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My Sister Kellie

In one weeks time, my younger Sister, Kellie, lost her life on April 10, 2004 due to an unknown illness. She was 18 years old. I openly discuss my sisters life and death — which I realize isn’t a hot topic of conversation…but it is a rather large part of my life, who I am, and how I came to be *this* girl and *this* photographer. So it is here…not only so that people get her story right, but so that her memory lives on — so that if her story helps ONE individual to see life a little differently? So that you might appreciate the rain within the sunshine…? It’ll have been worth it.
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PS: Feel Free to join Kellie’s Movement : LIVE OUT LOUD. There is a link within the sidebar to help get you started. ♥

Living Out LoudMy Sister Kellie

Thirteen Years.

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13 Years ago this morning, we were all in very different places. And in the hours and days and months that followed 8:25 on the morning of April 10, 2004 – I heard a lot of “She’s in a better place” and “Time heals all wounds.”

The things people say when they aren’t yet aware that they can simply remain silent, and that works just as well for people who are getting aquatinted with grief.

I’m no expert on this, but I can tell you that I never ever thought this was a bad place… to be, and time can go and fuck itself for all I care – because, if anything…Time has a way of (sometimes) making it worse. There have been 13 years of missed memories and ones I know we have still yet to live without her physically being here. We’re not healed, not really.

We’ve just found incredibly beautiful ways to live this new life. We’ve found beauty in pain and tears, and we’ve grown stronger through laughter and all those memories we’ve gone on to create – because she has lived on in our hearts. We’re a mosaic of broken pieces, 13 years later. Beautiful, but still broken.

I hate that we have had to live without her, but I love that people have come to trust us in being some of the first they run to when grief has come to meet them. I am proud that we’ve gone on to hold their hands, help them through, and that we’ve endured by giving back. It’s a part of the process I think Kellie knew we would come to own, and I know she’s proud of us.

From those moments in the hospital, I knew. And while I realize this could all just be my own way of “making it easier” – It always felt like she got to see the future she would’ve had, the one that would’ve likely rendered her unable to do the things 18 year old kids want to do. I think she knew the conversations that were happening around her, and I think she got a glimpse of this new life we’d all be living too. That she got to see all the years after that week…and I think she made a choice. Either way, life after that week was going to be different…

So, it wasn’t that she was leaving, because we all know she hasn’t. It was just that she wanted us to know the life she saw. The paths we possibly would’ve never known…if not for her.

There are plenty of moments in life where we get to choose. We get to choose each morning to be happy, for example. And we get to choose, quite frequently, the path to wander down – from our careers to our relationships – we have a say. Death leaves you with very few choices, but life…that’s the part where we get to create our own adventure.

13 years ago we were all in different places, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind…that Kellie helped get us to here & now. Today has been about celebrating her life for 13 years now, that’ll never change…but, I also think…it’s a good day to celebrate how far we’ve come…and the beautiful lives we’re living thanks to a kid who gave us our heartbeat. https://www.facebook.com/images/emoji.php/v8/fbb/1/16/1f98b.png#LiveOutLoud 💙

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Living Out LoudMy Sister Kellie

Living Out Loud.

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What does Living Out Loud meant to me?

A letter to DJ Waldow.

– Living in the Now. Reveling in life’s moments – both big & small. 
– Choosing Happiness. Choosing Positivity. Knowing each day has a “win.”
– Living through Giving in Charity, Determination, Compassion, Love, Understanding & Acceptance. WHATEVER you can give – counts.
– Living through trust and transparency … Knowing that life isn’t all rainbows and Care Bears – but the sun still comes out tomorrow, and even when life is ugly – life can still be beautiful.
– Living with appreciation and gratitude. Telling people how you feel, when you feel it. Never losing your voice. 
– Living your Fears. Trusting yourself. Go diving with your shark.

 A lot of these qualities and thoughts were in the shadow of who I was, and who I was becoming, before we lost Kellie – most of it is hardcore in direct result from her death. 
After a week or two of delirious fog I woke up one more and knew I had a decision – life or death, happiness or mastering the art of being miserable, positivity and leading by example or using my situation as an excuse to be sad all the time.  
 
They were the thoughts and qualities that wouldn’t leave me alone late into the night when I missed her, or when I’d hit a wall and look for her — these were the things that made sense.
 
Needless to say, my sister was a firecracker and I KNEW if I had chosen any of those less than stellar options and lived a life SHE wouldn’t have been proud of?  I’d pay for it – someday.  So, since that morning – for me and many around me – it has been exclusively about Living Out Loud.  It may have started for Kellie, but it definitely turned in to a “for me” thing in time.  Now I let no one or no thing stand in my way — I’ve seen hell.  I’ve been there.  Held hands with it.  
 
