You were the Queen of hidden gems. The Princess of the light. You could find the silver lining in any situation. You often found the humor too, even in the biggest disasters. In the face of an incurable, horrible disease, you smiled. You even made jokes about the people you would like to come back and haunt and we laughed. As you laid there, hooked up to a machine to help you breathe, you summoned up enough air to make that joke and make me laugh. In that moment, I was in absolute awe of you.
Actually, looking back, every time I was around you, I was in awe. I remember the moment you found out you were pregnant. We were taking laps, cruising through town and you casually said “I’m probably pregnant” as if you were talking about the weather. Me, on the other hand, I freaked out. We ran into Putvin’s Drug store and bought a test. The two of us, not even 20 years old, giggling nervously and hoping no one saw what we were buying. We went up to my apartment, you went in the bathroom and came out with the biggest smile on your face. You shrugged and said “well, it looks like God wants me to have a baby!” We squealed in a mixture of fright and excitement.
I called you a few months later from my new home in Wisconsin. I said, “oh my God, Doni. I’m pregnant now too!” and you just said “I knew it!”. I don’t know how you knew it. You always had a sense about me. We would always text each other at the most random times and it was always at just the right time, when we really needed each other. Our lives seemed to run parallel. We seemed to be going through similar things at the same time. We were going to write a book about all of the stupid things we have done and our complete disasters in love. It was going to be a comedy. We thought we were quite hilarious. We would talk about our dating dramas and break ups and completely crack up. Even when I was heart broken, you would find the light in the moment and turn it upside down until I could see the goodness in whatever I was going through. You just had that magic.
When I first met you, I was instantly jealous. Your smile lit the room. You knew how to make fun of yourself. You didn’t take things too seriously. I was desperate for some of that. You didn’t need attention or approval. If you were liked, great. If not, oh well! I heard you say that so many times. “Oh well!” You didn’t need to impress anyone, although you still did just by being yourself. But you didn’t even have to try! You were just…naturally awesome. And your smile, oh my God that smile. Did I mention your smile? Making you laugh was so special to me because your smile alone could wash away my fears.
You were different. High school was rough. People can be cruel. But not you. You were never cruel. Even when we spent years fighting over the same guy, you couldn’t be cruel. It just wasn’t you. I can’t even call it fighting because you were still so nice to me. I didn’t understand it. You were supposed to hate me. But hate was a word that you just didn’t know. You even stuck up for me once in the hallway. Who does that? I liked your boyfriend! But there you were, being all Doni Jo. And there I was, in awe. Just a few years later you would drive 8 hours with a one year old to see me get married. We spent the night before my wedding, laughing outside, reminiscing about “that boy”.
Whenever we talked on the phone after you got sick, you were so optimistic. You had all the faith in the world that you would get better, at least that’s what you told me. Knowing you, you probably just didn’t want me to know how bad it was. I remember one conversation when I asked you, “are you staying hopeful?” and you said, “I’m always hopeful. But no matter what, it’s in God’s hands.” And I felt it. I felt that you were going to be okay, no matter what.
The days leading up to my trip to see you, I was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. What if I said the wrong thing? Do I pray with you? What do I say? What if I burst into tears when I see you? I was terrified. We pulled into your driveway and I sat in the truck for a few moments to gather myself. I had been praying for days that I would have the right words. I prayed that I would be able to comfort you and give you strength. I prayed that I could somehow teach you something. I just felt this tugging in me. I had to say something that would brighten your days. I wanted to inspire you, somehow.
I walked in and saw you on the couch. You couldn’t move your arms or legs, but you were able to look up at me and give me that smile. And again, my fears melted away. Again, I was in awe. You spoke to me. You made jokes. We laughed. I held your fragile hand. I didn’t want to leave. We caught up on our friends and I showed you some pictures. I gave you the biggest hug that I could and looked you in the eyes and said “I love you so much” and you told me you loved me too.
I got in the truck to leave and broke down. Should I go back in? Is there more that I should say? I didn’t know. I sat there and thought for a bit. And then I smiled once again, in awe. I went there hoping to lift you up, to share my faith with you and to give you some guidance. But you were the one giving me the lesson. You were the one lifting me up. You were making sure that I was okay. You were teaching me. You showed me what true faith looks like. You gave me a new hope, a new peace. You were the definition of grace and beauty. You were everything I needed. You were the light.
You left us this morning. I can’t believe it. I can still hear you laugh. I can hear your voice and the way you emphasized the “L” in my name. We never got to write our book. We never got to take all the trips we talked about. You left us too soon. You were too young. I’m mad. I’m so sad. I feel lost. But maybe God knew you were just too good for this world. Maybe today, the heavens needed to be brighter. Maybe you went running to your dad and it all makes sense now. I don’t know the answers. I just know that now the angels are the lucky ones who will be in awe of you, until we meet again.