Enjoy the Ride

“Oh this too shall pass. This loneliness won’t last for long.
I wasn’t there to take his place; I was ten thousand miles away.
So when you hear my voice, and when you say my name, may it never give you pain.”
– Gale Song, The Lumineers

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I started this post a week after my baby cousin died and it’s taken me until now to finish it. Partially because I still can’t believe it all to be true, and partially because there are no words to convey all the feelings I have over the span of one day, let alone 6 months. However, I knew I wanted it to be done in time for his birthday, so here’s my best shot.

Over these past 6 months, my family has gone through what none should. Our Zachary was killed while riding his motorcycle in his hometown of Cave Creek, Arizona. My family lost a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, a grandson, and a best friend…it’s an indescribable emptiness that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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I go back to that night so many times. Getting the news the following morning instantly shattered me, as it did every member of my family. Anyone who knows me knows that my cousins are my siblings; there is no difference between the two in my mind. Losing one of my cousins is like losing a limb. I have very little recollection of the moment I found out he was gone, but I know I sobbed…and screamed…and tried to figure out how this could happen to my baby cousin, to our family. An unfathomable pain swept across my heart and as much as we know that time heals all wounds, our family will never be the same. He is irreplaceable.

Zachary would have been twenty-three today. My heart aches to know he won’t see twenty-three…or twenty-five, or fifty, or ninety, but I know that, in those moments of sadness, God stills my mind. He reminds me of His plan and the fact that we’ll all be together one day. People that know me, know that I am a planner; I get excited about putting events and parties together and being with friends and family, no matter what the occasion. I see this reunion as the ultimate “party.” We will all be happier than we could ever imagine because we will be together again in God’s kingdom and I honestly cannot wait for that day. To hug you again and to see your sweet smile and hear your hearty laugh…that’s all I could ask for.

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I have seen things since we lost our Zachary that have really changed my outlook on this entire situation. Something that I heard a lot was acknowledgment of how tight-knit my family is. While this was absolutely true before April 20th, this tragedy has allowed me to see my family come together in a way I honestly didn’t know was even possible. We cried a lot, we laughed, we held each other up. We spoke when words were needed and sat in silence when they were not. And we hugged…we really hugged. For the first time in our lives, we knew what it felt like to wake up one day and have our entire world be broken. We made sure that each other was okay before ourselves. There was a selflessness between every one of us that gave me such a sense of security…we were going to get through this together. We saw friends and family from around the country, and around the world, fly to Arizona to be together, donate money, or send their words of encouragement. It’s easy to remember the anger and negativity surrounding this horrible tragedy, but it takes courage and strength to find a positive in it and I found my “positive” in my family.

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During these 6 months, my faith has been tested. The devil tempted me time and time again to blame God. “How could He let this happen? If He was a true God, these horrible things wouldn’t happen.” In those moments, I am reminded that God’s plan is bigger than anything I can comprehend. As much as it hurts, the tears that I cry are because I miss him and I wish this painful experience didn’t happen, but not because I don’t believe that he’s in a better place. I admit there are times where I slip into a dark place and these questions taunt me, but I am lucky to have found our church, Fearless L.A., to remind me of that peace that God offers us every single day.

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If I have learned anything from losing Zachary, it’s simply that I will live more freely, I will love more deeply and I will become more like him. Zachary lived a simple life with a motto that was essentially “Do What Makes You Happy.” In February, he posted an Instagram of his motorcycle in the sunset with the quote “Enjoy the view you’re given.” That seems so easy, but how many times a day do we take our “view” for granted? Or just say “yes” to things we really don’t want to do? Or brush off the simple every day things…our health, our family, our friends, a roof over our head, our jobs…? Or pass up an opportunity because we think we’re too busy? Or worry more about material things and less about the people we spend our time with? Zach really understood that the biggest things in life are your friends and family and just having a beer or two at a “beer-cade” bar in Chicago and grabbing a pizza at Lou’s is best way to hang out. During this time, I have learned really evaluate what I care about and what is important to me and hold on to it…and hold on tight.

