekend with: Something that makes me smile.

Happy birthday whore.
Me - 2011

Happy birthdayyy. Have fun at your house party, I hope you get wasted.
Jenna - 2011

Have a happy happy birthday! Woohoo
Jenna - 2010 - I gave her so much crap for such a weak and pleasant birthday greeting later. She promptly made up for it in person...

Happy Day-You-Invaded-My-Life-Without-Permission.
♥ Me! 
Me - 2009

Happy birthday skank face
I'll be seeing you in a few hours so I don't need to make this too extravagant.
Jenna – 2009

oh my god you suck
your card TOTALLY tricked me and now I feel like an idiot hahah
thank you for the book, it was be very helpful actually and also thanks for the goodies inside the card! :)

 oh and I like how you wrote fuck on the card and then scribbled it out hah, retard
Jenna to Me - 2008 - Apparently I did not write on her wall for her birthday this year, but I sent her a birthday card that would not open. I tricked her.
I'm sitting about 3 feet away from you right now
 now get me a fake ID so we can go bar hopping
! yay!
Jenna - 2008

Happy birthday 3 days late whore bag :)
I can't get in trouble for doing this 3 days late either cus I live with you..
Jenna - 2007

Jenna at my 21st Birthday - I had to work the next day so she very generously took most of my shots.  Haha Just kidding!  Underage drinking is bad.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Guest Post: Sarah K and MaryClaire

I'm hoping that I'll soon have enough stories from friends of Jenna to make these types of posts a weekly thing.  PLEASE send me your stories about Jenna.  Even little things or inside jokes you have.  I would love for this blog to turn into a collaboration.

This was one of the first stories I got:)

Sarah's Story aka "Quakers on a Summer Night"

Sarah and Jenna
Some context:  Sarah, MaryClaire, and Lauren (who will be mentioned in the second story) knew Jenna from grade school.  MaryClaire actually grew up on our street BEFORE we moved into what will be referred to as our "Pebble Beach" house.  The house we lived in when this story takes place was indeed out in the middle of nowhere.  It was outside the city and right behind this large public property.  It was a very large house (we have since downgraded since the economy demanded it - But with our recent loss, our need to build a new house turned out to be a blessing in disguise).  Since it was so large, it was very creepy to be alone in.  Especially at night o_O  It should also be noted that our parents had a giant master bathroom with an equally giant bathtub in it.

"After you had lived in your old (yet new, not Pebble Beach house) we seemed to like to embrace the creepiness of it being out in the middle of "nowhere" (compared to my house on San Juan trail and MaryClaire's in Wexford). So one night we were watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre for what was probably the thousandth time. 
However, this time it was summer and the windows, etc. were open and it was heat lightning. for some reason this weather phenomenon happened to line up with our interesting selves deciding for the first time in our lives to "play Quakers" i.e. turning off all the lights and electronics (mainly computer since we were at the height of our AIM addiction). 
This led to us minorly freaking out (probably mostly me since Jenna wasn't known to be a pussy- unless it was a situation dealing with spiders, but other than that she was always the daring one). Well this was actually quite creepy i'm not gonna lie (your parents were out to a movie or something, generally not worried about what shenanigans we were up to on timber lane since Dave probably had the place on lockdown and lets be honest as private school girls i mean come on.... we never really did anything THAT bad). So.... to proceed in our scared ways we decided the safest thing to do was grab the large knives on display in your kitchen and take cover in Lynne and Dave's whirlpool. About 10 minutes later we were starting to feel better and retreated back to the basement and eat copious amonts of candy to help us feel better. The end. (Sidenote: not sure why we ever decided to play quakers at age 13, but lets be honest Jenna and I bonded on our weirdness factor and MC was generally down for anything)"

This is hilarious because Jenna told me ANOTHER story about a time when she was home completely alone one night in the house (my parents were in Florida or out to a late party or something) and kept hearing noises and seeing shadows, so she took ALL THE ANIMALS  and into my parents' bathroom and hid in the whirlpool. Apparently that was her go-to hiding spot.

Jenna and MC
MaryClaire's Follow-Up Story aka "Three's a Crowd.  Or Maybe You're All Just Fat."
"Speaking of Texas chainsaw massacre... Me, Lauren, and Jenna went to go see that in theaters (obviously your mom had to like walk in with us and make sure we could go since we were like 13 and it was rated R). We decided since we knew we would be scared that it was a good idea for all 3 of us to squish into the love seat for the entire movie. Yes us 3 fatties. Needless to say an hour and a half or 2 hours later by the time the movie was over I don't even think I could walk my body had been so squished and we literally had indents from the arm rest. That seating arrangement may have stunted my growth spurt permanently.. But totally worth it. I will never ever be able to watch that movie without thinking about that time/Jenna."


