sister

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There was a time in my life when strep throat was the worst case scenario. I was a six year old girl who adored school and hated doctors, especially doctors who wanted to steal me away from darling Ramona Quimby, Age 8 to ram oversized q-tips down my throat.

My brother, the smart whipper-snapper he was, also dreaded strep throat. For him, it was the antibiotics. Can I pause for a moment to tell you that this boy also possessed a gift from the metabolic Gods in that he did not enjoy SWEETS? Ahem.

So, when presented with liquid torture also known as children’s antibiotics, lured with flavors of “pink bubblegum!” and “strawberry milkshake!,” the candied disguise he hated anyway, we cried in unison for sweet Ramona Quimby to rescue us.

One winter night, the situation was especially bleak. Four-year-old, strep-throat-diagnosed Kendall resisted the prescribed medicine like a champ, pulling out just the right amount of tears and kicks to send our family’s dinnertime peace into an immediate nosedive. A professional, I tell you.

“You’ll love the pink bubblegum!,” my parents pleaded.
“Your favorite—strawberry milkshake!,” they lied.

He needed backup. Enter six-year-old sister to the rescue. I jumped into the middle of the spat, motioning for Kendall to climb on my back. Piggybacked and void of socks, jackets or plans, I opened the door and whispered “We’re running away. I won’t let them get you.”

Now, when I wake up and see there’s no one to carry on my back, I worry I broke this promise. 

At worst, I wonder if my fear of losing my brother spoke it into existence.
At best, I hate I wasn’t there to wedge myself between him and the pain.

Yet, each time I rehearse these thoughts, I come face to face with someone who’s still here.
It’s her.

The six year old girl who adored school and hated doctors.
The one who thought strep throat was the worst.

The six year old girl who adored her brother and hated his pain.
The one who knew losing him would be the real worst.
Her name is sister.  

Sister hides in the wings. I’m not sure she knows the story has been rewritten; her role excluded. I’m too scared to break the news of her brother’s death, and consequently, her own.

She’s waiting with her knees bent, ready for someone to hop on her back. She doesn’t know any other stance.

I won’t get rid of her, but can’t distract her for much longer.

“Pink bubblegum!” “Strawberry milkshake!”, I attempt, to no effect.

She’s on to me. Her hands are empty, the weight on her back light. I want to give her Ramona. I want to give her someone, but I can’t give her a brother. Sister is uncharacteristically quiet, tiptoeing around, knowing the power she has to break my very days in half. She misses him.

It’s then I realize I’ve spent so much time protecting her, that I’ve forgotten to mention I really miss her, too. 

twenty-nine

photo-1453372723567-aab945d195b8Last year, February was a deep sigh of relief.
Overnight, time leaped from the 28th to March 1st, which felt like an intentional kindness from the clock.

You see, each month since September 29, 2014, the 29th has marked another month of missing my brother. 

Seventeen times, I’ve filled the day with distractions, excuses and numbness, staring at the date on my phone and waiting up for the ease that 30 brings.

It’s a useless cycle, really. The numbers are simply a benchmark for the grief marathon I didn’t sign up for; a reminder that the finish line is not near, and maybe doesn’t even exist. But one day each month, my jello-ed legs suggest I may never stop running.

The first time I realized this, I was getting my hair cut. The stylist pumped a bottle of shampoo as I lowered my head into the sink of warm water. Mid-lather, she smacked her gum and searched for a conversation starter, while I prayed it wouldn’t be the question I’d managed to avoid until then.

“Do you have any siblings?” she asked. I stared back at her, wondering if her fingertips had accidentally slipped into my brain through my ears or if she genuinely was well-intentioned and oblivious. I mumbled the response I’d rehearsed and immediately began to cry.

The only thing worse than sobbing in a shampoo bowl was realizing that I am now the kind of person that sobs in a shampoo bowl.

It’s somewhere in this sudsy mess I start to see that I am ashamed of my grief.

I don’t want to be the one who walks out of movie theaters during the previews.
I don’t want to be the one with the most complicated prayer request at Bible study.
I don’t want to be the one who remains quiet at parties to avoid hard questions.

