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Life and Death On Facebook

“We are walking each other home”

– Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

Hey there,

I should be at your funeral right now. A celebration of life, your memorial…I should be there. Except, I just couldn’t.

It’s been on my calendar and in the front of my mind since you passed two weeks ago. I figured I would slip in, soak up all the goodness and love people were pouring out in their tears and slip out, unnoticed.

And then this morning, as I was waking up, listening to the mockingbird outside my window and looking into the eyes of my mutt, so happy to see me, I absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of it all. Despite how brave you were, how you surrendered your fear of death and embraced everything joyful about life, I knew that the best way I could honor you, sweet friend, was with words.

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You see, I dreamed about Disneyland the night after you died. At first, we were there and everything seemed fine. I had been elected some kind of ambassador to Disneyland and wasn’t quite sure why, because I never had that same feeling about it as you did. I know everyone says it’s the happiest place on earth but happiness was never my strong point.

When we first met in 1991, I was always the glass-half-full kind of girl. We were both fresh-faced teachers, barely adults, excited to be at Jackman together, not quite sure what the heck we were doing but pumped up to make things happen.

Suddenly, we were pushing through the crowds. I was smiling –  people were paying attention to us. You always had a way of lighting up a space, my dear.

PE teachers and English teachers don’t always gravitate towards each other, but being in the midst of a brand new school, kids who hungered for relationships and trying to build a community, we bonded.  That’s the way you were with everyone – your big smile, huge hugs, and endearing personality charmed everyone – especially our students.

Stopping mid-stream, I bent down and picked up a wedding ring off the ground and put it in my pocket. It seemed like someone must’ve dropped it but I wasn’t sure why and everyone was so happy I didn’t want to stop and damper the mood.

I only invited three work friends to my wedding in 1994 – you were sweet enough to come, helping me make my special day perfect. You just had a knack for that.

life and death on facebook
Pam and Carrie at my wedding – yes, she wore white!

We found ourselves on some sort of up in the air train or bus  – people kept sitting down and getting off, and at one point you leaned over and whispered, “I’ll be back in a second,” and you jumped to the side of the freeway. Another person came and sat down next to me – he had trouble with his legs. He was telling me how he couldn’t roll over and was having trouble with mobility.

John always liked you, you know. We were an unlikely pair, you and I – an ex-Goth girl turned English teacher, and an ex-basketball star turned PE teacher? Introvert and extrovert. Do you remember that time we went to CLMS with Ann and Tina? I’m pretty sure that was my first official work conference – all I remember is the laughter.

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The three PE teachers – and me, behind the camera. Unlikely friends.

 

People kept coming onto the bus, sitting down, getting up, trying to get going. I asked the man next to me where you were and somebody shouted, “She’s over on the other side!” and there you were, smiling that enormous grin that filled up the whole room. It was taking forever to get to Disneyland, the traffic was bad, and you started talking about all the challenges in life. The mom behind me was arguing with her son because he wanted to get off, go out on his own, and I leaned over the seat and told her I knew how she felt – I let my son move away and eighth grade, but he came back. I told her was all going to be OK and we kept on the journey.

I remember the last time I saw you. It was after I started teaching AVID, and came back to Jackman to see the program there, but I think I spent more time with you than anyone else. It was so strange walking back through the gates, across the quad and back into another time. I had become a mom by then, and you’d met Nat and were so happy with her. I remember getting back in my car, driving around the neighborhood, and thinking I shouldn’t let life get in the way of seeing people I really care about. I wish I’d listened to myself.

I didn’t quite know what to do so I got up and started feeding people. I was cutting a cake into little tiny bites, hoping it was going to be enough for everybody – and suddenly, the train stopped. We were finally at Disneyland, and everybody started pushing to get off the bus and I lost track of you. And I didn’t feel so much like people were paying attention anymore – it was just over, we were going our own ways, not unhappily or happily, just moving through the journey.

I found out you died on Facebook. Not what I ever expected to read the morning of April 9, 2018 – that your journey on Earth was over. I was shocked. You looked so strong in your photos, so happy. How could you be gone?

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I’m going to miss you, Carrie.

You were brave with your life. I’m grateful that Facebook brought us back together over the last decade. I’m grateful I got to watch as you filled your life with happiness and smiles, and that I saw you adore your family, your travels with Natalie and your Ladd-strong battles with chemo. I love seeing pictures of our old friends from the beginning years – people you stayed connected with, but I let go. When I look at my wedding photos I can hardly remember the girl I was in 1994; it was before I even knew really who I was, but you were there smiling cheering me and John. I can’t believe I can’t return the favor, that I can’t finally drive across the causeway, pull up a chair with you in a garden, drink a pint and just laugh and remember and let you know how important you were in my life. I’m sorry my kids didn’t get to know you, and I’m sorry that they didn’t get to see what true bravery looked like. I’m sorry I left it up to Facebook to keep in touch.

