Carrying on a Dream

Last year, in the middle of our darkest days surrounding our brother’s accident, I knew that I would need to hold tightly onto anything positive that came out of such a horrible time. I insisted to Mr. Lemon that we would need to make something good come out of it because I could not allow it to be all bad.

In the beginning, the organ donation was the first thing I clung to. I wanted so desperately to reach out to the recipients. To tell them about our amazing brother and exactly how special the gift they carried really was. I truly regret that I have not yet written such a letter. In time.

We knew Rob had plans to open a bike shop and then Mr. Lemon’s mom shared with us that he also had dreams of some day giving bikes to kids in need. Rob knew that giving a bike could expand a child’s potential. It would open their world and their possibilities. And we knew that THIS was the good we could do. So we started the Lemon Road Machine Project, with plans to connect children with new bikes and helmets in Rob’s home town of Grand Rapids. Last Christmas we gave new bikes, helmets, locks, and a pump to two brothers. It was one of the happiest moments of our holiday.

This year we organized a small ride to bike in honor of Rob and Hilary. He surely would have laughed at our distance (just 10 miles) and some of the equipment (my own tire was somehow on backwards). But he would have loved that so many were out biking; some wore helmets for the first time, a cousin bought a bike on the way to the ride. and many rode who had not ridden in years. It will most definitely be an annual event.

At the same time we set up an online fund drive, with an initial goal of $1000. As I write this post, after five weeks of campaigning, our donations have reached $4880. We’ve been beyond humbled not only with this dollar amount, which will help us with our goals, but even more so by the shear breadth of people who have donated. Friends from college and high school that I have not seen in ten years. Past colleagues. Current colleagues. Close family. Extended family. Very extended family. Neighbors. New friends. Old friends. Our best friends. People who had never met Rob, but love us. People who have never met us, but love him and Hil. A stranger that, as best I can tell, had never met any of us but donated in honor of her husband, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver this spring.

I cried when nearly every donation came in. The emotional response did not parallel the dollar amount. The $10 donation touched me just as much as any other. Because that person, and every person who donated, cared enough to do something about it. And for that, “thank you” will never feel like enough.

We’ve taken your dream, Rob. And with the help of so many, we plan to make you proud. I have no capacity to bring you back. But I can keep you here by working diligently for your dreams. Because your presence and passion will be so hard to match, if this project is able to touch even one tenth of the people you would have done on your own, it will be a success. This is the good I will hold onto.

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Eleven Years + Three More

We knew at some point there would more likely than not be a plea bargain from the driver who hit our brother and his best friend. And we knew once it happened things would move quickly. But since there is no warning, it took us very much by surprise when we found out a plea was being reached this month. Today, the driver has pled guilty to one count of leaving the scene of a crash involving a death and agreed to 132 months in prison followed by 36 months of probation.

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Even from the time the driver was arrested, although I was thankful he was found, it never alleviated or lessened my pain. People would say thing like “You must be so relieved/happy to know he’s been caught.” And honestly, I’ve never felt those emotions. Likewise, I don’t feel any relief or happiness or justice in his sentencing term. Could it be worse? Absolutely. There are horror stories of drivers who get just a few months or who are never found after leaving a scene. So I’m not discounting the additional pain those families must have, because I cannot imagine that extra burden. But having the driver in jail “paying for” his crime does not lessen the pain I do have.

The lives of my brother and his best friend were taken away. The life of the driver has been changed forever. Countless other lives were affected in one moment. I don’t have any idea how to measure what length of jail time would be considered “justice” for the mistake that was made. No amount of time can bring them back, or reverse the damage done to our family. And at the same time, no amount of time can erase the guilt I imagine the driver feels or change the course his life is now taking. All around, the situation cannot be repaired by any specific length of sentence.

So no, my grief is in no way lessened by the news of the driver’s plea. My heart does not feel lighter. I actually feel heavier knowing his decisions continue to tragically alter lives. Because of his own choices, his life will never, ever be the same. However, I do not believe his choices were done out of malice. Because of what he did, his family and friends are suffering too. Their pain is real and raw, especially today; I have empathy for all of them and what they are enduring. But because our grief is enough for me to shoulder, I prefer to keep them faceless and nameless. It may be selfish, but I don’t want to know anything about him. It is better for me to paint my own small picture of who he is and try to let the rest of it go.

And I have to let it go because I need energy to focus on our love for Rob and how we can channel that love into great things. He had beautiful dreams and hopes that we’d like to carry out, if only in a small way. But since this day is a particularly heavy one, I’ll give myself extra room to be in pain and grieve for our families. For the driver’s family. For the hundreds, if not thousands of people whose lives were changed that day.

***Please note that, as with everything on this blog, these thoughts and opinions are mine alone. I do not speak for my whole family; I can only speak for myself.

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Despair…and Hope

Yesterday was my first time in a hospital since September. I think of my brother every day, all day. But occasionally I am struck heavily by emotion of a certain memory or thought that I may not have expected. It didn’t occur to me that this would be my first visit in a hospital until I was there. And even when I did realize it, for a few moments I was okay. But as I walked into the hospital to see my best friends’ new baby, I met the faces of other visitors and distinctly remembered looking into the faces of other visitors for the three days we spent at Rob’s bedside. As we journeyed the halls of that hospital, I often wondered if the patients, nurses and guests could see the grief on our faces. The pain had such a physical presence within my own body that it seemed impossible for someone to see me but not see the despair and know exactly what was happening to our world. 

Some of that despair returned to me while walking through the lobby yesterday. The wash of tears, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. As the elevator carried me to the maternity floor, I tried to compose myself. Tried to stop myself from having a complete meltdown because this time, I was in a hospital to celebrate new life just brought into the world. Not to say goodbye to life passing much too soon.

Thankfully, the joy of holding a new baby allowed my grief to pause for an hour. I snuggled, cooed and laughed. I listened to the birth story and saw the love pouring from my friends who had been made parents for the first time. These friends had prayed for years to have this reality and here, she had finally arrived; her new life a complete blessing as she forever changed their world. Their struggle was finally over and the proof was physically in their arms. She brought with her the promise of dreams fulfilled and hope restored. My heartache, while never gone, was soothed for the moment to seeing their long heartache removed.

As I drove away from the hospital, I was struck – and I’m certain this is by no means original – but still, I was struck by how one building could house so much despair and yet so much hope. In one physical location, some families are forced to say goodbye to a long loved one while others can joyously say hello to a brand new addition. On the one hand, it seems to be a cruel joke to keep such odds together. And yet on the other, maybe it can be good to have them together; a yin and yang balance. Because if we did not know the heartbreak and despair of life lost, I’m not certain we could fully appreciate the hope and beauty of life just beginning.

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