I don’t want to be the one to explain that the emptiness of my loss is the heaviest thing I have to carry.
I don’t want to be the one to tell you that grief says I am both too much and never enough for normalcy.

And honestly, I don’t want to be the one to admit I felt this way before my story even contained grief and I started counting 29’s.

From cropping the unflattering parts of my life out of Instagram pictures to creating a default response of “I’m fine” no matter what, it’s creeped in much more than I noticed.

It wasn’t until I physically couldn’t pretend to be polished that I realized how long I’d been playing the game. I’d spent my life leaping over my imperfections, only pausing when absolutely necessary—which now, is the 29th.

I thought that dusting myself off and standing back up as if nothing had ever happened was the “Christian” thing to do, but now I’m realizing Jesus never did that. When I read that Jesus walks through weeping instead of around it and turns mourning into gladness instead of sustaining a strong persona, I see that sorrow and joy are equally important and necessary. And in the midst of them, He never asks us to stop being human.

Just as nighttime is half of the story, it’s okay for darkness to be an acknowledged part of ours.

So although this February 29th seems like a cruel addition to the 2016 calendar, I’m choosing to stand knee-deep in its purpose, allowing myself to stop running from the darkness. Maybe you can do the same?

Let us give ourselves permission to see our stories less as something forced upon us and more as hope displayed through us. May we live true stories today and always.

Cheering you on always,

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a good friend’s guide to grief

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Hey friends, hey! So excited you’re here. A question I’ve been getting a lot recently is “How do I love my friend who is grieving?” and I LOVE THAT. Please keep seeking the answer to that question! My answer is usually “A.) You’re a great friend! and B.) Keep being that friend!” but I want to give it a little more thought here because the people in my corner mean the world to me—and have been the best examples of love!—, and I think simple misunderstanding is the only difference between someone feeling lonely or loved in their grief. While this is only based on my personal experience with losing my brother, I hope it helps you feel prepared when your friends lose someone they love. Here goes: 

If there’s one thing I learned in college, it’s how to kill a cockroach.

I had a different set of roommates each year at South Carolina, which meant every living situation brought its own opinions of how to deal with the crawly pests that appeared everywhere. The bugs must have assumed that since USC cheered for the cocks, they must also appreciate the roach variety. They were wrong.

My roommates’ reactions to the bugs could be separated into 2 distinct categories:

The screamers—It was only the most blissful fate that lead me to these sweet screechers who’d drop coffee mugs, slam doors closed and break ear drums at any sight of a creepy crawler.

The killers—The category of first responders of which I am a proud member. We see the bugs less as vicious threats and more as problems to be solved.

But recently, I’ve noticed we all split into the same categories when other hard, uninvited circumstances crawl in. When grief found its way through my floorboard cracks, I experienced the same two distinct gut reactions from others: screaming and running away, or staying and trying to fix it. Both responses have the same motivation: to relieve discomfort, either by removing yourself or its cause.

That’s the thing about grief—you cannot heal the wound or relieve the discomfort. 

If that’s true, we’re just left with the “removal” part of the friendship offering, usually presenting itself as a buddy with a quick exit and not enough to say, or a pal with a cure-all and painful advice to distribute. Both are hurtful and damaging to relationships, so we’re going to say goodbye to those, okay?

Here’s where I’m not going to give you a list of do’s and don’ts, because there aren’t any that are true in every situation. But what we can do is revisit our motivation.

What would happen if you knew you couldn’t kill the cockroaches?
What if you knew that they couldn’t kill you? 

Your life would probably be pretty weird at first, and you’d have to get used to the uninvited creepy crawlies, but after a while, it would feel pretty normal. You’d learn to live amongst them and they’d start to feel less creepy.

Remove the pressure to fix your friend.
Relax the fear of things never being the same.
Show up in the midst of the uncomfortable.
Don’t scream in horror, don’t suggest a remedy; Just be willing to sit.

My girl Shauna Niequist communicates this scenario beautifully in her book Cold Tangerines. Wanting to have a baby, she wrote in a blog post that if she found out she wasn’t pregnant one more time, she would break glass, just to feel it shatter.