If I live to see 100 life will still be too short to waste any time on mediocrity, sadness, negativity, or crappy people.
 

This went on to become a podcast for DJ Waldow’s Living Your Passion Podcast

Check it out HERE!

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Living Out LoudMy Sister Kellie

We Went to a Funeral.

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Written August 6, 2015.

We went to a funeral tonight. For a beautiful woman in our community who gave so much – who taught so much.

I never had her class, but I can see exactly where it sits when I close my eyes.

And when I open them – I’m back there again.  My friends flowing through the doors to her English class and I’d head down the hallway, another direction.

The hallways fill me with anxiety. Not because it’s high school, because I know the year…and I know my sister still lives here within these hallways.  Her laughter fills the space between classrooms as lockers clang closed, and even in the crowd…I can always pick her out.

High school isn’t a place I remember easily, not since 2004. I feel most of my memories prior to that week died the day she did. Twenty years and I’m left with shattered fragments, whispers, and shadows.

It’s not uncommon for me to message friends who knew me back then to ask, “Do you remember…” because I sure as hell don’t. I can’t even begin to, it’s just a different life. Something I feel was barely mine; a movie I half-watched but once before the power went out.

And yet, here I am. At the crossroads of hallways. Boys are teasing, girls are giggling. Doors fly open only to slam shut. Groups of teens stampede to their next class. And as the next door flies open, she walks through like she never left. A light smile crosses her face as our blue eyes lock and she waves only enough for us both to know. She fades as she walks into the sea of faceless people I know I probably know, around the corner – I stretch up on to my tippy toes to see what I can see – and she’s gone. Again.

I shake it off and blink the years away to see another family, in another time, take the all too familiar spot at the front of a church. Floral arrangements and a pastor ahead of them, tears streaming. They’re hands are latched together, solidarity never seemed so necessary. I hate that they’re here, but I know they’ll be okay as they’ve found the key to life – and death – is in the celebrating.

The biggest rebellion against death is to live a life so beautiful that it supersedes the darkness that lurks.

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My Sister Kellie

Decade Old Ornaments.

KelliesOrnaments

Written December 9, 2012.

Years ago, Kellie was in school with a dream of becoming an interior designer. That Christmas, our parents let her decorate our tree – the first year without all our collected family ornaments, just a simple red and gold theme and it was beautiful. When she died, we kept using those ornaments – until a few years ago when Stef and I would mix the color themes up a bit.

This year, I opened Kellie’s ornaments only to realize that after almost a decade, they’re starting to fade.  I sat next to Sean yesterday going through them, one by one, deciding which ones we’d hold on to…and which ones we’d let go of.

It wasn’t easy…when it’s some of the last things you have that your sister touched – that was her idea? It’s not easy letting go. I fought the flash backs of our last Christmas, how we never knew…and maybe it was better that way.  I kept a few more than maybe I should’ve. I wandered in the thoughts of someday…in the days of our future when Stef’s kids and my kids would hang the ornaments from the aunt they never met but always knew. They’re not perfect, they’re missing some of their shine. But they were hers, and now they’re ours…and that’s all that matters.

Deciding we didn’t have enough to go on the tree, we pulled out Stef’s color theme from last year. And as I look at it now, all lit up…it’s quirky…and bright…and every bit the family we’ve become.

But we also hung some of Kellie’s ornaments underneath our mantle with old school lights…which makes me smile. A design that came about because we just couldn’t remember how…or just couldn’t get it right…the decor that was there all the years before this one.

You see, life isn’t what we’d ever planned for…it’s messy and about as far from perfect as one family can get. But it’s ours. And together, year after year…we somehow show that life is most beautiful when it is mostly messy…when we just kind of fall victim to the wind and let it take us to where we need to be. Keep those you love as close as you can, m’friends…and never be the first to let go.

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My Sister Kellie

A Little Behind…

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So. Did you guys notice? I kinda didn’t post last week. This has been a rather exhausting April.  They’re like that sometimes.  Okay.  They’re like that always.  But, still.  Neither here nor there. I know you guys understand. I know you need no explanation. But, still.  I’ll probably attempt to explain it none the less.

And then…with the world spinning chaotically out of control this past week…it was even more difficult to post.  I just didn’t have it in me.  And, yesterday? As thousands of police officers hunted one man, and a community – a whole CITY – was locked down?  It just didn’t feel right.

