On Tuesday, February 14th, my family suffered a tremendous loss--my brother-in-law CJ died in a terrible accident. Ever since that horrible moment, my brain and heart have been trying to come to terms with it. My brain has been on non stop mode just thinking about the words that I would write, but every time I start to write something it just seems so incomplete or the words don't seem to convey exactly what I'm thinking. Today is the day that I stop waiting and just write--that's what CJ would have done!
I'm pretty sure that I'm still in the denial stage of this horrible process because I just don't want to admit that it really happened. We all have said at some point during the last month, "Stuff like this isn't supposed to happen to our family, " or, "This is the kind of thing that only happens in movies." But it did happen to us and most significantly, to my little sister Keri.
On the ride up to the hospital I begged, cried, and pleaded the entire way for just this one thing--to please save him. I have never done or felt that in all my life; I have felt lots of things that I have never experienced these past few weeks. I feel as if my heart is broken for CJ, but even more for my sister. She is too young to have to go through this; it has felt like this is more pain than one can bear. When we went to see CJ in the hospital one more time before we left that night, I told Keri that I would fight with her and for her and that together we would get through this. We are fighters! I spoke those words, but they felt vacant. Being the big sister, I wanted to help my little sister--that's what big sisters do! I knew that I had to be strong for her, but I didn't know how I was going to do that.
I was in the depths of sorrow and despair and at times it was all-consuming. There were fleeting moments of happiness and laughter while we were surrounded by our amazing family and wonderful friends, but then we would remember. I remember the Saturday after, I was talking to Sam. I told her that I didn't think there could ever be enough good that would come from this accident to out weigh the pain and sorrow that my sister and family had to experience. I was angry that this happened. I didn't like that feeling and I didn't know what I could do to get rid of it. I knew that CJ was in a happier place; I knew that Keri and CJ would be together again someday; I knew that we would not be given more than we can bear; I knew that families are forever, but none of that made me feel any better. I wanted to help my sister, to take away even just a tiny bit of her pain, but I didn't know how.
Over the next week and a half we went through the motions. We tried to do anything that we thought might bring some comfort to Keri. We worked on details and got everything ready to head up to Utah. It was not a fun drive, knowing that our end point was what it was. We were there for Keri, ready at any moment to whisk her away and let her be. She is much stronger than I am. She has done things that I know I never could do, but she did them. She did it all--the viewings, the hand shakes, the hugging, the crying--and she did them all so bravely!
CJ's funeral was truly amazing. There were some beautiful words that were spoken that touched my heart and brought me a glimmer of hope. One of his best friends, Joe Woods, gave the most amazing talk. When I get a copy of it I will write some of it down to share. One of the overwhelming messages of the service was what an amazing man CJ is and a lot of that is due to what he believed. CJ didn't just believe, he lived his beliefs. You could see it just by looking at him that there was something different about him and that's what made all of us what to be around him. He was an example to everyone he met.
When we left Provo on Sunday, we left Keri there with CJ's family. Aside from dealing with all of this, that was one of the hardest things I've had to do. I did not want to leave her side. I wanted to be with her to help her in any possible way, but I know that CJ's family and her friends are taking good care of her. When we finally got home on Monday night, my body, heart, and mind were exhausted. I robotically went through the rest of that week, not really knowing what I was doing. I had some good days at school where my mind could be distracted and not focus on the sadness, but when I would come home it would all come back. I felt bad for not being sad all day like Keri was. Not that being sad was helping her at all, but I felt like that's all I could do for her. Saturday finally came, but that was filled with field hockey--still no time for rest. At last Sunday was here.
I had planned to go to the beach before church to let the girls play, enjoy a beautiful day outside, and hopefully, feel some peace. Those plans didn't turn out because of two crazy kids and even crazier nap schedules. I went to church feeling mad, but hoping for something. Church didn't turn out any better as I mostly roamed the halls with Brooklynn because she was so tired and cranky. I kept thinking, "What a waste being at church when I'm just walking around with this crazy baby!" But all day long I kept thinking back to that conversation I had with Sam about the amount of good vs the amount of pain. The thought kept nagging at my brain all day, until I went back to the mother's lounge at church.
I realized that I was right, there would never be enough good to come from this tragedy to out weigh the pain...unless I made it happen. It was up to me to make sure that there would eventually be more good than bad to come from this. That's what CJ would have done--taken some action. And somehow that thought brought me some peace. That does not mean that I have not been sad since then or that I won't ever have a bad day again, but it has changed my outlook. If I don't change my life, then CJ would have died for nothing. That thought angers me! It is my job to look for the good, or more importantly, to make the good things happen. I'm a planner and a doer; I often think on a bigger scale than I need to. But I now know, that when I told Keri back in the hospital that I was going to help her fight, that I'm going to fight to find the good. It needs to start with me--I need to become a better person like CJ was. It's not going to be a miraculous overnight change, but one thing at a time. I want to continue CJ's legacy and example through everything that I do and eventually, someday, I do know that I will be able to say that the good finally does out weigh the bad from this event in our lives.
