Most people have a few of those dark chapters in their book of life… the ones scattered within the shadows, the ones we don’t like to reread. 2013 was one of those chapters in my book of life. I had my first experience with death and loss… the kind of loss that shakes you and empties you and drains the last bit of hope from your soul. She was my best friend, which may be weird to some, given that she was 20 years older than me. She filled other roles, too: my second Mom, my encourager, my support system, my comedic relief, my listening ear, my shoulder to cry on, my rock. And then, overnight, she was gone.

I struggled. I cried. I grieved. I vented. I screamed. I tried to put one foot in front of the other. Other days, I didn’t get out of bed. By 2014, I knew I had to be more proactive in my climb out of grief. It was like a giant pit, and every time I got close to the top, I lost my grip and fell back to the bottom. After hitting rock bottom for what felt like the 100th time, I made the decision to finally get out of the pit.

I committed to attending a local grief group for a few months. It was an emotional choice… I felt embarrassed, ashamed, but I also felt a sense of belonging, a sense of relief. I hid my weekly meetings from most everyone (some family and friends may be learning of this for the first time through these words). But it was here that my post truly begins. It was here that my soul connected with Aaron Fry.

Normally, I would ask Aaron’s permission to share these intimate moments, but, with his recent death, I think it will be okay. I want to share the beauty that was Aaron Fry, and I want to create an opportunity for others to continue on the legacy his kind-hearted nature started.

For those of you who have never attended a grief group, it is everything like you see on TV and it is nothing like you see on TV. I missed the first few weeks of this group, but on my first day, I had to introduce myself and tell about the person I lost. I was hesitant to speak, my voice was quiet and fragile. I was uncomfortable; I didn’t want to be there. But, you see, Aaron and I had first crossed paths in the halls of our high school a few years prior. He knew the person I had lost, a beloved teacher. As I spoke, I looked at Aaron, and he smiled at me and nodded for me to keep going. I will never forget that silent sense of support, a smile that felt like 100 bear hugs. A face of reassurance that gave me the confidence to share my story.

The first meeting I attended had been created as a day to share music that reminded you of your lost loved one. Most everyone brought in a cell phone or a mix CD and shared a few songs. And then there was Aaron. He pulled out his guitar, and he began to sing. I have never felt such powerful emotions from a song. Aaron wrote this song, it was called “Undertow,” and he sang it with such hurt but also such hope. He sang a couple other songs, and I remember the anger he sang with. I could feel his pain and his sorrow. But Aaron didn’t live life as an angry, depressed man. In fact, he was just the opposite. Aaron greeted everyone with a smile, and he was friendly to strangers. He was easy-going, and he had a heart of gold.

For months after my experiences in grief group, I tried to write Aaron a note. I wanted him to know what a difference he made for me. He could have been so angry or bitter towards me… here I was grieving a loss of a teacher (she was so much more than that to me, but exteriorly, she was a teacher) while he was suffering the loss of his mother. I had never known the loss of a parent or sibling. But Aaron never made me feel judged… he just helped me heal.

I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Aaron as a close friend, and I will always regret not reaching out and getting to know him. However, his recent death has greatly rattled me. I have questioned why for days until I realized how unique our relationship was. We shared such precious moments within those walls of grief. We learned about stories and feelings that may have only been discussed inside those walls. Moments so personal that I cannot yet share them here. In so many ways, we shared our souls with each other. We trusted each other, and we simply grieved our great loss. From now on, I will always think of Aaron as my “soul friend,” because he not only shared his soul and listened to the secrets within my own, but he also was a man with a cherished soul. Aaron was truly special.

Aaron, these are the words I tried for so long to write to you. These are the thoughts I have kept tucked inside my heart for over two years now. I will forever be thankful for your gentle spirit and kind eyes… many days, you were the only reason I was able to sit through grief group. And through our experiences there, I started to find the healing I was so desperately searching for.

Forgive me if I mess up the words, but from my memory, these were a few of the lyrics to “Undertow.”

Wherever I am going… wherever I go, I’ll just call it home.

Aaron, thank you for teaching me, through my healing, that home is wherever I go. Home is all the pieces and people that have stitched together my soul… thank you for being one of those people.

Aaron, you will be missed. But I truly hope you are Home, and you will forever find peaceful rest.