Well I hope you enjoyed this guest post as much as I did.  I also hope you enjoyed the titles I made up for them.  As you can see, there really doesn't have to be a point to your stories.  Sometimes they can just be moments.  Please continue to send me stories either on facebook, at, or comment on the blog!

Life After Death: My Thoughts on Heaven

Okay so let me preface this since this can potentially be a touchy subject. One: I have a lot of thoughts on organized religion. I have the upmost respect for certain aspects and serious problems with others. But this is about MY personal beliefs, not other people's. Debates about subjects like that are meant for in-person. It usually only ever gets ugly on the internet. Two: While this and many of my future reflections on the possibilities of life after death are supported by many scientific studies/theories, this is a blog. I'm not writing a research paper or thesis.

I'm just reflecting in wake of losing my sister. Please bear both of these things in mind if you feel compelled to respond to this.

My personal religious beliefs fluctuate.  I don’t like to commit to believing one thing because I’ve found that by doing that, it always seems to force me to close my mind off to realms of other possibilities that may make more sense at any given moment.  Sometimes I say “God,” sometimes I say “The universe”.  Sometimes I pray, sometimes I hope.  I’d never been too concerned about the after life because I feel like it’s kind of shallow to be good in this life just because you’re hoping for some kind of reward or you’re afraid of some kind of punishment when it’s all over.  But now that I’ve lost my sister, I can’t help it.

I also have a real problem with ignoring the facts of science just because it might alter your religious beliefs.  On the other hand, I have an equally large problem with staunch atheists who seem determined to offer some sort of explanation, no matter how flimsy, to explain away the possibility that something greater DOES exist.  Both points of view are stubborn.  And I imagine both types of people who practice them holding their hands over their ears going “LALALALALALA!!!”
I never understood how scientific facts MUST negate religion and vice versa.  You know who else felt that way?  Einstein.  I don’t feel like I’m in bad company here.

So along these beliefs of mine, I came up with a theory about the afterlife.  Because I do believe it exists.  I came up with this idea long before I lost Jenna, but with all the discussions I’ve had lately, I’m becoming more and more convinced that this could be a real truth.

Okay, so you know how when you turn off a television, there’s a PFT sound?  Well I believe the brain does something similar when it shuts down—Even when it happens quickly, like being crushed by a falling piano.  Any large source of energy like that makes one last little pft before it goes out.  In that split second, I believe the brain thrusts itself into a dreamlike state to prepare the body for death.  In a dream, a split second can last as long as you need it to. 

So in that dream, you mind takes you wherever you subconsciously believe you belong.  That explains why people who have near death experiences always seem to report going to a heaven that somehow resembles their particular religious beliefs.  I also like think that the truly wicked people in this world subconsciously know that they are wicked people, so they will be haunted by their regrets and misdeeds.  The good people however, like you or me (unless you’re secretly a serial killer) are shown whatever will soothe them the most – Whether it’s a vision of paradise, reliving their best memories, living another life entirely, whatever.  Perhaps the people who have their lives cut short live out whatever they may have missed in the best possible way imaginable.

And while this theory might seem scientific, it is my belief that (assuming I’m right) the fact that the brain does this at all IS divine.  If this function does in fact exist, it serves no real survival purpose.  The idea that our brain has found a way to tap into something like this is truly special.  It is worth wondering about and being in awe of – Just like existence itself.  The big bang obviously happened, but whatever pulled the trigger is unknown and worth revering.  We exist because of it – Whatever it is.  And we should be grateful.

So after that split second… then what?  I have a few theories on that as well, but that’s for another post.  You can't help but wonder about this stuff when you've lost someone you've loved.  And wonder I have.

We're just scratching the surface.  Stay tuned.

"Angelic" way ahead of our time:P
(Galapagos Islands)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Coping with the Stages of Grief: Denial

The stages of grief come and go with me.  They appear, disappear, and reappear in no particular order.  As this blog progresses, I’d like to share how I have (and in some cases still am) personally experiencing each stage and share the tools I used/am using to cope with it.  BEAR IN MIND: These points of view will be constantly evolving.  It is my journal after all.

So let’s start with denial. 