The next week, she had lunch to celebrate a girlfriend’s good news—pregnancy.

Shauna hoped the friend hadn’t seen the blog post, filled with jealous and frustrated words about the very thing her friend had and she didn’t. Her friend showed up to lunch with safety goggles.

“When you feel like shattering something, I’ll be right there with you.  I’ll help you break it, and I’ll help you clean it up.” She said, “You’ve been celebrating with me, and I’ll be here to grieve with you. We can do this together.”

Do that. Be the friend who brings the safety goggles or doesn’t mind stepping around the cockroaches.

Don’t love your friend because they are grieving; love them because they are your friend. 

Celebrate and grieve, and do it all together. You’re a great friend. Keep being that friend.

newsworthy

photo-1428947828962-3ad251e1571bThe air was stiff, our pace slow, my words silent.

I looked down, realizing I had no memory of putting on my sneakers before leaving the house.

Somehow, my laces were perfectly tied the same way I’d knotted them for every other neighborhood walk. Then, I saw them: bare ankles, exposing the fog that filled my thoughts.

It was the first time I’d felt strong enough to leave the house since receiving the news, and only for a quick walk up and down the street. A few family members decided to join, needing a break from the home that kept warm hundreds of grief casseroles.

A car passed us without fanfare, followed by a local news truck. They reached the end of the street, both shining red brake lights in unison before stopping in front of a house. Ours.

We were those people, the ones you hope to never be.
Our devastating loss had become someone else’s breaking news.

At 6 o’clock that night, I collapsed on the bathroom floor, plugging my ears, failing to drown out the TV playing in the next room.

The familiar voices of neighbors, teachers and friends told the story of my brother’s life and sudden deaththe story I’d be retelling for the rest of my own life.

I’d spent four years studying journalism and I knew the criteria for highlight reels and front page stories. It wasn’t a category I wanted to find myself in, yet the full-page cover spread of my brother’s face confirmed our tragic circumstance.

I was haunted by the words Kendall wrote in response to the death of Robin Williams, just a month before his own passing:

“How will the world react when I die? Will my face be on the news? Will people say it was a terrible occurrence? What will they remember about me?”

As I watched the answers to the first three questions somberly unveil themselves, I couldn’t help but wonder about the fourth.

Before my own story became a headline, I’d find myself turning off the TV during the stories of terrible occurrences. I’d attach to their drama, create unnecessary fear in my own life, then be thankful the freak accident didn’t happen to my loved one, and never hear about it again.

This story won’t play out like the tragedies you’re used to.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Norcross High School in Atlanta to work on an amazing project inspired by Kendall himself. The Good Turn Initiative is a program designed to help high schoolers live with intentionality in their academic, personal and professional lives. In true Kendall fashion, each student will create their own mission statement and participate in “good turns daily,” pushing them to see beyond their routines and into the creation of a lasting legacy.

While there, I was put in front of a camera to tell Kendall’s story, but this time was very different.

I recalled the mornings my brother and I dragged our feet into the high school doors as the late bell rang. What came out next wasn’t perfect, but I think it’s exactly what Kendall would have said to inspire little teenage Kait and Ken.

And then I gushed. I thought about all of the students who would be watching the video, explaining how much they would have loved Kendall (and how much cooler he was than I), and really truly feeling how much Kendall would have loved them.

It wasn’t newsworthy and it definitely won’t meet the criteria for a front page story, but if Kendall were still here, that’s exactly how he would be spending his days—inspiring others while developing himself.

As for me, this is the story I’ll spend my life telling: the one about my incredible little brother who continues to change the world. And I’m pretty sure nothing about that is tragic.

*Author’s Note: Since this post was published, the beautiful city of Paris faced its own tragedy. It only feels appropriate to acknowledge their own hurt and loss in this post, not to compare my personal story to theirs, but to collectively pose the question of how we can rally around those suffering in and through their tragic story. Thank goodness suffering is not the end. Jesus, be near. 

a big announcement!

GoodTurnYou guys, I have a not-so-secret confession to make: I’m still the most overprotective sister I know. In the Wernet family video archives, I can be seen time and time again, demanding that my brother “SING!”, or “Be nice to the cat!”, or “Let me do it!”.

