Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Dirk

Today I want to talk about probably one of the most significant people in Jenna's life: Dirk Van Rybroek.  It's his birthday today.

I need to say something before I go into anything else: I know Jenna and Dirk's relationship was... drama-filled.  To say the least.  As her sister, I was privy to pretty much everything that went down.  They were on and off since their senior year of high school and most of their issues were completely unsurprising in a relationship that started so young.  Stupid stupid things were said and done.  Through it all though, the love they had was something that never really leaves the system.  Although they were off again right before we lost her, they still talked constantly.  A part of me has a feeling that if they had been given some REAL time apart to have a chance to grow and gain perspective, they would have found their way back to each other.  But I know that even if they never ended up together, they would always be a part of each other's lives.  They wouldn't be able to help it.

So despite all the drama and whatever opinions I had as a sister before this whole thing happened, it doesn't matter anymore.  To me, he will always be the love of my sister's life.  So I love him too.

It's hard for me to describe Dirk and Jenna's relationship here because I only saw the tiniest fraction.  When they were at their best, they were attached at the hip and had the kind of intimacy that only the most annoying best friends have.  Inside jokes and constant silent communication.  I'm hoping that eventually Dirk will write a piece for the blog himself.  He's already been such a wonderful help to me writing this (with his weird photographic memory) and simply recovering from the tragedy itself.

Dirk and I always got along pretty well.  I seemed to be the only one in Jenna's family who didn't terrify him.  He had this bizarre fear of my parents (which is silly since they are some of the least intimidating people I know) and he seemed unable to speak above a mumble around them for the longest time.  Though after a while, I'm quite sure he just did it to bug my sister.  That seemed to be the purpose behind a majority of his behaviors.  NOBODY trolled Jenna like Dirk did (though my dad was a close second).

Looking back, I think he and I had a connection and a comfort level when Jenna was alive for the same reason we've been drawn to each other now that she's gone: Even though our relationships with Jenna were completely different than each other's, nobody else had the same kind of relationship with her as we did.  And because of that, even though Dirk and I have lost completely different things, nobody else has lost the same thing that we have.  Does that make sense?  We both knew and loved Jenna in a way that was completely unique.  Maybe that's the reason why we feel like talking to each other is the closest we ever get to someone who really understands.

But the more I think about it, although this crucial understanding we share allows us to talk about our struggles and our pain, I think the thing that keeps drawing us back to each other is the conversations about Jenna when she was still with us.  A lot of conversations I have with other people are about the fact that she's not here anymore or what I'm going through right now.  And as I said, Dirk and I talk about that a lot too, but most of the time, we just reminisce.  We tell each other things we haven't heard, retell stories we already know (from different perspectives), reenact her facial expressions, and it feels really good.  Dirk and I started doing this early and often.  And now that I've realized it, I'm urging anyone reading this - whether you've lost someone close to you or are wondering how to comfort someone who has lost - to make this the habit.  Yeah, it's good to talk about the process and what you/someone else is going through, but get comfortable sharing positive stories from when you WERE fortunate enough to have them.  You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget to do that, especially during these depression phases.  You be surprised how, even when you don't forget, how hesitant some people feel to do so.  This idea might seem like you're reminding yourself what of you've lost.  It might seem like it would make it worse in theory, but I promise you, it doesn't.  In fact, I think I'm right in saying that often when Dirk and I are feeling our worst, remembering a specific story that makes us smile is the only thing that can pull us out of it.

For example.
Am I right, Dirk?  Alright so it's your birthday...

A Birthday Letter to Dirk

Dear Dirka,

I would like to tell you that I am glad. I'm glad that you've found that you can really talk to me. It's incredibly gratifying that I've been able to offer you some comfort. You meant so much to Jenna and the idea that I can help you through this feels like one of the biggest services I could do her. Letting me be there for you has helped me so much too. Also, thank you for being brave enough to tell me about how you found Jenna. I'm so glad you found the strength to share. It couldn't have been easy, but it gave me the last pieces I needed to figure out what actually happened. That peace of mind is invaluable. I'm also glad for all the time you spent with Jenna and your crazy detail-oriented steel trap of a memory. I enjoy the brief exchanges of nostalgia, the long conversations we have in person, and the random thoughts we wish we could share with her. Finally, thank you for coming down to visit me. Both times. I get so much out of it.  I hope you do too.  Please come down again soon.