My experience with Denial

[Edit: I deleted the first part of this section simply because I felt the overall entry was too damn long and the story wasn't totally necessary to what I actually want to say on this particular topic.  I'll very likely bring it up in a future entry. Till then, you're not missing much.  Promise.]

Denial hits me these days in a way that’s far more passive than what they show in the movies.  I don’t deny Jenna is gone, but because we were at a point in our lives where we didn’t see each other every day and we only talked on the phone every week or every other week, it’s strange.  Everything around me feels so normal.  It’s tempting to just sort of ride that wave sometimes, but part of me is constantly working to keep reminding myself that she’s not there so I don’t forget—Because with every moment of forgetting, there’s a moment of remembering.  And those are the WORST.  

What’s more prevalent is the surreal nature of it all.  This isn’t the kind of thing that’s supposed to happen.  Jenna was such a practical person and the kind of person that did stupid things, but never THAT stupid (though whenever she crossed the line, she would ALWAYS get caught).

One night several years ago, Jenna was home alone and wanted some Chinese food.  Now for anyone who knew Jenna, you know that food was a very high priority.  Cravings bore supernatural powers.
The house we lived in through most of high school was beautiful, but it was just outside of the delivery range of any food place other than Dominos and Pizza Hut.  So if Chinese food was to be had, someone was going to have to go pick it up.  Unfortunately, Jenna only had her driver’s permit and no one else was home – My parents were out and I was at my high school prom.  So Jenna made the only decision she could have: Steal her sister’s car and go pick up the food herself.
The drive was successful.  Jenna made it to the Chinese place and back without destroying my car or anyone around her.  My parents came home and asked where she got the Chinese food; Jenna shrugged and said she found a place that delivered.  My parents thought nothing of it.  Anyone else would have been able to consider this just something silly they did when they were fifteen and got away with it.  BUT THIS… WAS JENNA. 
When I was in high school I had this purple PT Cruiser with the very distinct license plate, “GIRLS PT” (we got it when they were still cool…).  Needless to say, this was a very  recognizable car.  The next day, my mom was talking to her friend who off-handedly mentioned that she saw ME driving around last night.  This gave my mother pause… Amanda was at her prom… How could she have been driving around?
“Are you sure it was Amanda?”
“Yeah! I recognized the license plate.  Why?”
The Chinese food!
Of course, my parents couldn’t confront Jenna in the normal way.  They had to screw with her a bit first.  They basically asked her to explain the Chinese food (my dad pretended he wanted to order from there) and watched her pile one feeble lie on top of the other until she cracked.  
So… Let’s take a moment here to reflect.  Only Jenna had this kind of luck.  Only Jenna would commit such a STUPID infraction and only Jenna would FAIL at it so epically.  I have so many more stories precisely like this that I can’t wait to share with you.  This one just happens to be one of my favorites.

Anyway, back to our previously scheduled program…

So yeah.  The surreal nature of it is definitely a thing.  It’s a big thing.  Talking about Jenna in the past tense feels so uncomfortable, but talking about her in the present feels like I’m kidding myself.  Most of the time, the idea that this is real gives me the same feeling I get when I think about the size of the universe.  Everything just starts feeling… wibbly wobbly. The whole thing is wrong.  The usual comforting thoughts that the person we’ve lost lived a full life or they were in pain and now in a better place... They don't work here.  It’s like she was struck by lightning.

So How Do You Deal?

So here we are in Denial.  We want this to have never happened.  We don’t want to believe Jenna can’t be with us in the way that we’re used to.  That’s denial in its classic form.  It's easy to recognize and it's something that affects us far more obviously right after the fact than in the weeks/months/years to follow.

The other side of denial that I think is far more prevalent and likely to affect us long after we've stopped looking for it is that in our attempts to avoid denial, we often deprive ourselves of things we don’t have to.

The trick is recognizing the difference between these compulsions to hide from this terrible circumstance and finding the real pieces you’re ALLOWED to keep and may not even realize it.

So here are some things that you can do when that moment of realization hits you again, and you find yourself missing her more than you can bear:

Have a conversation

This isn't just about talking to Jenna.  That's praying.  That's wonderful, but I like this better.  I mean talking to her and listening to what she has to say in return.

Okay so the first thing I want to say is that at first glance, this may sound a little "Gollum talking to himself in LOTR."  But it's not.  This is not developing a split personality.  It's simply helping yourself access that part of you that holds someone you love, and it gives you the opportunity to get the comfort and advice you've been missing.

