Friday, March 8, 2013

2012...what a year

So, while sitting here tonight, on this 23rd day of January of this new year of 2013, I realized something.  I realized I never properly gave 2012 the reflection it deserved.  The reflection it was asking for.  The reflection that needs to happen to remind me of what a whirlwind year it was.  The reflection on the wonderful, the good, and the definitely not so good that made 2012 what it was.

So I started this reflection on January 23rd, then didn’t touch it again until a month later on February 25th, and now March 5th I sit here hoping to finish what I started, but I also realize that allowing myself to really reflect on all that 2012 was is very important, no matter how long it takes.

2012 was a year full of new friends and old, happiness and much sadness, good moments and horrible moments, ending of things and start of others, etc. etc.


Where to even begin with 2012?

If you had asked me at the end of 2012 how my year was, my first thought and response was “horrible, I’m so glad it’s over. I’m so done. I hope 2013 is much better. This is by far the worst year ever.”  And yes, my year was pretty darn horrible…or at least the last 5 months of it was.  But even in the midst of those horrible 5 months there were still wonderful things that happened and were overshadowed; just as every other month of 2012 had wonderful things happen as well.  So was 2012 the worst year ever, yeah probably, but it was also full of many blessings.

2012 was a year full of new beginnings.  One thing that was very new about 2012 was I started running.  Yes friends, you read it, running.  I have never, ever been a runner.  Ever!  I played sports from age like 5-16 and absolutely hated running, with a burning passion!  But in January or February of last year I just kept feeling like I wanted to go out for a run, which was totally weird for me.  But my theory is if your body is telling you something, listen.  So listen I did.  I started “running”.  It really wasn’t much of a run for a while.  There was lots of walking and a smidge of running.  When I first started running I couldn’t even run down my whole street, which isn’t very long.  My house is number 16 and it is three-quarters of the way down the street.  When I first started running, getting to my house was a struggle, let alone the final fourth of the way down the street.  But I kept at it.  Running and walking, walking and running.  Lots more walking than running.  I would sometimes go out by myself and other times I would go out with Kristen, but I was getting frustrated with myself for not being able to run more than I was.  Then one day I said to Kristen, “I think I can do it, I think I can finally run one side of Elm Park.  I think I can do a quarter mile!”  And run a quarter mile I did!  You’re probably reading this going “ok, wow, you ran a quarter mile; it’s not that big of a deal.”  But a quarter mile is a HUGE deal, first big milestone, when you are trying to run a distance. 
         I set my mind to it that night, told myself “you just have to keep going”.  I thought I was going to die running that quarter of a mile; I wanted to stop half way so bad!  But Kristen was running next to me and just kept reminding me that I could do it and that it wasn’t too far to the end now, just keep going and I’ll be at the end soon.  But I did it!  I made it to the end and Kristen and I celebrated like I had just finished something huge.  To me, at that moment, it was huge.  And I think that first ¼ of a mile continues to be the reminder to me, I need to set a goal and keep going, even if I don’t think I can make it.  Because I will probably psych myself out and say it’s too much.  But I’ve learned to just keep going, not matter how hard it may seem.  It may seem hard now, but it will get easier, no matter what it is.   What I also learned while trying to run that first ¼ of a mile, is that having someone standing by you and supporting you in your journey in running and in life is very very important.
I am really starting to enjoy running; going out, turning my music on and just letting my body run.  It’s still a challenge to run more, but I know it’s a gradual process.  But each new milestone I hit, I know that I am getting closer and closer to my goal.  And what is my goal you may ask?  Well, I made the decision in September that by the time September 2013 rolled around I would have run a 5k.  A 5k. 3.1 miles.  Me.  The girl who couldn’t even run down the street would run a 5k.  But I knew I needed something to work toward.  Right now 3.1 miles is still daunting, but slowly and surely I am increasing how much I am able to run.  Just 2 weeks ago I ran for 20 minutes non-stop, which ended up being a little more than 1.5 miles! About half-way to my 5k. I am actually hoping that by May of this year I will be running my 5k! And that will be a major milestone in my 2013 I’m sure.

