Sunday, June 30, 2013

Eighteen Years Ago

Today is June 30th. It is a day that for the past 18 years has significance. There are no traditions or celebrations to mark its presence, usually just a phone call to my BFF.

June 30th is the day Melanie's mom died. And the day, we matured (somewhat) from the immature 20 year olds we were. I've spent much of the day reading my journal from that summer. What a difficult summer it was.

I've alluded to the time surrounding that time in our lives a little in this blog post HERE which was also published as an article on KSL HERE. There are other parts of that experience I'm willing to share, but only my parts of the experience. There are lots of other specifics that aren't my story to tell.
Although I wrote daily in my personal journal at that time in my life, I feel that 18 years of hindsight, has given me some valuable perspective on a defining moment in my life.

Perspective #1
At that time in my life, I had a job working for a very good family friend. He was very good to me with my schedule as a busy college student and the social life and school commitments that come with that time of life. I was never not able to take a day off if I wanted to, or leave early, or come in late. My boss(es) were very flexible. Except for this particular July 4th weekend.

July 4th of 1995 fell on a Tuesday, and my boss had decided to close the carpet store on Monday the 3rd too, and enjoy a long holiday. My particular job responsibilities were crucial on a Monday, in order for that week's accounts payable. Although my responsibilities were important to get done, anyone really could have done it for me. So when I planned to go to Lake Powell on vacation with Melanie and her family, it wasn't a big deal. While working the Wednesday before we were to leave on Friday, my boss informed me of the Monday closure and told me he really needed me to work on Saturday. I remember feeling a little bit of  disappointment to not go to Lake Powell, but not as much as I think should have been normal for that time of my life.

My perspective 18 years later? I wonder if my boss Paul has any idea that him asking me to work that Saturday was probably absolute inspiration. I also think that I didn't try to compromise with him or feel disappointment, because it was the right thing to happen. There was a very subtle feeling of contentment with his decision. In more than 3 years of working there, that was the only time I was "denied" time off of work.

Perspective #2
Friday evening, June 30, 1995 was an unusual day for me. Typically I had a fair number of social activities to participate in or things to do. That afternoon and evening I didn't have anything to do. I have 2 distinct memories of that day. One, laying on my bedroom floor writing something and feeling very blah. Two, I remember my aunt and her 2 little children stopping by for a little while. As I stood on the driveway and said goodbye to them, I felt a pit in my stomach. I didn't connect it to anything, but I went to bed that night feeling very melancholy. Some personal writing from that night reflects that.

My perspective 18 years later? My feelings reflected some remote connections to something being wrong, but I didn't know what.

Perspective #3
Saturday morning (July 1st), I worked as planned. While at work, I dialed our home voice mail system to retrieve messages. Why would I have done this? I lived at home at the time, why would I have done that while at work? There was one message for me. It was Melanie's older brother Chris, it said, "Tiff, Mel wants you to call her." My immediate reaction was, "Melanie is in Lake Powell." (This was 1995-Melanie didn't have a cell-phone.) I wondered if Chris was confused and/or being funny, but I didn't do anything to respond. It left me confused for much of the day. Upon arriving home from work, I told my parents about the message. I tried calling once. Nobody answered.

My perspective 18 years later? I was clearly prompted to check the messages that morning, even though I didn't act on responding immediately. Perhaps I wasn't supposed to.

Perspective #4
Later on Saturday afternoon, I was home alone. My parents and two brothers were at a soccer game. I didn't want to go. Instead I stayed home, laid on my bed and read a book. My melancholy feelings continued throughout Saturday. I couldn't shake the message Chris left from my mind, yet when I would think about it I felt confused. Either he was confused, or I was and perhaps it hadn't really been him that left the message. Breaking from reading my book, I went downstairs to the kitchen to fix a bagel. Just as I was about to spread the cream cheese, I glanced in the direction of the telephone hanging above my mother's desk and decided to call Chris.

Somebody answered, "Hello Julians." Immediately I knew something was "different". Nobody ever answered the phone that way. I hastily asked if Melanie was there, and what I heard next and how I suddenly felt will forever be with me, yet it would be very difficult to explain. The person who answered the phone said, "It's for Melanie. Is she where she can reach the phone?" I begin to know immediately something was wrong. Melanie shakily spoke into the phone, "Hello" and I anxiously asked, "Melanie! What is wrong?" All she replied in a shaky voice was, "Come up." I again questioned, "What's wrong?" Her simple plea is heartbreaking for me to remember even 18 years later, "Oh Tiffany, please just come up." I immediately hung up the phone and without a moments thought grabbed my car keys and had my hand on the mud-room door to leave when meanwhile...

At this same time, my family was at Casey's indoor soccer game when one of the boys' mothers said to my mother something about "someone in so and so's ward died in an accident on the way to Lake Powell yesterday." My mother, immediately connecting the family being in the same ward (church congregation) asked sharply, "Who was it?" While the lady was still completing the syllables of Cheryl's name, my mom was off of the bleachers and dialing her cell phone. (She was pretty cutting edge to have one in 1995!) She couldn't get through to me because I was on the other line to Melanie... Instantly she called my brother Matt who was living in our basement at the time with his wife. She told him not to let me leave, she was on her way home.