Here’s how you do it.  First, you pick a place and you picture her.  I usually like to imagine her in her long sleeved t-shirt and sweats, with her hair pulled back in a high ponytail and that elastic thing she always wore around her wispies.  The visualization is important.  Often I imagine her sitting on the edge of my bed, sometimes she’ll be walking next to me, sometimes she’ll be in the passenger seat of my car.  Acknowledging that she does take up space really adds to this.  The more you can make yourself feel like she’s really there with you, the easier it is to feel like you’re really talking to her.  If you accidentally knock into her “space” while you’re walking, interrupt your train of thought with an “Oop!  Sorry!”  Now, she always responds to me with an, “I’m not really here you weirdo…” but I like it.  It adds a lot for me.

So talking to her.  I always make sure I say what I want to say out loud, even if it’s just a whisper, then hear her responses in my head.  It makes it feel less like you’re just having a conversation with yourself.  The final step is the trickiest one.  You have to relax your mind and sort of turn yourself into a human Ouija board.  JENNA is talking to you.  Not you.  So she wouldn’t respond the way you would.  I get myself to those places in a couple different ways.  Sometimes it takes me a few seconds of conversation to feel like I’m really there.  Think about the words she uses that are different from yours.  Think about the speed that she speaks.  It usually helps me if I make sure I don’t forget to tease her and make sure she takes shots at me.  Because that’s the way she talked.  Let her get frustrated or bored with you if necessary.  Anything else is just a prayer.

I do this whenever I’m lonely.  But this is also what I do whenever I fall into holes.  Sometimes I get into spirals that I can’t come out of.  I start getting hysterical about the injustice of it all or over the horrible aspects of this loss that will never go away.  

The most powerful time this helped me was a few weeks ago.  Something set me off and all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Jenna died – How it must have felt, what thoughts may have been in her head, and of course the worst possible scenarios that I knew weren’t even true.  I started panicking.  So my boyfriend reminded me to do the only thing that ever works in situations like this: Talk to Jenna.  I took a deep breath, I visualized her sitting on the edge of my bed the way she would when we were catching up at home, looking at me with the facial expression she wore when I was really upset about something: The “I’m concerned that you are this worked up, but calm the fuck down because you are making me seriously uncomfortable” face.  I relaxed my brain and did what I do.

She asked me what was wrong and I told her.  I told her how much I missed her and she responded the way she always does: “I know.”  I told her that I got caught in a panic spiral about the way she died and I just couldn’t shake it.  In my minds eye, she sighed, and her expression changed to the one she always wore when she was getting ready to tell me something that simply wouldn’t stick if it were coming from someone else.  That look that told me I was probably going to respond with a lot of “buts”, but she was right and I was going to know it.  And this is what I heard in my head:

“Look, I know you’re all super in touch with your feelings and you’re all about making sure you acknowledge them at all costs.  And normally that’s a good thing.  In a lot of ways that makes you healthier than the rest of us.  But for this one particular thing, you’re going to have to act like a normal person.  You need to just shut this one out.  You’ve already thought about this enough.  You figured out how things actually happened and that’s great!  But now the only thing left that thinking about this will do is hurt you.  You’re just torturing yourself and you need to just STOP.”

“But how can I just…?”

“Upbupbup!  Gih!  Just stop.  Suppressing isn’t always a bad thing.  No more good can come of thinking about it so what’s the point?  There’s NO POINT.”

“Yeah… I know you’re right.”


“It’s just so hard.”

“Well not for most people.  Suppressing is actually way easier than the shit you do.  You’re just an emotionally healthy freak.”

The thing about “talking to Jenna” like this is that, even though I know it’s in my mind (Ha… that got very Les Mis “On My Own for a second didn’t it?), it lets me get to places that I probably wouldn’t have if I just let myself stay in my own mindset.  And that is something very special and extremely important.

Let her be around you when you’re doing things

You don’t always have to talk.  Sometimes just knowing that she’s with you to see certain things can be all you need at the moment.  My dad told me a while back how much he just wanted to be able to hug her.  I get that.  But Jenna was never a very physical person with her family (she did not enjoy hugs from us – It was amusing).

I reminded my dad that when it came to the exchange of affection between Jenna and us, it was less about being able to touch her and more about the feeling of her on the couch next to you, watching one of our shows.  Even with the people she was affectionate with, so much more of Jenna’s power was in her presence.  I was talking to Emily, one of Jenna’s friends – our neighbor growing up, went to the same school as Jenna from preschool to high school, and even when they went off to college was a constant in her life – and we agreed that it was soothing just be in a room with her.