And speaking of milestones, I had another great personal milestone in 2012.  I started my 2012, back in January, a size 24 jeans.  By December of 2012 I was wearing a size 18 jeans!  This was another wonderful step for me, to lose so much weight and to start feeling healthier and better in my own body.  My weight has always been a struggle for me, but something clicked last year that allowed me to be able to stick to losing weight.  And not just losing the weight for a little while, but hopefully for good.  I don’t ever want to find that weight again.  It was sad but also wonderful to get rid of most of my clothes.  Sad because I was getting rid of so much, but wonderful because I lost that much weight that nothing fit anymore.  I think when I was getting rid of my clothes is when I realized just how much my body had changed that everything was hanging on me or falling off.  My body was no longer the same!  Getting rid of the clothes also allowed me a fresh start, with new clothes that fit me and were smaller sizes.

 In 2012 I also started taking dance again! In September I started taking jazz and ballet.  I had forgotten how much I loved dance and how much I really had been missing it.  I was never, nor will I ever be, the best dancer.  But it just feels right when I dance. I get lost in the dance and the feeling of moving in a certain way across the floor.  It is truly wonderful. So for September and October I was taking ballet and jazz, but then in November started taking tap instead.   I’ve always loved watching tap, and even though I’ve tapped since I was like 5, it has never been a strength of mine.  But I trucked along in class, getting my feet to do somewhat what they’re supposed to do.  And in the beginning of December, for the first time in like 4 years, I performed in a recital…doing tap!  So that was a “new” experience.  I was in a recital with people I had only just met in September, doing a dance I had learned in 3 weeks.  I was so used to performing with girls I had danced with for years, doing a dance that I had months to learn.  But truly, even though I was the “new girl” it didn’t feel like it and the winter show was wonderful.  The people in my class are great and performing the dance just felt right.  So chalk that up as another new beginning in 2012!

Another new beginning of 2012 was starting my job (and buying a car…but we won’t talk about that, it’s an epic tale of crazy since day 1)!  In August of 2012 I started my job at Assumption Center as program coordinator.  Assumption Center was where I did my volunteer year that ended in July 2012…more to come about that later.  I get to work with the same wonderful people that I did last year and a few new ones.  Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon I am in charge of 26 kids between ages 6-15 for our afterschool program.  I love it!  The kids bring so much love every day.  Getting a hug from one of those kids is a wonderful feeling.  I also get to work with so many wonderful adults on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in our ESL program.  I love watching the students’ progress during the semester.  Some walk in at the beginning of the semester and know no English and leave being able to speak to others in English, confident in their abilities.  It really is wonderful to be able to witness.
During the last few months of 2012 I forgot for a little while why I was so passionate about my job and why I was doing what I’m doing.  I lost the spark I had during my AMA year for these wonderful people I get to work with and the programs I get to be a part of.  But every so often, one of the mentoring kids would do or say something that would bring me back, at least for that moment, to why I am here.  They reminded me of the passion I have for all that I am doing, the passion I forgot many times as I just went about my days not really pausing to think about what I was doing.  I was so caught up in my own issues in my head that I forgot to be present to what I was doing in the here and now.  Every day that I went to mentoring and ESL and interacted with all of the people in the programs in my new capacity of program coordinator was another day closer to finding myself again, finding my passion again, finding that missing spark again.  And I am so happy that life calmed down a little bit and that I am finally able to really see just how wonderful the people are and how passionate I am about working with them, because this new job was something very exciting to me and my 2012 and my excitement for it has returned after a brief hiatus.  So 2013 is so far filled with passion and excitement for what I’m doing and especially for being with the wonderful kids at mentoring; they fill me with such love every time I see them.

2012 also brought with it some endings.  I’m thinking about 2 very specific endings.  Both of which happened in July and happened a little more than a week apart.  One ending I knew was coming…since August of 2011, but the other ending I never could have foreseen coming.