But my dear, sweet Carrie, please know that you are carried with me into my classroom every day. You’re in my heart when my students need a hug or someone who will listen. You’re with me when I look into the faces of children who struggle to get to school or to simply smile.  When I see a teacher being goofy, dancing to their own tune at an assembly, I know you’re with me, too. And you’re there, always, when a teacher friend walks up, puts her arm around me, and gently says, “Hey, Jen”.

You’re all that, and more, Carrie. I hope you understand now why I couldn’t slip into your service today, and instead, I sit alone in my room, gazing out at the treetops, writing these words, glancing up at my calendar that reminds me that although this is the month we lost your body, your spirit will always be right here with me.

Until our souls meet again,

Jen

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Bravest

the bravest

The bravest person I know is the parent facing life after the loss of their child.

I’m trying not to live in fear, not to future trip. I’m trying to send love and light and strength and healing energy. I’m trying not to be furious at the Universe who is taking parents on this journey.

I want to trust, I want to breathe, I want to pray and scream and cry and say something – anything – that will make sense, but I don’t know what words to share that will help ease the pain, that will share my love and let the bravest person I know feel my grief.

I want to be present in the pain, to feel it sweep through my body and out to the sky. I want to know that there is beauty and love and light wrapping their arms around those who need it most. I want to collect all the prayers and thanks and gratitude I read about, bundle them into something to hold onto. I want the bravest person I know to feel my embrace.

I want that child back, I want them to smile and eat spaghetti and smell fresh laundry. I want them to hug and cry and yell and love. I want their eyes to crinkle when they smile, their legs to shake when they’re tired, and their heart to fill when the bravest person I know enfolds them in their love.

Oh, Universe, the bands of my heart stretch to the great unknown. My fingers pause and enfold my face, they brush the tears and search for the words strangled inside.

All the while, my love, my hopes, my strength sleeps down the hall, wrapped in safety and dreams while the bravest person I know opens their eyes on an entirely new world today.

So I offer my humble words to you this morning, Universe: Peace. Love. Light. Hope. Faith.

And I trust that the bravest person I know receives them.

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Best Life, January 2014

be brave quoteJanuary…the month when I feel like there are expectations galore. Although I’m not a voice for new year’s resolutions, there’s a tiny part of me that expects January to be….different.

And it was. January, in California, was DRY. Watching the rest of the nation shiver with the Polar Vortex certainly provided a certain sense of  comfort and envy as my family yearned for snow. I watched my rosebushes begin to bud out in the garden, and actually wore a short sleeve shirt. January in my life required a little bit of bravery, scads of patience, and at the end, surrendering to things beyond my control.

My Best January:

Best Quotes:

One of the best parts of my day happens in the morning when I open my daily email from First Sip. This was one of my favorites-doesn’t it just ooze January?

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”~ John O’Donohue

I first began reading Ida B. Wells in college; when I read this quote this month, it shouted out a reminder for my year:

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” ~ Ida B. Wells

Best Books:

January books

January was a month of reading. Two of my favorites were A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker, a story about an American woman, a Burmese monk, and unexpected love, and Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton, a fictional recounting of the Donner Party experience in 1846.

Best Recipes:

January was a busy month, and sadly, not much original cooking occurred in my kitchen. Fortunately, my daughter continued her Wednesday baking tradition with these INCREDIBLE dark chocolate brownies from The Pioneer Woman. If ever the expression ‘death by chocolate’ were applicable, this would be the time!

Best Blog Reads:

Edutopia is one of my favorite education blogs, and often times I find posts there that bleed inexorably into my ‘other’ life. This post, about teaching grit and resilience, touched me. So much of what I do as a teacher and a parent is try to encourage, support, and show kids that they can and will survive life’s challenges. I’m seeing many examples of kids giving up on themselves, and parents excusing them, because life gets hard. The idea that they’re learning this life strategy, instead of focusing on developing grit, frightens me. It’s something we all should think about.

One of the best blog posts I read in January was “A New Season”, written by Lindsey Mead for Huffington Post. I follow Lindsey’s blog, A Design So Vast, and have enjoyed getting to know her through her poignant and often times painfully realistic reflections on motherhood. Although she’s a few years behind me in parenting years, her posts never fail to remind me of the delicacy of our time with our children.

Best Photos:

My sister found this image of my girl, taken around 16 years ago. It brought tears to my eyes; I could feel her little fingers holding mine, and the sinewy hug she wrapped me in right after the photo was taken. The fleeting nature of motherhood…

17 years later, I love the woman she's become
17 years later, I love the woman she’s become

I’m including a video in this month’s Best Photos, simply because it captures my heart, my child, and how we spend so much of our time in the mountains-and because I was lucky enough to be at the start gate for one of his races.

Best Moments:

photo credit: Kristy Powell

January handed me several ‘parenting handbook’ moments; one of the toughest was during my daughter’s ski race. I wrote about resilience, and life lessons, and thanked a stranger for teaching her. 

And of course, some joyous ones as well – ski season is off to an exciting start! 

Wishing you bravery and adventure in February – and as always, thank you for supporting mamawolfe. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and Facebook, too!

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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