The day of my mom’s “celebration of life” was the second most painful day of my life. The first being the day she passed, about a month prior to the service. I spent the weeks leading up to the event dragging my feet on every detail–nothing felt right. But how could it? Everything was wrong. She should be here. This isn’t how I imagined my life without her. She should be old and gray and have lived 90+ amazing years of her life. She should have been able to see her only daughter be married, witness the birth of her grandchildren, continue her legacy as a monumentally impactful human being.
But she won’t.
Instead, I hobbled around her empty house, littered with wilting flowers, dusty floors, and dirty Tupperware–unable to escape the never-ending reminder of her absence that glared from every corner. I would lay in her bed at night and try with every fiber of my being to comprehend what even goes into planning a memorial service?!
This was a year ago, I was freshly twenty-two and blessed to still have all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, close friends– you know, my “people”. I had never lost anyone significant nor been exposed to the logistical side of death that no one ever tells you about. And worse, the one person who I always called for help was the one I’d lost. I tell people all the time, and if you ever had the privilege of attending one, you know no one knew how to plan an event like JLO did. Luckily, with the combination of Google and supportive family, I somehow managed to pull it together. There were videos, eulogies, prayers, adorable shoes on every woman’s foot (a Jennifer Orr staple) and of course, lots and lots of tears.
Looking back, there are things I would have changed, but all in all, the service turned out beautiful. Who would’ve thought that a recording of such event could be so valuable?? Damn the rest of the world for not letting me in on that secret. And my gosh, the CROWD. For only having spent 43 short years on this earth, Jennifer Orr touched more hearts than she could have ever imagined. Hundreds of people gathered to honor her life–all of whom I am so grateful for their attendance and support.
Today it’s July 2019, almost an entire year has passed since her death, yet it feels like only minutes. She’s in every moment of my life, I see her in everything I do, and think of her guidance in every move I make. I pray that I feel her presence forever because no matter how much time passes, there’s no one else on this planet that knew me as she did.
With the anniversary approaching, I feel myself grieving in increasing intensity and frequency. It procures almost physical pain to think that my world has kept spinning without her in it. Almost twelve months later and I still can’t fully wrap my head around her being gone. As I am forced to remember the painful reality of her untimely death, I find myself clinging to the things that gave me peace early on. One of which is a book, “The Dead Mom’s Club: A Memoir About Death, Grief, and Surviving the Mother of All Losses” by Kate Spencer. Throughout her writing, Spencer accounts her own loss and describes what a mess the journey of grief can be. She is witty, sarcastic, and curses like a sailor–my goodness do I think she and I would be VERY good friends. 10/10 recommend this book to anyone who has lost their mother, regardless of age, cause, or circumstances–and also to those surrounding a grieving and motherless daughter or son. Her insight is raw and her ability to find humor in the ridiculous things that go on during grief is overwhelmingly refreshing.
In one of the early chapters, Spencer discusses the pain she felt right after the passing of her own mother, she talks about how it affects your life not in the day-to-day, not hour-by-hour, but moment by painful f’ing moment. She recalls a server offering her creamer for her coffee and writes that all she wanted to do was respond, “MY MOM IS DEAD AND NEVER COMING BACK. SO YES, YES I DO.” …When I first heard that line in December, it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t really identify with that experience of grief. I was in a much more “peaceful” place of grieving, or so I told myself. In hindsight, I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that for the first 9-10 months after her death, I was on autopilot. Locking down any and all feelings of loss or trauma, because by golly I had shit to do. I had a house to sell, a business to run, two dogs to take care of, a degree to earn, meetings with accountants, attorneys, and a whole laundry list of other seemingly pressing to-do’s. Funny how life doesn’t stop when you need it to.
Today, however, I fully identify with that kind of dramatic, gut-wrenching, and painfully unwavering level of grief Spencer spoke of. As I reflect on the past year, I am reminded of so many things. I am reminded of our mortality, of the trauma I experienced that day and the devastating absence of my best friend.
But I am also reminded of the blessing that I was able to walk away from such an awful event with only minor injuries, that my second and much furrier best friend also survived his own traumatic experience and returned home safely, that I am still surrounded by a throng of loving family and friends who will always support me any way they can. Most importantly, I am reminded that God has a plan for me, one better than I ever could have designed myself. Why that plan doesn’t include her is not for me to understand just yet, but until then, I know she’s right by my side and with the guidance and comfort of the Lord, I will be okay. We will all, be o k a y.
Lately I have also been digging through some of the files I created soon after the accident; they include photos, videos, notes, plans, spreadsheets, all sorts of things. Including the letter I read at her service–my version of a eulogy (see below). It’s funny how God times the little things in our lives; I needed to hear this letter now more than I ever could have imagined a year ago and I have no doubt will resurface many times throughout my life. A letter that took me weeks of procrastination and strain only to finally put to paper just hours before the service.