Although my voice is (thankfully) less mysteriously Southern and deep, I’m finding that I’m just as bossy and loud as I used to be.

Kendall had the same genes of determination, but he was much more generous and kind with his ambition. You could say he was an overprotective brother to me, but I’m slowly learning I wasn’t the only one. He adopted so many of you as siblings, looking out for our best interest and pushing us further than we could go by ourselves. It’s a true privilege to watch you share how Kendall shaped your story, and I can clearly picture his humble smile forming in response.

A month before his heaven day, I moved to a brand-new city full of strangers, taking a job not many people in my circle supported. In the weeks leading up to this decision, Kendall was my truest cheerleader, staying up night after night helping me make pro/con lists and listening to my endless worried sighs. After I accepted an offer, I was relieved and ready to celebrate when he told me my work was just beginning.

“Okay Kait, so now that you’ve got the job, what’s your new goal?”

It’s been over a year since we had that conversation, and I’m missing my brother more than ever. But when I think about what he’d be saying to me today, it’s something very similar to before: “What’s next?”

In that spirit, I’m thrilled to finally announce an opportunity we have to join together in memory of Kendall.

I’ve spent the past year being my usual overprotective self looking for the best way to steward my brother’s legacy in a way that he would be proud of. My parents and I wanted to create something intentional, long-lasting and well-researched, and, well friends, I’m excited to announce the establishment of the Kendall Alexander Wernet Community Foundation.

What does this mean? You guys, in true Kendall-style, we’re going to “do good turns daily” LIKE CRAZY through the creation of grants and scholarships.

A community foundation allows us to specify a variety of recipient causes over time, keeping in step with Kendall’s multi-passioned, well-rounded spirit. However, there will be one common thread: each cause will be chosen based on alignment with Kendall’s mission:

 “To lift up and encourage those around me and to develop them as I develop myself. I will capture greatness and succeed through passion in order to please those around me and ultimately achieve a paradise known as heaven.” 

With your generous donations, prayers and pep-talks,  we look forward to “doing good turns daily” in the areas he loved most, including music, education, entrepreneurship, community improvement and helping those in need.

All of the details can be found at KendallWernetLegacyFund.com.

And because I know we’re already ridiculously in this together, THANK YOU. We look forward to updating you on all of the incredible things made possible with your help!

when it’s okay to feel small

282540_SimplyTuesdayFreeman_pinsI’m not a fan of grief books. Not yet, at least.

Honestly, I’d prefer to pawn the bereavement library I’ve accumulated off on all of my friends and loved ones-the people who know but don’t understand. It would save me a lot of explaining.

I’d assume prisoners probably aren’t eager to read books about jail cells.
They certainly don’t need a guide to point out the stark white walls and fluorescent lighting.
I’m not sure I want a stranger to highlight the dark framework and dusty corners of my grief.

In an effort to preserve my upmost affection for reading, my book list backflipped favorably in the humor section. That’s right, for the past several months, I’ve been devouring words from Tina Fey,  Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling. I was quite literally kidding myself, but it was fun while it lasted.

Enter the best non-grief-book-for-grief-and-other-overall-reading-enjoyment:

Simply Tuesday, by Emily Freeman.

If you want to see me melt into a fangirl in half a second, ask me about Emily. I stalked met her at a writing conference a few years ago, which sounds way too casual for my brain to even bear. The truth is I was an intern for the organization putting on the conference, bribed my fellow interns to cover my morning responsibilities and snuck down to a breakfast table where Emily was meeting some of her readers. There, instead of signing books and kissing babies, Emily circled the group together and asked us to share with one another. She looked to her left at the shy intern girl (me, because fangirl) and asked me to answer the question:

In this moment, where are you? 

Babble fell from my mouth before I could even recognize it as words. I looked at the circle of older, wiser, real-life writers, and responded:

I feel so small. 

And ever-so-gracious Emily celebrated with me. As the other women responded around the circle, I watched the significance of taking a moment to feel still and small. I’m still great friends with many of the writers in that circle, and they continue to be some of the loudest cheerleaders on my team.