And lucky us, this is something that is easier to tap into and still get access to than possibly anything else we’ve lost.  If we let ourselves stop being distracted by what we’re missing and simply open our hearts, you can definitely still feel that same presence during key moments.  I don’t always feel her, but when I do, there’s no doubt in my mind she’s there.  For example: It’s especially prevalent during movies whenever a trailer comes on for something she and I would’ve loved.

I also felt her the other day in the gym.  Jenna always made fun of my lack of athleticism while simultaneously attempting to harass me into cultivating more.  I was on the elliptical for the first time in a long time, listening to her iPod.  I was about to get off when my lungs started burning around the usual mark, then suddenly… 99 Red Balloons by Goldfinger came on.  That was one of our songs that we always rocked out to in the car.  As soon as that first chord hit me, I looked up and saw her in front of me, raising her eyebrows in a “Don’t you dare get off that thing sort of way”, so I took a deep breath and pushed through.  I imagined her dancing in front of me the way we always used to when we would close the office door, blast a song, and take a break from doing homework in high school, mouthing the words all the while with a blatant “You’re a terrible athlete and you suck but I will kill you if you give up now” subtext.

So it’s stuff like that.  Let yourself feel her.  If you need her, let her be there.  But don’t let it be in that clichéd way you see on TV.  It’s just like the conversations.  Jenna had a very specific way that made her special.  Don’t deny yourself that.

Love Your Dreams

I plan on writing an entire entry about the nature of my dreams in particular, but this is already getting long so I’ll keep things general.  Not being afraid to dream about Jenna is a huge part of healing.  Sometimes just seeing her in a dream can ease the pain of missing her, and sometimes I have lucid dreams – A dream where we both know she’s gone and we both know that this is a dream.  Those are actually my favorite.  I actually feel like I'm with her rather than just thinking about her.  Again, I’ll go into my dreams a bit more some other day.  For you, if you feel like you’re missing Jenna particularly hard, think about your best memories before you go to sleep.  Imagine her waiting for you there.  And if you want to lucid dream, here’s how to start practicing: When you wake up from any dream, close your eyes and add on to the ending.  Bring closure to whatever scene you were in.  Don’t describe it in your head, SEE IT.  Hear it.  Use your imagination.  This is particularly useful with bad dreams.

I would like to take a moment to remind those reading this (in case they don’t already know) that these strategies may not be for everyone.  They are just tools in my toolbox that have worked for me.  If you can’t take your mind certain places, don’t force yourself.  Do whatever comforts you. 

What do these things have to do with Denial again?

I have many other coping mechanisms but these are the ones I use for denial.  These might seem like strange ways to deal with denial, but like I said, being hyper aware of accepting what's happened can often make you blind to things that can offer real and healthy comfort.  Yes, we have lost.  We must accept that.  However, we haven’t lost as much as we think, and that can be even harder to accept with all the sadness making us question everything that might really comfort us.  It’s my belief that these acts of exploring the new things you DO have can also help you come to terms with and accept the old things that you don’t anymore.


COMMENTS: I have changed my blog settings so anyone can post.  Please share what Jenna looks like in your mind's eye (hairstyle, clothes, expression), any conversations you've had with her, or simply any stories you remember.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

About This Blog & About Jenna

My name is Amanda.  On April 28th, 2012, I lost my little sister.  She was 22.  I was a month and a half shy of 25.  It happened very suddenly, very unexpectedly, and it has changed my life.

I'll be going into my sister and my relationship as this blog progresses, but here's the Sparknotes: Jenna and I were very close when I lost her.  Of course, when we were growing up we couldn't stand each other.  We were two very different people.  She was popular and athletic, I was artistic and awkward.  We were always sisters, but we really became friends the summer after I graduated high school when my family took a cruise.  Cut off from our respective worlds, she and I looked back on this trip as the time we actually got to know each other.  And from there, I was gifted a relationship unlike any I have ever known or likely will ever know again.  Consequently, the feeling this loss has inflicted on me can be described in very much the same way.

A big part of healing is getting your thoughts out.  I can easily do that with a journal, but many people seem very interested in sharing in my journey.  And if this can help the people who loved my sister, then that's enough motivation for me to get off my lazy disorganized ass and force me to post as consistently as possible.  For people who don't know, Jenna loved pigs.  They were her favorite animal.  That's where the name came from.