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Z – We’ve heard time and time again that you lived your life to the fullest. You never took a day, or a moment, for granted. I can’t give you a physical birthday present this year, but I can make you a promise to continue my life with your mindset…to not pass up an opportunity that comes my way and not be afraid to fail. To try for that promotion, to say “yes” to grabbing a drink with a new friend, to wake up early and look at the sunrise every once in a while, to thank God for everything He’s blessed me with in this life, to live every single second like the next isn’t promised and to face life head-on in all its excitement, hardships and quiet moments. Thank you for teaching me the importance of those things.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”

Happy first heavenly birthday, my angel. I’ll be missing you and I’ll see you soon, but until then, You’ll Be In My Heart…

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Hey, Chicago, What Do Ya Say?

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In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. Read that again. One Hundred and Eight Years.

Being from Chicago, I’ve found myself in past years, along with many others, falling into a similar slump as the Cubs notoriously have. Thoughts of “Will this ever happen?” and “Are we cursed forever?” crept into my mind post-season after post-season and it seemed that every time we would get a glimpse of hope, it would get squashed ten times over.

But not this season.

Something was different from day one this season. With every Kris Bryant home run and every Baez/Rizzo double play, we got one step closer to completing the century-old dream. And we knew it.

Fast forward to October, every baseball fanatics favorite month. A month that Cubs fans aren’t too familiar with associating with happy feelings. Last year, we made it to the NLCS…and lost. We were so close, but it got away. But this year it all felt different, it felt better, and we felt confident.

When the moment finally came that we clinched the NLCS and made it to the World Series, I didn’t react like I thought I would. I didn’t scream and jump up and down. I didn’t cry. I sat there and stared at the television screen. I watched Dexter Fowler and Willson Contreras jumping into a group of the other players and Kris Bryant hoist his teammates above his head. It was in that moment that I realized the Chicago Cubs, my Chicago Cubs, were going to win the World Series.

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My next emotion was being overcome with sadness. I went from an ultimate high to rock bottom. I realized that the moment that I’ve been waiting for, that my dad, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins and so many other people have been waiting for was coming, and I was going to be 2,036 miles away from the corner of Clark and Addison. I was able to watch every post-season game with other Cubs fans. Even when we played the Dodgers, we would find Chicago bars in LA to watch the game at; to celebrate every win and mourn every loss with fans who had the same goal in mind: Fly the W. But it wasn’t the same.

My dad and I immediately called each other and began looking up flights and game tickets, calling everyone we knew. Nothing was coming together. Flight times didn’t work, game tickets were starting at $3,000 for Standing Room Only. It wasn’t going to happen. We were going to have to watch from what might as well have been the other side of the universe. And we were devastated.

Then we realized something, as much as we wanted to be in the Friendly Confines that weekend, it didn’t matter where we watched it. It was still happening. He and my mom were going to be in LA for the first few games and we would be able to watch them together. “Cubs in 4!” we thought. We’d be able to watch the Cubs win the World Series together. In LA. But together.
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When we lost the first game, I don’t really think anyone flinched. We made every excuse. It was an away game. It was the first game. We didn’t have enough of a break between the NLCS and now. We’ll be fine.

We came back and crushed the second game and a fire was ignited. Every Cubs fan knew it was happening. Our confidence was peaking and we were getting ready to witness history. And then games 3 and 4 happened. It was like watching a horror film, but it was real life. There was no waking up from that bad dream, there was a Cleveland 3-1 lead and we were horrified.

If you are a Cubs fan and you say that you didn’t freak out that night, you are a liar. Prayers were said and stats were pulled…how many times have we won 3 games in a row? How many teams have come back from being down 3-1 in any series, let alone the World Series? We woke up Sunday morning with a “must-win attitude” and we ran with it. Watching that game was the most dramatic hours of my twenty-three years. Every error felt like a dagger and every great hit and out that we got was like winning the lottery. That roller coaster feeling was back. But we won game 5. Two more to go.

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Game 6 came and I was sick as a dog, but there was a 0% chance that I was going to miss that game. Another must-win for the Boys in Blue and I am on the edge of my seat. We crushed the first inning and from that point on, my worries eased and I knew that this series was going to Game Seven. My parents changed their flights and stayed in LA and we made plans to watch the moment we’ve all been waiting for together.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, there was something in the LA air. It traveled those same 2,036 miles that I did. I could feel it. We all could feel it. History was going to be made. I peeled myself out of bed and we met at a bar down the street. The six of us crammed in a small booth in a bar in Brentwood in front of three TVs all showing the pre-game warm ups. We got ready for what would easily be one of the best nights of our lives.