You may know Emily from her blog Chatting At The Sky, her books Grace For The Good Girl and A Million Little Ways, or just from my straight-up heart-eyed recommendation. Her newest work, Simply Tuesday, is so beautifully composed that I won’t cheapen it with a summary, but I will tell you this: this book is a deep gulp of air for your weary, hurried, grieving, wherever-you-are today soul.

You in? I thought so. You’re super in luck because the book releases TODAY and you can find it here. (Tuesday? Genius). Brb too busy letting my soul breathe.

xoxo,

K

*I was chosen to be a member of Emily Freeman’s launch team and given a free copy of Simply Tuesday in exchange for my honest review. I’ve already ordered eleventy billion copies for my family and friends, so sorry if that spoils your Christmas present joy.* 

kendall sky

IMG_4203Our first night without Kendall, hours after he went to heaven, my dad and I sat in the car, breathing in stiff silence. We were going to the Asheville airport, dropping off the friend who, selflessly and without hesitation, let go of her plans in Nashville to hand deliver a stunned sister to her hometown.

I was scared to let my friend go, realizing I was losing the last excuse to stuff my despair. I didn’t want to stay, but I knew I couldn’t leave. The home I grew up in felt oddly unsafe and everyone’s sudden use of past-tense verbs made me livid. “He was, he did, he would have, he loved.” 

As the tires rolled past Moe’s, Target and our local gas station, I tried to absorb the normalcy they once radiated, but felt nothing. A plane took off in the distance, as the curves in the road began to shift and we approached the terminal. As we rounded the bend our eyes meet the sky and then, immediately, each others’.

We saw the pink streaks and knew. 

But even now as I recall the encounter, I’m not exactly sure what we knew. Previously, I’ve always kind of secretly become uncomfortable when others try to pinpoint something as a sign from a lost loved one, and I promised myself I’d never be “that” girl. I don’t know if that hot pink horizon was from Kendall or God, or honestly if it was intentional or meaningful, but I do know that it was enough. Just for that second, it was enough to help me take my next breath.

And so when I started sharing some of my thoughts about grief publicly and people asked more about my faith, I shared the story of Kendall Sky. If I’m being a truth teller here (and I want to be!), the story began as a way to neatly avoid or disguise the status of my messy relationship with God. But as I told the story over and over again, I realized He is using the story to draw me to Himself.

When tragedy hits, I think all of us huddled in faith want to believe that God will shield us from the pain, revealing a detail that will make everything make sense and work out in our favor. I immediately wanted to be the poster-child of faith, activating my Sunday School memory verses to safeguard my heart from the pain. I thought I needed a different God from the One I had before my loss: one who was bolder and braver with an upgraded shield and shelter. I was wrong.

I was too busy looking for a numbing savior to see my real need for a nearby savior. 

I find myself clamoring for big signs and logical explanations in prayer, and I haven’t gotten them. But what I do find in the small, simple moments is Immanuel: God with me, just as He promised. The more I look for and rely upon His presence, the more I feel His closeness. (Seriously, guys. I would not put myself in a position of being “that cliche Christian girl” if it wasn’t so shockingly and comfortingly true.) 

Since the first Kendall Sky, it has been my companion in different cities, on hard days, and via text messages from friends. I’ve learned to anticipate its reliable and consistent appearance by simply looking in the same place each day. Now, I see that God is the same way: reliable, consistent, and always close by. Maybe one day I’ll be able to muster a deep explanation for what I know about God, but for now, breath by breath, I know that He is enough.

And I think I’ll keep looking up.

what I’m loving lately

11230431_390934114432436_662734505_nThe notes I keep in my iPhone are borderline batty for a few reasons.

First of all, let’s start with my baby name list. You guys, it’s embarrassing. If you found my phone abandoned on a shelf in J. Crew, you’d turn to the nearest pregnant woman, assuming she dropped her phone in the midst of consoling a crying toddler or carrying a diaper bag.

No, just a 20-something unable to juggle an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and her phone at the same time. You’re welcome, future children.

