When I arrived in Kankakee today, she led me to a shady area by a tree and gave me a small plastic bag with a white envelope bearing my name.
Enclosed was a little flyer explaining the significance of our team shirt designs, and thanking us for participating in memory of her daughter, Amanda Blank.
The colors were black and red– as Andi would have loved. On the front they said, “;ust breathe,” — the first symbol of course a semicolon standing in for a “j”, in tribute to Project Semicolon. On the back it said Team Andi, the number 15, and a graphic of a beanie hat– one of Andi’s favorite accessories. Her older sister, Danyell, designed them.
Though a morose reason to gather, I loved being included. And I thought we had the best shirts! We came together for an Out of the Darkness walk, which raises awareness for suicide prevention. Registration was free.
Andi has been gone over two years– since April 8, 2014. A beautiful spark of life for 24 years. To me she was like a zany little sister, since we had a 10-year age gap. Her Gemini mind was so bedazzling.
I was invited last year also, but not ready. Even so, Leta had sent me the beanie with a sewn-on patch that she had made for everyone. Sadly, it never made it in the mail. But she had an extra, and it was included in my little bag as well. That small gesture of unexpected kindness fit right into my heart.
As if I needed another reason to cry! Just walking up to event, I had already started bawling. It was overwhelming seeing so many people gathered for a cause usually stuffed down and ignored– hugging, laughing, wearing bright colors.
I also got to see my friends Georgia and Jen, who I had met at Andi’s funeral. I had added them on facebook and we’d kept in touch. I just attended Georgia’s big Greek wedding recently! But Jen and had our first chance to really talk beyond facebook discussion, which I cherished.
I got to behold four-year-old Maddie, daughter of Danyell and Andi’s niece – and witness what a calm, good mother Danyell is to her daughter. Maddie had a little baby buggy and walked the whole way with us (it seemed!) I saw the joy whenever Leta held her grand-daughter.
Jen put her arm around me as I cried– I felt so vulnerable. But also relieved– the catharsis was amazing. My Aunt Rosie just died this weekend of natural causes– she was 88. I hadn’t seen her in three years– since just before her husband, my Uncle Jim, had died.
She was a true country woman, who lived on the same farm for 64 years in Zenda, KS.
I was hoping to be traveling home to Kansas today to be with our family, but it just wasn’t possible. Flights were too expensive last-minute and I’ve never driven that far alone and wasn’t up to a 13-hour trek. My Dad had just visited Kansas and returned a few weeks ago, and he’s 74. He wasn’t up to it either.
I was crying for Amanda, but also for my Aunt Rosie.
I was crying for the wonder of receiving such an enormous blessing in being there today.
“It feels good to cry,” I had told Jen.
“It feels good to cry with people who understand why you’re crying,” she said.
Somehow three miles truly passed effortlessly.
But on the way, there were activities. My favorite was a rainbow chalk bucket.
Jen wrote her name– “Andi.” Georgia and I took a picture by it.
We traded stories, but also just talked nonchalantly.
We took a big group picture once we reached the end to turn around.
Afterward we went to Monical’s Pizza together– again, Leta’s treat.
And I met and talked with man who had been in the cemetery, seen Amanda’s picture graveside, and wondered how someone so pretty could have ended up there. He Googled her and found my blog about her — commented and introduced himself.
His name is Richard, and he was walking with his twin brother. They are about the same age as Leta and now the three of them hang out! The Internet, man. Whoa.
At pizza after, I sat next to Georgia and her husband, Mike. We ordered a pitcher of plain ice tea, no sugar.
And I had to laugh– because my Aunt Rosie was famous for her Kansas sun tea!! I felt like she was telling me she knows I love her– that she was there with us.