Once he was captured though?  I felt the tightness in my chest lessen. I felt relief.  I felt as if I could – finally – breathe.  I don’t know why that is — I’m nowhere near any of this.  But, it brought back a lot of those 9/11 memories.  Those fears.  The “What If’s” in life…and I’ll tell you all now what I told my friends via social media yesterday morning…

“This week has been absolutely terrifying. Fear in my heart – you wonder, how you can ever go out anymore not looking at EVERYONE wondering – what if? Here’s what I know from life though – you NEVER know. And the Fear and “What If’s” will kill you alone – if you let them. And, I for one, will not. I will live this life out loud, completely, entirely. And…today? I will go do something good. something that makes someone smile. something beautiful. something where some random individual will know – there is still good in this world. Because what the world needs now? Is exactly that. I encourage you do to the same. ♥ Thoughts + Prayers to The Incredible City of Boston and Watertown.”

And…with that being said? I’ll try to catch up.

TWO weeks ago? My family came together. One by One we entered my home…we laughed, and we cried. We ate, and we drank. We released balloons, and this year? We etched pieces of our souls into Kellie’s Tree.

April. It’s such a funny month. Spring here in Florida rarely happens. Sometimes we get a winter. Usually we get a day or two…maybe a week where it’s chilly and then we SLAM, face first, back into 90+ degree weather, afternoon storms, and so much sweat that some times I’m not even sure it’s possible to sweat anymore. And then…you do. You always do here in the state of Florida (there’s no nice way to put that, so I won’t…girls don’t “glisten” here. We’re big sloppy summer messes just like everyone else.)  

But…April is indeed spring.  And…Kellie’s rose garden always does grow a little dormant in our “winters” …only to bloom, somehow always in the right moments.  Somehow…always nearly on or near the anniversary of her death.

Fun Fact? From our first planting? Only two roses survived (because we weren’t rose savvy at the time) — Courtney’s, who was Kellie’s Best Friend…and Jordan’s, who was Kellie’s Boyfriend.  How do you like those apples…or. Roses, as it were. 😉

One of my Favorite Pictures of Me + Kell. I think she was about 17 here…making me a whopping 19 give or take.

I love photos of us like this. So thankful that my Dad was such a proactive photographer when we were all growing up.

Gearing up to Release the Balloons…

I don’t know how you put the past nine years into words.

All I can tell you is this: No one – NO ONE – expected a group of kids just barely out of high school to become our family. To be there for every birthday, every big moment, every time we called, every Sunday night – just because.

On April 10, 2004 I lost my little sister, Kellie. That afternoon, The Shimansky’s came home “4 instead of 5” …the sun still daring to shine, a little Reesie puppy in his crate, her purple truck in our driveway…my eyes swollen and burning, my heart broken, still not believing that the week had actually happened as her smiling face was staring back at me from her senior portrait. I sat on the couch – the world swirling violently out of control around me – and I remember thinking, “Well, now what?! What the hell do we do NOW?!” — and that’s when the door opened. And Jordan stepped through – same swollen eyes, same broken heart.

One by one…the faces I knew only as Kellie’s Friends every day before that day? Opened our door. Fixed our hearts. Made us laugh. Reminded us of her. And one by one, life started to make a little more sense.

In Nine Years? Some of us have moved away. Some of us have gotten married. Some of us? Have even had babies…which has been such an awesome addition to see at memorials and family days. Life has changed a lot in Nine Years…and, yet – here’s the crazy thing. No matter where we wind up in life, and where we are today – in this moment? We’re still family. We always will be.

Brought together, as kids ourselves, through thousands and thousands of tears? There have been more laughs, more love, and more life in nine years than I could’ve ever imagined. I am beyond proud to be the “Big Sister” to more siblings than I can count…thank you, all of you, for keeping us going…and for opening that door nine years ago on April 10, 2004. You have done the unthinkable, and to me – the most incredible piece of Kellie? Will always be you. ♥

Caden playing with my Pooh Bear truck…some 27+ years his senior.

Carving Kellie’s Tree.

Can I just say…that it’s not easy. It can’t be. To be this guy sometimes. To come into a family like this one – this big and opinionated and intimidating family. To adopt the dead sister…and the very living, fireball that is my littlest sister…as his own.  To deal with the exhausted, stressed, blur of a person I can sometimes become in these months. To not only seek out, but ask, “What else can I do?”  And to sometimes just let me be…however that is.  And he does it…amazingly well.  As he says…I’m human, and his human at that.

The emotions shift like lightning strikes ground in these days…so, trust me.  I know.  It’s not easy.  It can’t be.  But, geeeeze…am I lucky.  And, I mean…we’re ALL really insanely lucky to be in the relationships that we’re in…somehow, through this all…from what I can tell, from where I sit tonight?  My family’s, for the most part, been able to find stable, loving, understanding dudes and chicks who get it.  Something bad happened to us…but big, opinionated, and intimidating or not?  There’s not other family that they’d rather be apart of.

Yeah. We’re kinda neat. ♥

What’s a Memorial without a little fishing on Lake John?

And a campfire in our NEW kickass fire pit that Sean and I built?!