Jenna on her Veterinary Guatemala trip

So what do I want from this blog?  A number of things I suppose.  Maybe it'll just be easier if I list them.

In my blog, I want to share:

  • Personal journal entries about my healing process
  • Philosophical Essays/Ramblings/Tangents about life and what may come after it
  • General reflections
  • My progress completing the things on Jenna's bucket list - Jenna had a bucket list (I will publish it later and link it).  I want to make sure that if she can't do these things, I will.  Except the bungee jumping.  Maybe.  My survival is now clearly very essential to my family's sanity so I'm still seriously torn on that.

That part will be for me.  For Jenna, I want to share in this blog:

  • My memories about Jenna
  • Pictures of Jenna - She had the absolute BEST faces.
  • Dreams I Have About Her
  • Any artwork, poetry, or other creative pieces inspired by her
  • Songs she loved or that reflect my current state of mind
  • OTHER PEOPLE'S memories, dreams, artwork/poetry/creative pieces, thoughts in general about Jenna - This part is really important to me.  Just like how I hope my memories will make other people feel like they're making new ones for themselves, that's what other people's stories and memories do for me.  Hearing new stories and sides about my sister give me something that replaying my own memories just can't do.  

Okay I'm gonna go nerd on you for a second: You know how you LOVE a show, but then it's cancelled?  You watch the reruns over and over, and even though you love them, it just makes you miss the show.  Then suddenly, you come across this AMAZING fanfiction that's written so well, it's like you're getting all new episodes!  ... Okay I'm sure most of you are blinking at your screen with confusion right now, but for those of you who know what the hell I'm talking about, that's a very accurate analogy!

My point is, I would love for friends of Jenna to send me stories on facebook.  E-mail me pictures!  SEND ME STUFF.  I will post them here and we will share them together.  It will also be great for me when I don't feel like posting something I wrote myself.


Well there you go.  I finally got this thing up and running.  I hope this helps...


About Jenna (Part 1)

There are a couple types of people who might follow this blog: Complete strangers, people who know me, people who are close to me, people who knew my sister, people who were close to my sister, and family.

All of these people have different levels of knowing Jenna.  Some of my closest friends only knew her by how much I talked about her, and some people are following this simply because they care about me.  Some strangers might be drawn in simply because they too have suffered a loss.  Some people knew Jenna in a way I never did.  And I'm realizing the best way for this blog to serve its purpose is for everyone to know her on an even plane.

I think I'm going to start backwards and work my way forwards.  So I'll start with her obituary.  That gives you a basic idea of the kind of person Jenna was.  We'll build from there.
"Jenna Marie Roark, age 22, beloved and beautiful daughter and sister, died unexpectedly on Saturday, April 28, 2012. 
Jenna was born on Sept. 29, 1989, in Madison to David and Lynne. She attended Queen of Peace Elementary School, which was highlighted by the camaraderie of her soccer, basketball, and volleyball teammates. This continued into Edgewood High School with her love of being on the Varsity Tennis Team and the friendships that grew during this time. She eventually found her passion at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire majoring in biology with the intention of pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. 
Her love for animals was evident all through childhood helping her mom with their menagerie of pets. She especially loved all her kitties and even brought their dog, Fred, up to Eau Claire for sleepovers. Last summer she was an intern at Spring Harbor Veterinary Clinic, and in January spent two weeks in Guatemala working with local veterinarians caring for animals, which made her even more passionate about becoming a veterinarian. 
Most recently she had begun a new job at Ruffin It Resort, a doggie day care in Madison.
An avid sports fan and athlete, one of Jenna’s greatest joys was attending Packers games with her dad. Watching college basketball during March Madness and reminiscing about the year they attended the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas was also a family ritual. Jenna’s job was to check her dad’s bracket to make sure he didn’t change it during the tournament. 
Her sister Amanda was one of her best friends. The ease and humor of their relationship was a constant source of entertainment for her parents and friends. Being together was always the best part of their many family vacations over the years. They loved each other very much. 
Jenna will always be remembered as a lover of pigs, a hater of spiders, a champion of mini golf with her family, and the future fiancee of Aaron Rodgers and/or Peeta Mellark. Her beautiful blue eyes, engaging smile and enthusiasm for life will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her. 
Our lives will never be the same. We will never forget her love and presence that made us feel happy. We will always love her and always be a family of four."
Family of four
My mom wrote most of that.  I helped with the structure and wrote a bit in the middle.