“Game Seven” are arguably the two greatest words to any sports fan. But add in the fact that it’s the World Series and it’s the Chicago Cubs, the feelings were amplified tenfold. Every out against us or bad play resulted in the entire strip of bars booing and swearing. Every run resulted in an uproar of screams and cheering. I realized in that bar that even though I thought I should have been in Chicago watching this, LA was going to be a great alternative.

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The game went on for 4 hours and 28 minutes, including a rain delay. We had a three-run lead going into the eighth inning and the Indians tied it. No one scored in the ninth and we went into extra innings. At this point, no one was okay. In the crowded bar, people were pacing, cursing, praying and sweating. We wanted this so badly and in the next 15 minutes, it could be taken away from us for the 109th time in a row.

The tenth inning began and the Cubs scored two runs. Now all we had to do was get three outs and we would be the World Series Champions. Three. Outs. That’s it. It was the longest minutes of my life. Davis scored one run for the Indians with that we only had a one-run lead. With two outs, Martinez hit the ball straight to third and before he could even throw it, Bryant’s face lit up. A gentle toss to first and a catch from Rizzo sealed the deal. The Chicago Cubs won the first World Series since 1908 and broke every curse the city was under.

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That moment was the definition of sheer bliss. I jumped on the booth and screamed. Everyone was hugging, cheering, crying…sobbing. After what seemed like ten straight hours of this, I stopped to look around. To remember this moment. To see the people I was with, where I was. And look up at that screen and see my Lovable Losers spraying champagne all over each other and holding the title of World Series Champions.

To end this documentation of the last weeks of my life, I just want to say thank you, Chicago. For raising me. For making me believe in superstitions, but even more in my team. For letting me leave, but still be completely tied to you. For giving me something so earth-shattering, that it made men, women and children around the world scream louder and cry harder than they ever have. For letting me listen to every doubter for years ask me how I could be a Cubs fan and respond with confidence that one day we would be the World Series Champions…and for making that happen. Thank you.

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Paradise City: Whatever, USA

The weekend that I’ve been looking forward to for what seems like forever now is over and I could absolutely not be more grateful for the last forty-eight hours. It sounds so cliche, but Whatever, USA was exactly what I needed right now.

A year ago, I might not a have gone on a trip like this, but this year with my freedom gained over the last year with my parents leaving, my graduation, my getting ready to move out, I experienced this weekend to the absolute fullest and I completely fell in love with it.

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Of course the events were incredible…artists like T-Pain, Diplo and Snoop Dogg performing, going to beer school and walking the pier to decorate cotton candy, dying our hair crazy colors, going to a Roaring 20s themed party and of course drinking enough Bud Light to keep our buzz going for three days straight. But what was truly the best part of this weekend was the people. Everyone was in the same mindset of wanting to live it up and have the absolute time of our lives and this created some of the best memories I’ve ever had.

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Someone told me “you can’t buy happiness, but who doesn’t smile on a jet ski?” While, true, we did not jet ski this weekend, we did just about everything else and he was absolutely right. It’s not the monetary valued things in life, it’s the walks at noon, the music at 7pm, the talks at 3 am and the laughter at 6 am and waking up smiling with the same people and doing it all over again the next day. You never know when life is going to hand you a few people that could possibly change your life forever, so look out for them.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have gone on this trip and I cannot express my thanks enough to Bud Light for making it all happen. Here’s to staying #UpForWhatever and to making more memories across the country in the future.

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None But Ourselves Can Free Our Mind

The sixth of February holds a special meaning for me each year and today is no different. The birthday of the legend that is Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley is this day and it strikes a chord with me unlike any other. Marley was a Catholic and later converted to becoming a Rasta, so he had a very unique set of beliefs. I truly believe, however, that we can learn an immense amount from his words and what better day than today to acknowledge them?