And…a few beers. 😉

I love that Sean wears a Kellie bracelet, and one of the *original* ones at that! Because, to me? He’s known her all these years, simply by knowing me. I wear his bracelet when he’s out at sea working.  I gave it back to him the night be came home, because he *made.sure* that he was going to be here for her memorial. Tears in my eyes as I write this and while he’s in the shower…no one could be luckier than I am right now. ♥ #liveoutloud

Not many things in life truly bother me, I do my best to complain the least…because even my biggest complaints? Are minuscule compared to others. But…if I had a moment where I could make you listen? This might be it.

As someone who watched life leave her 18 year old kid sister? I can tell you that it annoys me when people wait – when they say, “I’ll get around to it. I’ll do it tomorrow…” like they’ve been promised something.

It pisses me off – like to the point of blind rage – when people complain about turning another year older. Want to whine about your extra year? Perhaps you’d like to give a few of those – or maybe even just one – to every young person who was taken from us way too soon.

I *wish* Kellie would’ve been able to grow old with us, because – chances are – Even at 90? She would’ve rolled around in a wheel chair as if she were 20.

Two ages she’ll never get to see, by the way.

That “getting older” thing doesn’t seem so bad now, does it? Your birthday – that extra year – is a privilege. I suggest you cherish it. USE it. Because you never know when it’ll be your last.

And it is completely unfathomable to me that people – even those who knew Kellie, who were there in those very first few moments and days – who witnessed and felt the same life and death….can be so quick to judge, hate, and burn bridges.

Here’s what I’m saying tonight, on year nine of life without Kellie: Get over your petty bullshit. I don’t care what happened to bring you to this place, chances are you yourself don’t even remember. I don’t freaking care. Whatever it is. Whatever it was. Get the fuck over it.

Because, I promise you. There is a day and a place where – if you don’t? You’ll wish you had.

Be the first to speak. Be the first to forgive. Don’t fear being different. Dont fear being open, vulnerable. Don’t wonder what anyone else will think. Always be the last to let go. Dance in parking lots. Sing in grocery stores. Fight. Fight for Something. Anything. Everything. But never with Someone. Chances are? It isn’t worth it.

If you’re unhappy in life?
Change it.

If you have a dream?
Chase it.

Think the world of someone?
Let them know.

If you think, right now, that I’m talking to you – about you? I am.

Life is too damn short…to be anything but insanely happy.

Now. Live Out Loud. And do it on purpose.

On Monday, Sean and I were running errands when I stumbled across these GORGEOUS orchids in Kellie Blue.  I wanted to buy one so badly — but at $25-35 a pop?  I just couldnt.

But. It gave us the idea to run over to Lucas Nursery.  Where we picked out some butterfly plants, some caterpillars (who are currently very busy doing their business of becoming butterflies) and some ladybugs!

We release nearly 1500 ladybugs into our gardens!

After, of course, playing with them for a bit…

While running errands?  We also purchased a baby dragon. And named him Willard.  +2 points for us finally naming SOMETHING.

And, this kid…THIS kid had her first basketball banquet as a Head Coach of the Girls Varsity BBall team.  I’ve watched her since the first day she stepped out onto a basketball court — and I’ve never seen anyone who’s loved the game more.  I am BEYOND excited that she’s also going to be returning next year as Head Coach and can’t wait to see what she brings to this team.  They’re lucky to have this kid sister of mine as “Coach Stef”

A few of my #WhimsicalDisneyGram Photo-a-Day Favorites:

Love that I caught a hidden mickey in this one without ever even knowing it!

And, seriously. How sweet is this?!

Sean and I spent April 9th at The Studios, EPCOT, and Magic Kingdom.  Kind of love how “just a few hours” at the parks always turns into an all day adventure with us. 🙂

Who has the coolest Disney Shirts?!

WE DO!

Butterflies at EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival.

I got to meet Stitch – Kellie’s Favorite!

And had Sean practice going into Subways for our upcoming NYC trip in May! 😉

{I have a TON more Disney Day photos — so I’ll post those in a separate blog in a few days for those who are interested} 😉

Thursday Night we had a much needed fun little night out…and decided to hit up Pat O’s in City Walk.

We had SUCH a great server {Thanks Matty!} and a great time that I KNOW we’ll definitely be going back!

So…see.  That isn’t even ALL my photos from THAT week — let ALONE *THIS* week…no wonder I’m so exhausted and drained!!  Also.  I’m typing this at 1:30 in the morning when I should PROBABLY be sleeping. 😛

But, whatevs.  You guys got your blog post…and I got to feel a LITTLE more accomplished in the updating-of-the-blog-posts.  Win/Win? I think so!  More later…be sure to love one another as much as possible, and hug each other tightly.

Keeping the memories and lights of those affected by the Boston Bombings in my heart tonight. ♥

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