Anyway, I guess I'll also post the eulogy I did for her.  That covers her relationship with me pretty extensively.  It also talks about her a bit more below the surface and her relationship with my parents.  But before you begin reading/watching, I should preface.  I do mention briefly that Jenna's death was originally thought to be a suicide, but upon further investigation, it turned out (to everyone's relief) that it was actually an accident.  I haven't decided if I will elaborate more than that on this blog.  I'm usually very open about the circumstances surrounding her death because I don't like people to make assumptions, and (as I will state) getting the story straight would have been VERY important to her, but talking about something so personal on the internet feels... unseemly.  I dunno.  Like I said, I haven't decided yet.  If I do decide to explain, it will probably be a separate post.

Right now I want you to get to know the person - Not the ending.

Note: The beginning of the video is cut off, but the abridged transcript is below.  Thank you Ben Scharpf for filming.  The lighting is not important:)

"Hi. I’m Amanda. I’m Jenna’s sister. It’s always been my job to write the speeches in the family. Jenna’s was to tack her name on at the end and say “Yeah!” So… I hope I can talk about Jenna today in a way that will make her proud. Writing this was so hard because I found myself going on so many tangents and wanting to share a million stories. I could honestly talk for hours about what my sister loved, what drove her crazy and what she meant to me personally. But we only have so much time.

Jenna was… Joy. She was more than just a cliché animal lover. I always thought that was such a beautifully subtle part of her personality. I really wish I had talked to her more about it because it’s hard to articulate. She loved pigs. And she loved dogs and cats, but it wasn’t just blindly. She didn’t just love the idea of them. She just loved every animal she met instantly. And that I think, made it more personal. She grew into it. And it was reflected in the way she loved our animals. She played with them and even teased them, but they loved her back for the time she spent and the appreciation she had for their individual characters.  It reminded me of the way she loved the people she cared about and the way they loved her—Because Jenna didn’t just love the idea of people. In fact, Jenna had a HUGE issue with strangers. I will never forget how she would always ever so inconspicuously wait for someone to go in ahead of her at a game or a movie. Yeah it’s funny until you find your long legs stuck in the middle on a airplane every time we had to share a row with an extra person. Once Jenna got to know you though, she was yours. And you were hers. You couldn’t help yourself.

I think one of the biggest draws about Jenna was how much she loved to play. I know for sure that’s what bonded her with our pets and unlocked her passion for animals. She didn’t just take care of them. She was always the one who played with them. Because that was just her. From her Angry Birds to Words with Friends… Those were just two of some of the COUNTLESS apps she had on her iPod. My parents used to flip a coin when we were little to figure out who had to sit with her on the airplane. I was always wrapped up in a book or my Gameboy. She would always want to play Chinese Checkers or I Spy. One of her biggest catchphrases I will always remember from her childhood is “Play with me…” And when she got older it never changed. She was always getting us to play cards or texting me to make my move on Words with Friends. One of my favorite last memories is how during her Spring break, we spent an hour on the phone after our actual conversation had finished just playing Words with Friends and Draw Something back and forth. At one point, my mom actually asked Jenna if she was still on the phone because she hadn’t said anything for a full ten minutes. She simply replied, “Oh yeah. We’re just playing”.

That was sort of our relationship in a nutshell I guess. Maybe. How can I describe my relationship with my sister? We’ve always been such opposites at first glance. Well we grew up hating each other. I resented her because she was always so athletic and popular and she th ought I was weird and way too emotionally intense. Which I am. Things improved when I was in high school. We would occasionally shut the office door, blast NSYNC and dance it out to “I Need Love”. When we really started to reconnect was when we took a cruise to the Mediterranean the summer after I graduated. Cut off from our other lives, we made a group of friends together on the first night. And spent every day with them and each other since. It was those late Coca-Cola fueled nights that really bonded us (which by the way is how I’m convinced she developed her acid reflux – We had these stickers for free Cokes and she down like seven a day to hang out with our friends all night and tour Greece the next day – Pretty sure that’s what wore away the stomach lining). It was all down hill from there. When I was in school, Jenna and I really became friends. We both went through some crazy things as young ladies tend to do and found that talking to each other offered a unique perspective and more importantly, an understanding, that we just couldn’t get anywhere else. We were sisters. And I really knew we were friends when Jenna passed up going out one particular night of the summer to stay in and watch Boston Legal with me. I felt so friggin cool. I still can’t even articulate how wonderful it was to have our relationship evolve. When I think about how we are now, just being in a room with her was soothing. It took away pain. It was considered an evening of bonding just existing in the same space watching Animal Planet, Remember the Titans, any of the Harry Potter movies, or Armageddon for the fifty millionth time (pretty sure she watched Armageddon three times in one day once – The movie never failed to make her cry). We could entertain ourselves on long car rides just by taking pictures of ourselves while listening to the radio or splitting a headset and rocking out silently while our parents pretended to ignore us. I will never be able to listen to Mama Mia or the Goldfinger 99 Red Balloons without thinking of her. We could say things to each other that nobody could. Our flaws became hilarious. Our banter was flat out entertainment. She was the only one who could call me on my crap without me taking it personally. I feel like that wasn’t just with me though. That was just her. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. She was honest and did not suffer fools. She told me more than once that patience like that was my department. I think that’s my favorite part about our relationship. We were so different in our public interests, the way we handled other people, and the way we felt about hugging each other (I LOVED to force her to hug me and make her uncomfortable), but there was this underlying similarity in the way we viewed life and what made us laugh. I hear that’s called having a sister.