So here are some lessons that I've learned from CJ:
1. Smile--he always did. I don't have a memory of CJ when he's not smiling. I can kind of be a "Debby Downer" sometimes, but it's hard to do that when you're smiling. His smile radiated happiness, love, and hope. It made everyone around him smile, so in turn we ended up happy too. It was contagious, but a good kind of contagious.
This is a picture of Brooklynn smiling at CJ on Christmas morning. He was bouncing a balloon and making crazy faces at her. It wasn't anything huge, but it made her happy. It's an example of his contagious smile!
Here's Bailey smiling so big because CJ built her a huge hole and then buried her. Keri and CJ came to visit us one weekend in the fall, so of course we went to the beach. The rest of us were tired, lazy, and just relaxing in the sun, but CJ never rested. He quickly gave in to Bailey's requests and he got up and played with her. When I think of CJ I think of my kids smiling. As a mother, that is the one thing that makes us the happiest--happy kids.
2. Take the best things from life! Every time we went out to eat, CJ would always ask the waiter, "What's the best thing you have here?" Now even though that's with food, I feel like CJ did that with everything in life. He always found the best things to do, play, buy, see, and experience. Why settle for something less than that?
3. Live life to its fullest! I've always thought of that as just a saying, but CJ really truly lived it. For CJ there was no down time. He worked hard and played even harder. So lately instead of just turning on the tv when I get home from school, I sit on the floor and play with the girls. Keri and CJ didn't have TV and I always thought they were crazy, but instead of zoning out they were always enjoying their time together. I know it's something little, but I do it and think of CJ.
Here's CJ at our family reunion this year. While the rest of us sat and watched the kids play, he got up and played with them. Get out there and do it!
4. Live the gospel, just don't believe it. I know that CJ knew the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. He believed it with his entire being.
This picture truly exemplifies what CJ was about. Here's he's facing his goal and purpose in life--the temple--and driving toward it with 100% focus. In his hands is a picture of the temple for their house. We need to keep our eyes on the temple and focus on what's truly important in life.
5. Love your family! I've always loved my family, but the one thing that has always impressed me about CJ is what a family guy he is. The very first time I met him, before Keri and CJ were a thing, he came to our house with a ton of his friends. They stopped by just for dinner on their way to some crazy adventure. Out of all the guys, CJ was one of them who took the time to stop and talk to Bailey. She was little, but he took a moment to notice her. When they got married, I told him, "Welcome to our crazy family!" He fit right in and loved all of us! We can be a lot to handle sometimes, but if CJ ever thought we were too crazy or intense, he never let us know. In fact, his intensity just pumped our intensity up even more!! We had many late, late night volleyball games and Dance Dance competitions and CJ would usually put us all to shame, but in a loving way!
CJ loved Keri with all of his heart! You could see it in the way they looked at each other and how they always wanted to do something together. They inspire me with how happy they are! I know that they will be together again because they were sealed in the temple for all eternity.
One of my favorite memories of CJ, is the hardest one for me to write. I am so grateful that I have this memory, but it also makes it so hard. The night before the accident, Brian and I drove up to meet Toni, Keri, and CJ for dinner. Keri and Toni had had a auntie slumber party with my girls on Sunday night and then played with them all day on Monday. We met at Cafe Rio for dinner. I remember walking in and there was CJ just chillin in his sweats smiling at my tiny Brooklynn as she sat on the table. Bailey was also by his side telling him something trying to get more of his attention. Little Brooklynn smiled and flirted with him the entire night and she loved it! I loved watching the two of them smile at each other across the table. As we were walking out to the car, I handed Brooklynn to CJ to hold while we got the car ready. He held her and played with her and made her smile. He gave her a hug and handed her back to me when we were all packed up. I sent Bailey over to give Uncle a CJ a big hug before we left. She ran over and said, "Thanks CJ (although she pronounced it "she jay") I love you!" I told all of them thanks and then we drove off. As we were driving back home, I just kept thinking about what good guy CJ was and how lucky my girls were to have him as their uncle. I still do think that and I always will!
I will live my life a little better each day than the day before. I will make my girls smile and help them to remember Uncle CJ and what an amazing man he was. I will love my family with all of my heart. I will love and help my little sister, like CJ would want me to. I will make sure that there will be some good--because that's what CJ would do. I know that I am changed forever because of CJ and I hope that I can spread this change on to others. I'm going to fight to find the good and to make a difference! I love CJ and I love my sister Keri!! I will be here for her for whatever she needs. Not a day will go by without thinking of him, but I will be asking myself, "What would CJ do?" and then go and do it!