So, back in August of 2011 I embarked on a journey to Worcester, MA to be an AMA.  An Associate Missionary of the Assumption.  A full time, year long, volunteer.  A “year” commitment; August until July.  That year that this blog was meant for.  The time I spent devoted to serving others in the spirit of the Assumption.  A journey I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about.  But this year as an AMA was probably the most rewarding time of my life.  I had been on service trips before and knew how much that they had impacted me.  But I never could have fully understood how giving of myself for one year would change me, would help me grow, would allow me to see so much, would allow me to experience so much all in one short year.  I was blessed to be able to spend my year in such a welcoming community.  We were accepted right away because we were AMAs.  People knew the former AMAs and knew the work they did and the work we would be doing and because of that we were accepted.  It was such a wonderful feeling to be part of such a wonderful community, especially at St. Peter’s where our programs take place.  St. Peter’s is interesting to say the least.  It brings together so many different people from all walks of life.  There are rich and poor, young and old, Hispanic and African and Caucasian and Vietnamese, recent immigrants and people who may have never left the country, etc.  St. Peter’s provides a good cross sample of the residents of Worcester, such diversity in its parishioners.  And I was (and still am!) able and blessed to be part of such a wonderfully diverse place.  I am able to work with some wonderful kids and adults from all parts of the world, all with different backgrounds and each person brings something different to the table.  This is absolutely one of the biggest blessings of my volunteer year, the people.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the people are what made my volunteer year what it was.
We had a goodbye liturgy on July 13th to end mine and Liz’s AMA year.  It was a beautiful celebration of our year, with many of the wonderful people we got to work with and know during our short time together as AMAs in Worcester.  I think one of the most amazing sights at the end of the mass, when Liz and I were saying goodbye to everyone, was one of our ESL students, who is also the mother of some of our mentoring kids and is one of our wonderful gardeners in the community garden.  Liz and I were saying goodbye to all of the kids, Liz for an unknown time, me until the end of August, and this woman, was crying.  We were standing there and she was crying.  We aren’t 100% sure why she was crying, but it was a beautiful thing to see, because obviously something that had been exchanged between us (Liz and I and herself) was very important and powerful.  Liz and I both later talked about how beautiful and sad it was to see her standing there crying.  That is one of those moments you won’t forget.  Those moments are the ones that will forever define my year.  The “little moments”.  Things that could have gone unnoticed, but didn’t.  For years to come I will be thinking about my AMA year, and these moments will come back to me and will seem like yesterday.  Some moments caught on “film” other moments only caught as an image in my mind. 

The mass in July, the end of all of the programs, etc, I knew they all were coming but it didn’t make it easier to end the year. Liz and I had built our own little community. With each other, with Kristen, with St. Peter’s, with the sisters, with the kids, with the ESL students, etc etc. We made Worcester home and we built relationships that will last forever. That is what makes saying goodbye so hard, the relationships you share with people.

But, goodbyes are never easy, are they? We are never fully prepared for any goodbye, are we? We are always asking for more time, for time to go more slowly, to go back in time for just one moment. But we can’t change time, at all, as much as we would like to. And that is a part of life, knowing that we can never go back, that we must keep living life as it is now, not as it was yesterday. We have no control over the time we have been given or the time that has been given to those we love. We have no idea how many “tomorrows” we will have. No idea when a fairly normal day will turn into a day you will remember forever.

