Today I celebrate a year since being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism … an event that set off a domino effect of other diagnoses, including Factor V Leiden and MTHFR A1298C. (They may mean nothing to you, but those things mean everything to me. They are not who I am, by any means, but they do define a large portion of my life and how I have to live it.)
I’ve struggled with what to do at the one-year mark. What do I write about? This past year? Reliving the night it happened? (No need, already a post on that.) Besides, my goal is about getting past it, not wallowing in it. I’ve done that, it’s not fun.
Write about the signs, symptoms, urge people to get checked out? Eh, there are enough pages on that too.
That’s when I let inspiration strike. I read a post on Project Light To Life, a blog I follow regularly, and I realized that I enjoy doing things for others. Perhaps the little bit of good in my heart is what allowed God to let me continue on when a third of people with PEs aren’t that lucky. So I’m going to tell you about, what I feel, is a shining moment in my life.
In 2007, I was in my final semester of graduate school. I had just lost my brother in November 2006, and was quite lost. In fact, I almost dropped out of school, but my husband basically told me I was stupid to drop out a semester shy of completing my Masters. He was right. Much as it pained to say it. I needed one last class, so he suggested I take this leadership class he was taking. I hated the idea of taking a business class, but I signed up anyway.
Our professor was touchy-feely all the way (not in a creepy way, just in that emotional way). I mean, no one can get more touchy feely than this guy. But, you know, I’ve had countless professors in my six years in college, and I remember him implicitly. So, he did his job, he made a mark.
We had a HUGE project due before the end of the semester. It was a project to prove our leadership and perform a community service at the same time.
Immediately, I knew what I was going to do. I was going to take a bunch of people to the cemetery where my brother’s ashes were buried, and we were going to place flowers on graves … particularly the older graves, ones where the deceased doesn’t get any love. This was important to me. My professor was a little iffy on the project, particularly because it didn’t service people who were alive. But I did some mad convincing and he approved it. I was going to do it if he approved it or not, so it’s a good thing he did.
I started rounding up volunteers, both in the people who would come with me and the people who would donate flowers.
I stumbled across this one florist who was absolutely amazing, and she helped me when things got dark the week before, and I didn’t have many donations. She got me in touch with another florist who more than came through and, pretty much, made this project a rousing success.
I told a different professor about what I was going to do, and he asked if he could contact the local paper. I declined. I didn’t want press. This wasn’t about the glory I could get from the public’s eye. It was for my heart. I planned to run a piece in the op-ed section of the paper where I worked as a movie critic, but that would be after the fact. That was the most press I wanted.
The morning of the project, I had three different people picking up flowers at different locations. My little Mazda 6 was loaded down. I had a friend in the backseat who was completely covered in flowers. Why were they in the backseat? The trunk was overloaded. It was an amazing feeling.
Altogether, we met up at the cemetery. Total, there were 17 of us to perform this project – including my parents who drove eight hours to get there, a former Marine who was friends with my brother who drove four hours to get there, my in-laws who drove two hours to get there, a friend who did this entire project with a broken foot and never once complained, along with a lot of my coworkers, and some additional family who lived in town.
There were over 2,500 flowers. That’s a lot of flowers. It took what seemed like forever to unload the cars. We took them all upstairs in the main building at the cemetery and we unwrapped them, and bundled into groups of three (bravery, honor, courage), and tied with red, white, or blue ribbon. This took some time. My sister complained we should have done it the night before, but I’m glad we all did it together. To be honest, this was one of the neatest parts of the project, seeing the different flowers that were donated to us.
After we had them all bundled up, well over 900 bundles (when my project goal was much lower), we put them on a truck, and drove around the cemetery to pay our respects.
It was snowing. It had been snowing since we all got there, but it was snowing harder. We would not be deterred. We had a project to finish.
Each grave got a bundle of flowers. We focused our efforts on the older part of the cemetery, with headstones that dated as far back as the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. We knew these were the ones who did not get respects very often.
We moved on from there, and went to the front, where there was an Operation Iraqi Freedom soldier we felt we should honor. One of our florist’s husband was buried at this cemetery, so we made sure to go pay our respects to him as well.
My brother got his flowers too. He was, after all, the reason I did this.
It was an amazing project. One that got frustrating at times, especially when my family was being bratty (what’s family for?), but one that was a huge success. The cemetery director told me no one had ever done a project like that before. Companies had done beautification, but no one had ever come to pay respects to people they don’t know. Let alone 900 people they didn’t know.
I have pictures from this event hanging on my wall, to remind me of how awesome it was. And what you can achieve when you want to. I wasn’t going to fail. I refused to fail. Everyone who helped me was touched by this project one way or another. I’m glad I was able to honor those – both living and dead – with this project. It is, quite frankly, one of the moments in my life of which I am most proud.
I ran this piece in the newspaper at which I worked a week after the project was complete.
I intended to continue this legacy each February, but alas, the next February I was VERY pregnant, and traipsing up and down the hills of the cemetery wasn’t in the cards.
However, there is a little girl in Nicholasville who carried the torch for me. She claims she didn’t know about my project, and whether or not she did isn’t important. That same year I did my project, on Memorial Day, she gathered up donations to buy carnations and place a single carnation on as many graves as possible. She garnered a lot of press for it. The press made it out like she was the first person to do something like this, but I knew better. But you know what, it’s all the better when you don’t get the credit for it.
My heart knows what an awesome experience it was in the snow, with my family and friends, and that’s what makes it truly special. That’s what makes it so much of an accomplishment.