So for those of you who are NOT Dirk and reading along, I have a story I know you'll enjoy as much as we did.  After Wednesday karaoke the first night Dirk came down to visit (I managed to convince Dirk to sing a stirring rendition of Tupac's "California Love"), we were sitting in Steak n Shake reminiscing.  When our order came, Dirk opened his burger, picked off the pickles and chuckled.  It reminded him that whenever he and Jenna went to McDonald's, she would always order a McChicken with cheese, and he would always order a Big Mac and take off the pickles.  Now Jenna, being the attentive and observant girlfriend she was, noticed this habit and began asking for Dirk's Big Mac with no pickles when she ordered.  Thoughtful, right?  Well apparently Dirk preferred chaos (some men just want to watch the world burn, etc).  Every time Jenna would ask for no pickles, Dirk would yell over her out the window "NO I WANT PICKLES!!!"  Jenna would tell the cashier to ignore him, but Dirk would continue protesting.  This doubtlessly left a very confused cashier.  It became a running joke to bet on whether or not they would end up giving him pickles.  If there were no pickles, great!  Dirk didn't want them in the first place.  If there were pickles on the burger, great!  That gave him the chance to pick them off and throw them at Jenna.  It was really a win win. 
 (Dirk and Jenna, respectively) 
This story cracked me up.  I immediately got a clear visual of her frustrated tone, so similar to my own, rolling her eyes and calling Dirk an asshole.  That's when I got the idea to take the pickles outside after we were finished, and throw them into the night.  So we did. 
Certain things and people make me feel closer to my sister than others. You are one of them. In fact, being around you is the closest I get to the same kind of vibe I got from my sister. It's probably because you're so similar, but I also think it's because you hold so much of her. We both do. And I think having such easy access to parts of her we aren't totally familiar with or used to, even after she's gone, is a very comforting thing. It's the biggest reason why I've been so adamant about getting as many of Jenna's friends involved in this blog as possible. Thank you for being so involved and so accessible. I look forward to put our fantastic plans for future posts into action:)

I know that the idea of falling in love and living happily ever after with anyone else is completely unimaginable right now, and I know we've already talked about this, but I also know just how much she wants you to be happy and live your life. And this topic is a crucial part of it. So here some of the things we discussed in a place you can always look at them: 1) Let your love for Jenna be your rock, not your anchor. Rocks are something you can pick up and carry with you, remember? It should be something that you can always rely on to hold you steady, but never something that holds you back. 2) When you are ready to love again, don't feel guilty. We keep saying it over and over, but you have to remind yourself that she wants you to be happy. Listen to her and let her help you find someone she would approve of. Speaking from experience, using whether or not Jenna would approve as a determining factor in a relationship ended up serving me very well. You may also let her help you come up with creative nicknames for those who end up not being worth your time like she did for me. You know what I'm talking about.  3) Never expect anyone to compete with her. This will always be something completely different. It should never be compared to whatever happiness you find in the future. 4) Let the successes and even more importantly, the mistakes you made with Jenna make you the best and most loving man a woman could ever hope for. If it gets hard, remember to ask yourself: What kind of legacy do you want her to leave behind?

Okay. Enough lectures. Happy birthday Dirk. Really. Mine was difficult and yours will be too, but keep finding reasons to be happy. And keep pushing forward.  I'll be right there with you.

I'll see you soon.
Lots of love,
- Amanda
Don't Stop Believin'
(Jenna would have been proud)


  1. I love that picture of them dancing, especially Dad. As usual, we know how to have fun at weddings! Love, Mom

  2. Amanda, those words to Dirka are touching. I lost my boyfriend six months ago, and I truly understand how much you would like to share the stories of the loved one, especially with his family. My bf's family didn't give me the chance though

    Dirka is so lucky to have you around at such time