I’m so glad we landed on this idea of always being a family of four because I don’t know what I would do without her just in my family dynamic. She was so much better at knowing when to keep her mouth shut and helping my parents without complaining. She always had my mom’s ability to just grit her teeth and get the job done without any side comments. I was never so lucky. I always really respected that about both of them and I think that’s what made my mom and Jenna really understand each other. That, and the memory of my sister’s faces making my mom laugh so hard she cried. Jenna always made the BEST faces. It’s why I’m so glad that she also inherited my mother’s passion for documenting life through pictures – Even though to be a camera of Jenna Roark’s meant certain DOOM. I have no idea how many cameras that girl lost, broke, or had stolen. Pretty sure one exploded into a fireball once. I may be making that up but I’m going to choose to imagine that. She shared a lot of my mother’s creative talents too. I was always considered the artist to her athlete in the family, but she had such an eye for aesthetics. It’s what made her have such great taste in clothes, how she was able to turn out amazing scrapbooks at the drop of a hat, and how she started cultivating her flair for interior design.

While my sister loved my mom and their emotional personalities often comically resembled each other, she was always a daddy’s girl. Everyone who ever knew her knew how much she loved her dad. And it wasn’t just because they bonded over sports. There was just something special there. She was always so self sufficient but I could tell my dad’s unconditional devotion to both of us made her feel so safe. I really loved watching the two of them because there was something so special in the way he would always pick on her and banter with her. It was just one more thing on the list of many that reminded me of how lucky I am to have the family I did. Do.

This… Isn’t fair. In fact, pardon my French Lord, but it sucks. Hard. Some of you already know but details have recently been discovered that prove once and for all that this was just a freak accident.  I’m not going to go into details up here because that’s not what this eulogy is about and word is spreading. On the downside, it makes this loss so much more… well, stupid. But I’m so grateful that this information now actually adds up and makes sense now because number one, everyone knew something wasn’t right about that, and now things finally make sense. And number two, Jenna would be SO ANGRY if people thought that she took her own life. Because that is one of the biggest things that not only connected us as sisters, but reflected our upbringing the most. Quit is not in our vocabulary. We may stumble and we may fail, but we always get back up and keep going.  And I think that’s because thanks to our parents, we were never afraid to fail. Failures were just things that happened. They were not the end all be all of anything. We took things as they came and thought about what we were going to do next. That’s how we rolled. Things never got too hard for us because we knew that no matter how it played out, it would be okay. That’s how I know that this isn’t the end for her either. Do you think that a little thing like death will keep Jenna Marie Roark from living? No way. Jenna Roark laid the groundwork in life to not just shine, but blaze in the hearts of countless people until the end of time. She has so many footholds on this plane that it will be impossible for her to ever truly leave us. And I will never give up on her because I know she never gave up on herself.

I miss you so much Jenna. It’s going to be hard for us to keep a clear picture when tears make everything so blurry, but that’s why we have each other. To help us remember to see. And hear. And feel. And keep loving. And I know if she was here, she would wrap this up with an, “Everything she said… I totally agree with”. What can I say?

The girl taught me everything I know."
When I finished we all actually sang together, but I can't do that moment justice in writing.  There's video footage that I'm hoping to add to this section once I get it.  It was raining outside when I was giving the eulogy.  And when the singing stopped, the rain stopped.  It was an extraordinary moment.

So that about covers the basics I guess.  Hopefully you'll get to know her almost as well as I do very soon.

Get ready...