Then, it’s a collection of favorite words, books to read, restaurants to visit, office ChickFilA orders and car wreck contact information. PS: iPhone notes don’t count as official documents, just so ya know. *insert cry-laughing/concerned-for-my-future face”

But somewhere in the midst of grief and people telling me weird stories of things that comfort them, I made a new list. A pick-me-up list of sorts.
There’s a little more fog in my brain that makes comfort seem distant and harder to recall, so I began recording the tiny, tangible things that cheer me up.

I thought it’d be fun to share a few of those things with you today, and don’t worry, this is probably the only iPhone list of mine that will ever go public!KWPicMonkey Collage

  1. LaraBars: A few people I’ve suggested these to have been turned off by a select few flavors, but I’m here to tell you the secret: chocolate chip cookie dough, key lime pie, lemon bar. Repeat. All week long. Insider tip: microwave the cookie dough bar for 10 seconds=warm cookie. Enough said.
  2. Periwinkle nail polish: I got this color a few weeks ago at the nail salon, and I asked the manicurist a million times if she thought it was a terrible choice. It wasn’t. Moving on.
  3. Have you heard of Darling magazine? Their slogan is “the art of being a woman,” and I’m positive you’ll love it. The pages are beautifully designed with substantial articles and you’ll want to keep it on your coffee table forever. Bye, US Weekly.
  4. Acai bowls: When you learn to say acai, (ah-sah-ee), you’ll want to eat them all the time and use all the puns. (I can’t wait to acai you again. On board?) Basically a smoothie you can eat with a spoon and cover in healthy toppings, this is the definition of healthy comfort food. I get mine locally from Franklin Juice or make my own using these.  Did you notice in the picture up top that I’m holding an acai bowl with my periwinkle nails? Oops.
  5. Up2 By Jawbone: I wrote a post for She Reads Truth about our cutthroat office competitions with these fitness bands, and I’m still loving accountability wrapped around my wrist. I’m always up for a challenge, so 10,000 steps a day? Let’s do this. This little guy can also track your sleep, food, mood and initiate personal or team goals. I’ve been going on walks after work each day and it makes such a difference. And, I get to see my small changes add up. #obsessed

What are some things on your pick-me-up list? Do you have suggestions for mine? I’d love to know!

on your birthday

IMG_3540Dear Kendall,
Your 21st birthday. How are we supposed to spend today?

Months ago, I started planning a huge event for you. We were going to all “ do good turns daily” in your honor, both near and far, acts of service to reflect your kind and selfless spirit. Everyone was going to know your name. We’d wear matching tshirts and create hashtags, thus initiating a ruckus in your honor.

Then, we’d go to the top of a mountain and release balloons for you. Orange, of course. We would stand and watch them fade into glory, holding hands and fighting back tears.

So badly, I wanted to create a positive tradition in your memory. I hoped to prevent another painful holiday and distract mom and dad from the painful sting unique to June 7th.

But somewhere along the way, it started to feel weird and forced and I remembered you were never one to make a ruckus anyway.

Last year, we went to Binion’s, the steakhouse you loved and requested for most of the previous 19 years. We stepped on peanut shells and ate rolls dripping with butter, a screaming toddler and unknown country songs our soundtrack. I was a recent grad waiting for a job offer to uplift me from our hometown any minute, but I’m so glad it didn’t come quickly.

That night, we ate white cupcakes with white icing and rainbow sprinkles, your birthday food of choice since you could chew. For the hundredth time, I argued the lack of difference between cupcakes and sheet cake, but you stood firm in your tradition.

Today, I see the difference. Ken, it’s you. It’s the way you weaved celebration into the tiniest of details, and didn’t let loose ends or changes in plans hinder your determination to commemorate the day.

It’s the way you remembered details and showcased your love through acknowledging them. Like the time you wrote a fake letter from my favorite USC football player, saying he couldn’t make it to my birthday because he was too busy taking care of sick cats (the only excuse you knew I would find acceptable!!). Or the times I’d wake up in the middle of the night and crawl into your room? You’d do anything to cheer me up, from ridiculous breathing exercises to Jerry Seinfeld impressions. You always knew, in the silly times and in the sad.