As I attempt to navigate this messy, confusing, cyclical thing called grief, I’m learning more and more about myself every day. And while the struggle is definitely more real these days than it has been in a while, I still intend on using this pain as a launch point for joy in whatever way I can.
As always, thanks for reading.
When preparing what to say today, I was at a loss. I knew in my heart that I wanted to share something with you all, but I couldn’t figure out what that was or how I would best do it. A few days ago it dawned on me, everyone who knew Jennifer, knew she was a mom first, and everything else second. And that’s when I realized that the best way I could think of to express my thoughts was to do it how I’ve always done it. By talking to my mom. So I’ve prepared a letter to her that I’m going to share with you all today. But first, let me say thank you, from the bottom of my heart for coming, for loving my amazing mom, and for taking our story and using it as a positive force in your own lives.
First of all, I love you. And I really, really miss you.
Between you and me, I really didn’t want to be here today, mom. And it’s not because I didn’t want to celebrate your amazing life or give you the memorial you deserve— it’s just that planning this was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. All along the way I just wanted to call you and ask what you thought or talk logistics on the great ideas I know you’d come up with. If anyone knew how to plan a celebration, it was Jennifer Orr.
You have always taught me that things happen for a reason. It will take some time before I’ll be able to accept a reason that requires you to be gone, but until then, it warms my heart to know that, no matter how much time passes or how much life changes, I’ll always be your daughter.
I can remember being a kid and trying to understand what kind of person you were to the rest of the world. Because in my world, you were everything. You were the moon and the stars and everything in between. I watched you work harder than anyone I’d ever seen, you were always the one people called when they needed help, and you pushed through obstacles with unparalleled strength and wisdom—especially for someone in their mid-twenties. I didn’t realize until I got older how rare you were. But no matter how old I got, you never changed.
Similarly, something else that never changed, was your passion for being my mom. No matter how busy you were, how little money we had, or how overwhelming life became—you shielded me from it and let me be a kid. Being a mother in general requires some degree of selflessness, but you exemplified the notion. You made me feel like a princess, who could be and do anything I set my mind to. I can remember taking baths together and playing spa—you’d wash my hair and talk to me like you were my stylist and lying in bed playing cards until way past my bedtime and sitting in the living room crafting all evening long together. We did so many things, and no matter what it was, our time was filled with giggles and adoring love.
I remember when you were in the hospital many years ago. I was in elementary school and learned that I almost lost my mom. That was one of the scariest times of our lives…and it changed you. Once you were home, I can remember lying in bed and you telling me, “Samantha Lynn, we will never go to bed mad at each other. And from now on, we will tell each other “I Love You” as often as we can.” From that day forward, we told each other we loved each other so often, we’d say it when one of us left the room momentarily. Sharing our love became the pillar of our relationship.
As I got older, our relationship changed. It didn’t change in the sense of growing apart, but it evolved; as I aged I got to see new sides of you. I learned about how much responsibility it is to own a business. To raise a child. To be a woman in a man’s world at times. You taught me that hardship was certain, but that if you can trust things happen for a reason and do your best to respond in a healthy way, everything would work out. And it always did.
One of my favorite things about you was your professionalism. It didn’t matter if it was a 48-hour trip to KC or a proposal for your largest customer—you handled every duty with class and poise and no detail was overlooked.
You and I knew everything about each other, we were secure enough in our relationship to fight when we needed to, we were open and honest no matter the situation, and even when we disagreed, we were always each other’s greatest cheerleaders. Momma, whether you’re standing next to me or not, it has always been and always will be: Sam and Jen against the world.
A few hours after the accident, no one had told me the news yet. But as I laid in the helicopter, I could feel you there with me. I could feel peace, of all things, in the most stressful situation I’ve ever experienced. I can remember lying there, telling you over and over again in my mind, “I love you, momma.” And since that day, I still feel you all around me—guiding me, comforting me, and reminding me that all you ever wanted, was for me to be happy. The combination of your selflessness, our bond, and the faith you instilled in me, has prepared me for when this time came.
Mom, you should see the shock on people’s faces when they first see me, they can feel my positive energy and my faith in the Lord’s plan. I’ve seen that shock a million times now. That strength, that courage, that heart, it’s all an extension of you and everything you taught me.
Uncle Tom said it best, “If we had to do it all over again, we go Jeep’n”.
I’m gonna make you proud momma.
Thank you for everything. Thank you for not just preaching to me what was right, but instead showing me. Thank you for sharing with me your passion for spreadsheets. Thank you for making Colorado my second home. Thank you for having my back no matter what. Thank you for hours of deep conversation. Thank you for finding the goofiest ways to make me laugh. And most of all, thank you for showing me true unconditional love from the first day to the last.
Always and forever,