As I was about to step outside, I heard Matt call my name. I turned to see him standing there with a phone in his hand and ask me where I was going. Suddenly the emotions of the last few minutes caught up with me and I started to tell him about the "weird message on the answering machine earlier..." and before I knew it I was in full-blown tears. He walked over to me and put his arms around me. I KNEW something was wrong, and as he began to talk softly to me, I began to scream and yell. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me, but I knew I didn't want to know. In between my screams he kept saying, "Tiffany, I HAVE to tell you something." Trying to ignore him, I began to scream louder. Finally he blurted out, "Melanie's family has been in an accident." Trying to cover up his voice, my sound level increased. Matt finally blurted out, "Melanie's mother has died."

The next few minutes are too personal to share, but I knew I needed to get to Melanie. By this point, my parents had arrived home. Seeing my hysteria, my mother was understandably doubting my ability to be of any comfort to Melanie. She suggested my dad and brother give me a priesthood blessing, which they did, and then I was driven up to Melanie's house. As we approached her house, I could see a couple of small groups gathered on her driveway talking. I wanted to yell at them all to go away, that nothing had happened, and everything was fine and somebody had just made a big mistake. I remember pushing past somebody standing by the front door, and the first thing I noticed as I walked in the door were three bouquets of flowers in the front room. I silently took note and realized all this was indeed true as I rushed to the back of the house to the family room. As soon as I saw Melanie I knew something had indeed happened. I pushed through one more group of people to get to Melanie's side. Holding Melanie in my arms, I knew I needed to be strong. It was at this moment I thought to myself, we will never laugh again.

My perspective 18 years later? Although I still feel heart-broken to think of Melanie having to keep asking, "Where is Tiffany?" and wonder why I hadn't called her for almost 24 hours, I realize things happened as they should have. I had to have my initial shock and grief be separate and alone from Chris or Melanie hearing me on the other end of a phone.

Perspective #5
A few days before the accident, Melanie had irritated me about something. On June 29th, I wrote her a funny poem and gave it to her before she left for Lake Powell. It has always made me feel good to think that had something happened to her more seriously in that car accident, I had expressed my love and friendship to her through a silly poem. I have a copy of it in my journal.

My perspective 18 years later? Although she is my dearest, dearest friend. I don't tell her I love and appreciate her like I do other friends. I must remember that lesson from 18 years ago.

Perspective #6
Four people were in the car the day of the car accident. Melanie's mother died, and Melanie was thrown from the car and injured. The other two had no injuries. It is hard not to think of the "what if's" had I gone with them. I think in a small way I struggle with survivor's guilt, even though I wasn't even in the car. I have anxiety about travelling, especially car trips. I don't share that fact with very many people and here I am now sharing it very publicly. It is something that is beginning to impair my life more and more, and I probably need to seek out some therapy for it.

My perspective 18 years later? I clearly was not meant to go on that trip to Lake Powell. I believe the Lord intervened, using my boss Paul to spare me from being in the accident that day. I do know God's hand is in our lives, but too often I allow fear to come before faith in my life.

The hours following what I have shared here were difficult. Melanie, having been injured in the car accident could not easily go upstairs to her bedroom. That evening she slept on the couch in the family room, and I "slept" on the floor next to her. I barely slept at all that night, but instead laid there feeling Cheryl all around. Her memory and her love for her family was evident and real. It was heartbreaking. The next morning, I helped Melanie bathe. Melanie had been thrown from the vehicle in the wreck. Her hair was full of sagebrush and other debris that line the highways of southern Utah. Although the hospital had clearly treated her main injury, they had paid no attention to the dirt and grime on her head and face. She was pretty dirty.

One of the blessings I believe firmly came from having received a Priesthood blessing from my dad, was the ability to be strong for Melanie. Helping to bathe her, was one of those times. Another was trying to stay busy and occupied (I swept the kitchen floor) while the bishop (leader of their church congregation) met with the family to discuss funeral plans. Another, was going to ZCMI with my mother to pick out a dress for Melanie to wear to the funeral. During those duties I was strong, yet afterwards I would sob and cry. I believe the Lord blessed me to be strong when I needed to be.

In the articles linked to above, I share the experience of how soon we laughed again after her mom's death. It was just days. And as good as that deep-got-to-find-a-bathroom laugh was, there were a lot of hard days in the weeks and months following. It was certainly a growing experience watching and supporting someone close to me grieve so deeply. It was a sad, sad time.

Although I have missed Cheryl for much longer than I ever knew her, I miss her. I miss her for what Melanie doesn't experience because she is gone. I loved Cheryl, but I miss her now mostly for Melanie.

Cheryl loved Melanie and me as immature, silly, high school and then college students. She rarely told us to be quiet or to settle down. I loved that about her. I recorded this in my personal journal on July 2, 1995

"Cheryl was like another mother to me. I have so many memories of her. So many days and hours spent with her. I remember her excitement of _______ at my party and seeing a video of him. She was almost as ecstatic as me and Melanie! I remember serious talks with her alone about Melanie and _______ and ________, I remember laughing with her and feeling included in her family. There is a pain in not being able to do anything but have to silently watch the family cope. There is a hurt and an emptiness of someone missing, a longing for a true understanding. But there is also a knowledge of life after death, direction and comfort given to us by the gospel. And there is deep within, peace. A peace that I know Cheryl is happy and everything really will be all right."

My perspective 18 years later? Everything really is all right.


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