When I started to create an event for your birthday, I was fighting so hard to establish your legacy through an annual event people would remember. One of the first things our grief counselors warned us about was the shift of people’s attention away from what happened. They said people would move on, forget, and it would be painful.

But they never met you. Kendall, you don’t need an event to speak volumes of your life. I see it every day in the supportive texts I receive, social media posts and the way your friends love us.

Did you know that your friends would come to Asheville on a random weekend to keep mom and dad from feeling lonely?
Did you know that one of your best friends would move to Nashville for the summer and we’ll celebrate you later today with Moe’s burritos?
You would be so proud of your people.

So today, I’m leaning in to the things you love with the people who love you. We’re going to eat white on white cupcakes with sprinkles and celebrate our Kendall in the ways that feel right this year. And I think that’s just how you want it.

Thanks for teaching me so many lessons, many of which I’ve yet to uncover, but most of all, for being you. We love you, little brother. Happy Birthday!

xoxo-Kait

a thank-you note

IMG_3118I’m not afraid of public speaking. In fact, I unashamedly love it. But, a few months ago I was asked to speak at an event unlike any I had previously experienced: a ceremony at Clemson University to celebrate my brother’s accomplishments and award his posthumous degree.

Although I spoke at his funeral 6 months prior, this time was different.

I was no longer stung by shock, and my numbness had turned to a continual recognition of his absence deeper than I cared to face. We had made it through half a year of holidays without him, and I was knee-deep in the grief I initially could only anticipate with dread.

It would have been simple for me to not speak at the event. If it’s too hard, we understand, said many a family member and university official. I had an easy out. I thought about how it would be a relief to solely be a spectator, only tending to my Kleenex supply and grasping my parents’ hands the whole time.

I remembered the songs Kendall wrote and performed for me in honor of my birthdays and graduation. I recalled the videos and slideshows I would faithfully produce for his high school graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. We didn’t need Myers-Briggs to tell us how similar our personalities were, but no matter how many times we took the test, we got the exact same result: ENFJ. Our mutual celebration style was to make a big to-do of anything and everything, while our introvert-natured parents watched and applauded.

So, the obvious answer was yes. Yes, I would speak. Yes, it would be hard. And yes, I desperately needed this one thing to stay the same just once more.

Writing my speech was another demon entirely. Although I had scribbled and crossed out paragraphs upon paragraphs, nothing seemed appropriate. My writing method is unorganized and last minute, during which I usually circle around and rearrange ideas and words until they fall into place seamlessly.

That didn’t happen this time. I concluded that nothing would feel right. I couldn’t address each person in the room, thanking them for the way they loved my brother and they continue to support my parents. I couldn’t write a novel filled with the ways I miss Kendall. I couldn’t justify our relationship as brother and sister, recalling childhood stories. I couldn’t sermonize, listing the things that I’m sure of, and the unanswered questions I have. I couldn’t beg all of his friends to please, please don’t forget about him and to call me when the grief becomes too much to bear alone. I couldn’t tell them how I just wanted to sit in that auditorium forever, savoring one of my last public opportunities to be a proud sister.

But I wanted to.

Instead, I told them how much Kendall loved Clemson, thanked them for loving the heck out of our boy, and challenged them to continue his legacy through their love and ambition. I know they will.

There are always going to be things I am unable to say out loud, and I think sometimes you may feel that way, too. I’m familiar with the silence when I enter a room, the awkward small talk in church, the avoidance in the grocery store. And it’s okay. 

I don’t know how to handle this either. But thank you for loving me in the ways you may think are insignificant, awkward or unsuitable. Thank you for allowing me to stumble through the next several days and years and decades, unaware of what to do and hopefully getting better at it along the way. Please know you also have the same freedom. 

Shauna Niequist said it best (she always does), when she wrote:

“We don’t learn to love each other well in the easy moments. Anyone is good company at a cocktail party. But love is born when we misunderstand one another and make it right, when we cry in the kitchen, when we show up uninvited with magazines and granola bars, in an effort to say, I love you.” 

Let’s awkwardly falter through this together. We can do it. 

All my love,
K