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15 Years Without Her

When I close my eyes and take myself back to the week leading up to April 10, 2004

– it still feels impossible that it happened to us.

And then the morning came, and it suddenly became all I knew. This life without her.

Although, truth be told, I felt the universe shift the night before. And even as life slowed to an impossible crawl, I couldn't stop her from slipping away.

I told a friend from work just recently that it was in that moment, where the darkest night transformed into the brightest, prettiest morning I had ever known (and had, at the time, cursed for even daring to carry on) – I felt like she knew, and she chose.

I don't know how or why or where that feeling came from. It was immediate, and for as long as I tried to justify that it was just my way of coping – it felt too real to be anything other than her truth. There might not have been anything more "Kellie".

That in those last few hours here on earth she was able to see glimpses into all our lives, and

– she knew we'd all be okay.

She knew we'd never really be without her.

Hell, most of us are where we are today BECAUSE of her...

In 15 years, a lot has happened. We graduated. Moved out. Moved up. Changed states. Dated. Broke up. Cried. Laughed. Said things we didn't mean. Let go of the things we couldn't fight for. Dug our heels into the ones we knew had to be won. Got married. We bought houses. Sold houses. Gave animals a place to call home. Some had kids. Others traveled. We lost touch. Reconnected. Nights we can only remember as blurry-chaotic-fun, with The Murphy Project as the Soundtrack of our lives, would turn into the mornings where we'd promise to "never drink again" (so we lied, who hasn't 😉).

And...I don't know that we knew it back then, but we were creating the life she had envisioned. The one she had caught glimpses of. The one I often think she choreographed. The one where we learned, made mistakes, grew up, and put these vibrant, beautiful, messy pieces together one-by-one.

Somehow, life found a way.

Somehow, all the things I thought would be impossible as I stepped beyond those hospital doors in Gainesville on April 10th and out into the blinding sunlight of this new normal ('prepared' with only one of my contacts in place, mind you – re: completely blind) ...they were possible because of her.

That's why, for me, it's always been inconceivable that the past 15 years – good, bad, ugly – haven't been the biggest silver lining of them all.

For me, I know the past 15 years wouldn't exist without that cataclysmic morning. And while I would do ANYTHING to have her back, to reset the dial to that morning and travel down the parallel universe in which she lives – it's then that I feel her most.

It's then that I feel her force that barricades those thoughts.

It's then that I hear her steady, stern voice as it redirects me to here & now.

She chose, and for the most part – she lets me be. But when I decide on any direction but forward, she stirs – stepping directly into my path and rerouting me.

There's no changing what happened, but we get to choose what we do with tomorrow. It was the first of a thousand lessons I learned in the wake of fumbling my way through the days and months without her.

I remember the searing pain of six months without her. The still dumbfounding numbness of one year. Five years felt heavy. Ten, staggering. And now...FIFTEEN years later...carries the reality of all those emotions, but still...I'm met with a cool, refreshing, empowering calm. I can only liken it to the sensation that comes from rejuvenating aching, tired muscles with the icy blue gel of Biofreeze. 15 years and I know we've NEVER been without her. I know she's NEVER truly left. She stands beside me; inspired, proud, and captivated in the way we shaped a shattered tragedy into an untouchable mosaic. Something she knew only we could do.

Are there days and moments where I still choke on my breath? Yes.

I won't lie in saying this has ever gotten any easier. It never will.

Randomly, a song I can't find the source of – the mandatory turn of a calendar from March into April – the way a breeze is eerily reminiscent from those first few days as it now attempts to race through what little hair I have – the scent of her perfume wafting through the air around me – a butterfly floats by, nearly smacking me in the forehead.

I stop, and know.

It hasn't gotten any easier, I never expected it to – I've somehow just become a master of clinging to the ever present brilliance in the silver linings she sends my way.

15 years later, and I almost never have to look for them – because I am living them.

She knows I would give anything to have her back, but I think she also somehow knows that today was how it was supposed to be. We never could've stopped it, but she knew we'd find a way to carry on.

She somehow knew that in the devastating magnitude of April 10th, on a day where it felt like we lost so much – and possibly even everything, that we'd find a sense of purpose. That we'd find the balance of 'new normal'. That our superpowers would be unearthed – and that we'd find a way to not only carry on – but thrive on.

I never knew what life would feel like without her.

People say they could "never" – I never got the choice.

All I know is that the sun that dared to shine on that first morning without her has, fifteen years later, become the beaming beacon of tomorrow – the one she's never stopped pushing me towards.

Kellie Shimansky

August 1, 1985 - April 10, 2004

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