July 5, 2012. A day I will never forget as long as I am alive. It started as an ok day, was going to go look at a car to buy, but it had already been sold. Disappointing, but not a big deal at all. At lunch time my dad texts me saying that his cousin Stacy wasn’t doing too good. She had been admitted to the hospital 2 days prior, but really wasn’t doing well that day. He said they were doing tests on her to try to figure out what was wrong, but weren’t 100% sure what was wrong. I told him I would pray for Stacy and ask the sisters to pray for her as well. I sent Stacy a text just saying that I hoped they would be able to figure out what was wrong with her and that I loved her. I went about the rest of my day, getting ready to head out to dinner with Liz and a Worcester friend to celebrate the end of our AMA year. As I was finishing getting ready, my mom called, though I missed the call. I called her back and what she told me was the most unexpected thing I ever expected to hear. I didn’t want to believe it. Stacy had died. I was shocked. Stacy, who I had talked to a week prior about getting together for lunch when I got home from my AMA year was gone. Stacy who was only 30 years old was gone. How was it possible that she could so suddenly be gone? Earlier in the day she was really sick, but people get sick all the time and are fine in a few days. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. Stacy was gone.
The next day passed in a blur of being 5 hours away from my family and friends, waiting to hear about the arrangements and trying to figure out a way for me to get home. There were many texts and messages from friends and former co-workers who knew Stacy, who knew just how wonderful she was.
Then the following day I got up early and got on the long road headed for home. I would say it was the longest of my drives between MA and PA or PA and MA, but I think the drive back to MA from the funeral was the longest. I got home mid afternoon to the relief of myself and my parents. I was finally home with my family and friends, to grieve the loss of Stacy from our lives. I went to Stacy’s parents’ house that night to see everyone and all her parents and her siblings kept saying to me was “do you know how much she loved you? She loved you like a little sisters. She loved you so much.” And I did know. I was lucky enough to know how much she really cared about me and loved me. Stacy wasn’t one to hide her feelings. She told you what she was feeling; good, bad or indifferent.

The rest of the weekend: the viewing and the funeral went by in a blur of tears, hugs, sobs, condolences, shock, disbelief, tissues and laughter. Yes, laughter. It always feels inappropriate to laugh at a viewing or a funeral when everything is supposed to be somber, but Stacy was the kind of person that could bring humor to just about any situation, including her own viewing and funeral.

The morning of the funeral, on the way to the funeral home, I stared out the car window in disbelief of what we were about to do; to go to the funeral for Stacy. But as I was looking out the window, I caught sight of the sky. The sun’s rays were shining through the clouds, in a way that is always so beautiful to me. I remember in elementary school being told that when the sun shines through the clouds like that it means that someone is in heaven looking down on their loved ones. I told myself that Stacy was looking down on all of us, trying to give us all a little bit of her sunshine. The sunshine that she brought into so many lives, especially my own. I knew she would always be watching over me, guiding me and sharing just a bit of sunshine with me when I needed it most.
After the funeral, at the cemetery, there was the graveside service. We all were standing there as the priest was giving final blessings on Stacy before she was lowered into the ground. As the priest is talking I noticed a dragonfly flying around, which I guess isn’t uncommon. But this dragonfly kept circling the casket, circling, circling. Going nowhere else in this expansive cemetery except just circling around the casket. Then it flew over in front of her parents, her siblings and her husband, and then resumed its circling of the casket until the priest gave his final blessing. The dragonfly then flew away. I am positive Stacy was sending us a sign, telling us she was ok. Making sure we knew she was around. Trying to give us some comfort that would seem to elude us for days and weeks and months after her death. Thinking it was weird, later that day I looked up what dragonflies symbolize and found this website: One thing I knew, was that Stacy had many characteristics of a dragonfly, especially living in the moment and the ability to open someone’s eyes. I also then found a poem that is often used at funerals about a dragonfly, which really resonated with me. So, dragonflies became a very important thing for me. I saw quite a few for weeks to come. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with other people, but each time I was just as surprised to see a dragonfly wherever I was, because it never quite seemed like the place to find a dragonfly.

