For My Soul Friend

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.


Happy Birthday in Heaven

March 17th.

St. Patrick’s Day.

Children’s Day in Bangladesh.

289 days left in the year.

Nat King Cole, Rob Kardashian, and Hozier all celebrate this date as their birthday.

So does Tracey Williams.

As I took a walk today, I found myself thinking of Tracey. As I have shared in other posts, I LOVE birthdays. Of course, I love to celebrate my own special day, but I always find an unexplainable joy in celebrating the birthdays of the people around me. I love making them feel important and loved… often giving back the love and kindness they share with me day to day. 21795_10153127208430699_5489461792317306101_n

Tracey, my former teacher, mentor, and friend, was an extraordinary lady. I only knew her for five years, but she packed so much joy into those years of friendship. It was a privilege to make her feel special on at least one day out of the year.

There was the year I had my classmates help me pull off a surprise party during our English class… in retrospect, locking her out of the room while we lit candles on the brownies sitting on top of her desk wasn’t the best plan. Let’s just say the principal got involved…

There were a couple flower bouquets sent to her… a bright, beautiful bouquet for a bright, beautiful soul.

And then there were the giant birthday cookies. I’ll never forget her message to me after the first birthday cookie… I was experiencing some chaos in my home life that year and Tracey thanked me endlessly for that cookie, followed by dozens of questions and encouraging advice about my own situation. What a truly selfless lady.

To celebrate Tracey’s 45th birthday, and her third birthday in Heaven, I have baked several giant birthday cookies. I will share these cookies with some of the people I interact with daily… people who make me feel important every single day. Some of these people never had the privilege of knowing Tracey so I will also get to share a piece of her with each piece of cookie they take.

I am not a poet, at all. Tracey always told me I had a gift for writing… but I know she was not including poetry in that statement. However, below, ignoring my great rhyme struggle, is the poem I wrote to go with each giant birthday cookie I give away.

Some believe St. Patrick’s Day is full of luck,

while others wear their shades of greens.

Others still search for gold to tuck,

away in the pockets of their jeans.

But I see the 17th of March,

as a day to celebrate,

it’s more than the rainbow’s arch;

it’s more than just another date. 

Today is the birthday of my dear friend,

A lady worth more than a pot of gold,

But, you see, today she will spend,

Her special day in a place where she will never grow old.

As the angels of Heaven sing that birthday chorus,

I know my friend will shine her smile,

Lighting up the sky just for us,

Her whisper, in the wind, “see you in a while.” 

So, today, I choose to remember,

With a birthday cookie, please take a piece,

Six years ago, I made the same kind for her,

Now, I share this day with you as a release. 

As you chew each tasty bite,

Please think of my friend,

Be kind, it would be her delight,

Or give a smile, something we all can lend.

On March 17th, and every other day, I promise to honor Tracey and her legacy by living life to the absolute fullest. She was never without a smile or a cheerful greeting. She was always kind and always laughing. She was passionate with her actions, and she was quick with her love. She woke up and lived as if every single day were her birthday.

Cheers, “Willy!”




Goodbye, Grandma

February is a HARD month for my family. Last year, my sister experienced life-threatening complications during a surgery. A few weeks ago, the youngest member of the Swigert clan, my sweet baby niece, spent a few days in the hospital battling RSV. There are not enough words to express how thankful I am to have these two ladies healthy once again.

Then, the February struggle reared its head once again. A few days ago, my grandmother was taken to the hospital and our worlds were forever changed. As soon as I heard that she was taken to the hospital, my mind began to race. I called my boss to inform her I may need to miss the following work day, and her words will forever haunt me: “Don’t say things can’t get worse.” I didn’t say it, but Someone must have overheard our conversation anyways. I can’t described the way my stomach dropped, my heart stopped, and my mind froze when I read my Dad’s text: “Grandma’s abdomen is full of cancer.”

By that evening, I was travelling to the hospital with some of my family. We found our precious grandmother, still in the emergency room, still in excruciating pain. My heart will forever be comforted by our brief conversations that evening. Grandma knew who I was, and we exchanged the typical “I love you” conversation. Later, I joked with her about dog-sitting and how I needed to get home to let the crazy dogs out. She gave me her best attempt at a chuckle, and I promised to visit again soon.

Less than twelve hours after that conversation, I did visit again. But Grandma had already deteriorated to a state of unresponsiveness. The Grandma I grew up learning to love and adore had already left us. I squeezed her hand, holding onto a thin shred of hope that she would squeeze back, and I kissed her forehead before I left for work. By the time I arrived to work, about 20 minutes after that goodbye kiss, she was gone. She was free of her chains of pain, and she was reunited with her beloved husband. She was free.

My mind is still working hard to process what has happened. Twenty-four hours before her last breath, she was f.i.n.e. Three days before her last, she was celebrating my brother-in-law’s birthday with the family. I have yet to fully grasp that she will no longer welcome us into her home on Christmas Eve or sip Pepsi from her favorite orange cup. She won’t sneak up behind me at family get-togethers and slip money into my back pocket. I will never hear her joyful laugh or see her bright smile again. She won’t show off her new earrings or pretty sweatshirt. I won’t tease her for being twelve feet shorter than everyone else.

While I list all of these “can’ts” and won’ts,” I am left with the words my boss spoke to me today: “They focus on what we can’t do, but I wish they would see all the things we can do.” While we were simply having a conversation about a program at work, I found myself drawing a connection from her words to my grieving process. There are so many things I can do to remember my Grandma and keep her spirit alive.

I can frost graham crackers with my nieces and nephews, and I can tell them how their Great Grandma’s house always smelled like frosted graham crackers. I can teach the Christmas Eve traditions she taught me to my nieces and nephews and someday, my own kids. I can keep a few of her bells from her giant (literally, giant) collection, and I can gently ring them from time to time, remembering how her laugh also produced a pretty sound. I can always keep my love for fun, something I am sure I learned from her.

While the next family birthday party or Easter dinner will be a little quieter, and a bit sorrowful, we have so many pieces of Grandma that we can always share and keep her spirit with us. She will never truly be gone. As I prepare to lay my Grandma to rest next week, I am finding great comfort in my final moments with her that dreary Tuesday evening.

My oldest sister and I visited Grandma first after she was settled in her ICU room. (I liked how my dad introduced us to a nurse the next morning, “my oldest and my youngest.”) The two bookends of the Swigert siblings, standing strong for our siblings that couldn’t make it in time. We loved on our Grandma, and we gave her hugs as she suffered through her pain. Our final conversation with her will always leave me with chills. We told her that “Andrew (our brother) will be here soon, and Becca (our sister) will be coming, too.” My oldest sister told our Grandma that she would be back, and, as I have already mentioned, I promised to visit soon. In that moment, my sister and I thought we were talking in terms of days or hours. But now, I believe we spoke those words through a Higher Power. I believe Grandma left this world knowing her grandkids would follow her one day… she knows we will be coming for a visit when our time here is finished. And I know that we are counting down the days until we get to have that Heavenly visit with our beloved Grandmother.

Until that day, I will love you, cherish our memories, and miss you to no end. As my mom beautifully wrote on Facebook the morning you left, “She liked her angel figurines… now she is with the angels!” Rejoice, Grandma, and, with time, we will, too. You will never know pain or suffering again, and, in that, I find great comfort.


Maybe February brings our family these moments of hardship not to cause pain, but to remind us what is important… more importantly, who is important.


Blog at

Up ↑