After Stacy’s funeral I had to return to Worcester the next day to finish off the last week of my AMA year. So before I returned to Worcester that day after Stacy’s funeral, I stopped at Marywood in admissions to see everyone one more time and to see Stacy’s office one last time. Her office had been one of the places I spent a lot of time during college…
I was lucky enough to spend my four years of college at Marywood working in admissions as a work study and tour guide. When I was applying to schools, Stacy was my admissions counselor and was absolutely thrilled that I was thinking about coming to Marywood. She actually jumped up and down on the steps at an open house saying “I have family here”, because she was so excited. Throughout the process of trying to figure out which school I wanted to go to, she was a constant support as a family member and admissions counselor. She toed the line between the two carefully, not trying to overstep in one way or the other. Ultimately I decided on Marywood, because it “felt like home”, but she knew it would be perfect for me long before I did.
During my 4 years at Marywood and in admissions, Stacy was a constant for me. She was constantly there, acting as my big sister, making sure I was ok and that I wasn’t getting into too much “trouble”. There were many, many lunch dates. There were innumerable texts making sure I was doing my work for class, making sure I had what I needed if I was sick, seeing if I would come in to work in admissions to do something for her or to give a tour when no one else was available. And plenty of texts of Stacy just being herself; goofy and most often inappropriate to get me to laugh, loosen up or cheer up if I was having a bad day. There were also many texts, especially the summer after my senior year of college (while working in admissions for the summer), asking me to come to her office. Most of the time she needed to vent or blow off steam about work or classes or her dissertation. She would say “you have to listen to me complain, you’re family.” Sometimes all it was was that she needed an errand run around campus or other times it was just to say “hi” and ask how my day was going. I spent so many hours in her office during my time at Marywood, laughing and crying, talking and sometimes yelling. Talking about the good, the bad and the ugly in both of our lives. We would talk about our crazy family, whom we would love no matter what, even though they were crazy. We both talked about the classes we were in. We talked about the future, where we both saw ourselves going (and where we saw each other going as well!). We talked about stupid things and serious things. She listened patiently to me babble about unimportant things that seemed important at the time. Stacy was there every step of my college journey always cheering me on and proud of me, even when I didn’t think I could do it or when there really wasn’t much to be proud of. She loved me unconditionally and helped me to see all of the potential that I had. Stacy was the one who actually encouraged me to apply for a volunteer year, long before I ever thought of applying, because she knew it was something I would“be good at” and it would absolutely be perfect for me.
Her office saw every side of me during college and also saw me grow up quite a bit as well. Her office held so many memories for me, I knew I needed to be able to see it one more time, as it was left, with every little detail that I had memorized while staring off into space while talking or working in her office. To see all of the quotes on her wall just one more time, to remember what her office felt like and to remind myself of all of the memories that had happened there.
So after my stop in admissions, I was faced with the long, lonely 5 hour drive back to Worcester to finish what was left of my last week as an AMA.

The next few weeks after the funeral were filled with ending my AMA year, going on a service trip and spending lots of time baking and visiting admissions. There was one night that I was there in admissions to do something I never ever would have thought of doing before. I was there to help clean out Stacy’s office. Pack up everything that made her office “her”. For the 4 of us that cleaned it out, the office had so many different memories for all of us. So we spent the night laughing and crying and remembering so many wonderful moments with Stacy. And at the end of the night we had everything packed up and each of us had something to remember Stacy by; for our own offices. I have a sign that says “LIFE Live life to the fullest”, which is something Stacy absolutely taught me. By example she showed me how to live life and how everyone should be treated and how to treat yourself as well. That sign hangs in my office to remind me of all the various ways Stacy has shown me how to live a good life and how to live it to the fullest.
The months after I returned to Worcester were a whirlwind of emotion trying to “understand” death, but one never ever understands death and that’s just the way it is. I’ve learned to live with it, but not to try to understand it, because it is something far beyond our understanding. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in the last few months, we will never understand death and it’s not worth trying to understand because it makes it worse.

Friendship was a huge theme of my 2012, from beginning to end (literally and figuratively I guess…I spent New Year’s Day 2012 with a group of friends and New Year’s Eve 2012 with another friend). I’ve learned to value your friends and family, you never know how much time is left. But also to cherish the friends that are there for you not only when life is good, but more importantly, are there when life isn’t so good. They are true friends.
This year was all about realizing who would stand by me, no matter what. Who would be there for me is the best of times and the worst of times. Who would sit and listen to me babble about stupid things, but also give advice on more serious things. I also realized how important little cards, letters, texts, phone calls or visits really mean from your friends, especially when it’s just one of those days. Being 5 hours away from home and doing a volunteer year/starting a new job are always hard. I was worried my friends would forget about me or that our relationships would change. But if 2012 taught me anything, it taught me that your true friends will always be there for you and won’t leave you.
I was so blessed in my 2012 to gain new friends and strengthen old friendships and to realize I had more friends than I ever realized. I think this year more than ever I was more aware of my relationships with my friends. I also deeply appreciate the relationships that were strengthened into much greater friendships because of different circumstances. Each friend I have I share a very different, but special relationship with. What I am able to tell one friend I probably would never say to another friend. But I would say I have a “well rounded” group of friends who I can share so many different details of my life with, and some know almost more about me than I do about myself, but that’s what friends are for. I know more about some friends and less about others, but with each person I share something different but very special with, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I mentioned earlier how sometimes a little card, letter, text, phone call or visit can really mean so much from a friend. I can’t tell you how many times I got one of those and it instantly made my day better; just to know that they were thinking about me. There are a few instances that stand out in my mind of special moments of 2012. I remember getting a Valentine card from one friend just reminding me of how much I am loved, which was a nice gentle reminder of the type of relationship we share, reminding each other just how special we are and that we are loved just the way we are. Another occasion, on the night before my birthday, I spent the night celebrating with 3 of my dear friends, having a“Last Supper Party” (my birthday was on Good Friday) and just laughing the night away, being ourselves; this group of old and new friends meshing so nicely, that made it an even better night.
After Stacy died I had many friends texting, calling or messaging me, sending me love and prayers and just making sure I was ok. But one I remember the most was one friend, who had been out of the country, called me about a week after the funeral, while still out of the country; because she was able to make a call and wanted to make sure I was doing ok and holding together. I think that meant so much more to me than I ever can express, because at a time when I was probably my lowest, my friend cared enough to call from another country the first time she was able to just make sure I was alright. Something I will never forget.
I have many other cards and little notes stashed away in my office and in my room from friends; I tend to save them to look back on in the future. These notes and cards all mean something different because of who they were from and what the situation was for the card, but they all mean so much to me. Some days I will catch a card or note out of the corner of my eye and smile thinking about whatever card it is, remembering how I felt getting it. All of the notes and cards and fond memories with friends I just think how all of them are full of love.

So although my 2012 was a whirlwind year, I learned many things. Some things I wish I never had to learn (but really I knew I would have to learn at some point) and other things that I’m glad I learned now and not down the road.

I had a year full of ups and downs, highs and lows, happiness and sadness, love and much more.

I had 525,600 minutes full of daylights, sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee, inches, miles, laughter and strife. :D
A year full of family and friends and birthdays and weddings and celebrations as well.

I had a year I could measure in love, so much love!!! And what a year it was!  Measured in love…..

 A few pictures of my year...measured in love!!

New Year's Eve 2011 with Paige, Krystle, Meaghan, Laura and me!

New Year's Eve 2012 Justy and I!
Liz and I Easter 2012

End of mentoring picture at Assumption College (April 2012)
Kristen and I with two of the cutest kids we work with, Erika and Ryan! (April 2012)
Goodbye to our AMA year!  :(

Liz and I with our "end of AMA year" cake (June 2012)

Liz and I with Srs. Nuala, Mary Ann, Catherine, Jurgita and Therese (June 2012)

4th of July in Worcester (so really July 3rd, because Worcester celebrates a day early)

Me with some of the kids before the end of year AMA mass (July 14, 2012)

Liz and I in front of the Center prior to our end of AMA year mass
The group that gathered for our end of AMA year mass.  <3

Me with some of my loves, saying goodbye until September (July 14, 2012)


My family at my grandma's surprise 80th birthday party (May 2012)
My parents, my brother and I at my cousin's wedding (November 2012)


Friends!! <3
The wonderful group of girls I got to spend a week with in DE on a service trip (July 15-21 2012)

JoAnne and I (August 2012)
Antonia and I (August 2012)

Justine and I for her birthday! (August 2012)

Meaghan's wedding!  The gang of us Marywood girls all together. (September 2012)

Michelle, Liz and I at the Worcester Castle! (October 2012) One AMAzing time.
Akeneta and I with some of our garden kids playing in the leaves (October 2012)

A wonderful Halloween package from a friend and former co-worker (October 2012)

Michelle and I in front of the Christmas tree for her birthday! (December 2012)
Yay for being new housemates!


A picture of Stacy and I, from September 2011 in a frame that says
"Memories: Some moments we never forget because our lives are forever changed"    
<3   July 5, 2012   <3