Marley recorded four songs with the Wailers originally, one of which was Judge Not. The title alone is something our world needs today. The lyrics proclaim, “I know that I’m not perfect and that I don’t claim to be. So before you point your fingers, be sure your hands are clean.” Another song that follows this mentality is So Much Trouble In The World. So many people compare their lives to other people: celebrities, friends, enemies, colleagues. A common way of making us feel better about our lives is to put other people’s down or claim what they are doing is not up to par. If we would take a look at our own lives, I know that we would see that they are not perfect either. Everyone makes mistakes. No one life is exactly what they want it to be. Focus on yourself and your own life before jumping into judging someone else’s.

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I Shot the Sheriff seemed mistakenly innocent, yet there was huge meaning behind it. Marley originally wanted the lyrics to be “I shot the police…,” however he later stated that “the government would have made a fuss so I said ‘I shot the sheriff’ instead… but it’s the same idea: justice.” Marley lived in a time with racial prejudice and injustice. He became a verbal leader through his music for equality and peace and this song was just one more way of him proving that. Today’s world, while improved in some senses, is still incredibly prejudice among select groups of people whether it be based on race, ethnicity, religion or even gender orientation. Marley also released Get Up, Stand Up to encourage people to fight for their rights. He saw the injustice in the world and wanted to shed light onto it and that it just what he did. Using his words to demand peace proved to be a better solution than any fighting could have.

When his album Exodus was released, a song entitled Three Little Birds was a major hit. This song has continuously made its way into people’s hearts and souls since its release. The lyrics are simple but powerful, plus the music of this song is joyful and happy. This song personally hits home for me. Each of our lives have had and will have trials. There are days where we feel that going on is simply unbearable. Losing someone we love or making major life decisions are examples of days where we feel we cannot manage. These lyrics speak to people in every facet of their troubles. “Don’t worry about a thing cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” No matter what you are going through, fate will bring you to exactly where you need to be and everything will work out just as planned.

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The last song that I feel is extremely worth noting is my personal favorite. Redemption Song has spoken the purest words and made the biggest impact on our world out of any song, in my opinion. Marley took the things he saw around him that were hurting people or causing pain and strung this song together based on a speech given by Marcus Garvey on Pan-Africanism.  This movement sought to uplift the people of African descent. At a time with such hate in the world, this song made an incredible impact. When Marley wrote this song, he was already deep into his diagnosis with cancer and dealing with the thoughts of death that clearly appear through the lyrics in this song. Redemption Song has been called “the most influential recording in Jamaican music history.” The lyrics state to “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.” This line is my favorite of any song. We become fixated on becoming the perfect person and through this we obtain a “mental slavery,” which only we can break.

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The legacy that Bob Marley left in this world is one that will never be forgotten. His words still hold true meaning and his life remains one that people everywhere respect and admire. Rest in Peace, Bob Marley, and Happy 70th Birthday…we know the Sun is Shining.

Thankful

I’ve been trying to think of a way to get back into blogging. Honestly, I just miss it. But finding something to write about, especially as a comeback post, isn’t always easy. Then I realized that writing why I am thankful would not only be appropriate for today, but also remind me to be extra grateful for those things…so here it is!

1. I am thankful for my health. I am thankful to be here after having some bumps in my “health road.” I am thankful for the way I was born and for the doctors that have ensured my safety in any situation since then.

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2. I am thankful for my family. My best friends in the world. My support system. I am so thankful for you. My parents, you have given me the world and shown me how to be the best person I can be. Even if you are far away now, I still feel your love. I am so thankful for my cousins, my papa and grandparents. I am thankful for my surrogate mom. I am thankful for my mom’s family for never making me feel like I didn’t belong. I am thankful for my guardian angels that have gone before me. I am thankful for my puppy, Khoya, and my friends who have become more like family.

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3. I am thankful for music. I am so in love with so many songs and the feelings that just one song can give you. I am so thankful to be able to hear the beautiful sounds created in our world. So many times in my life have had music in the center of them, whether it’s a concert, music playing while I’m getting ready with my friends or on while I’m driving in the car with Matt or sending a song to the people I love when it reminds me of them. These times make me especially grateful today.

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4. I am thankful for seasons. I hate the cold, as most people know, but the cold brings back my favorite season, spring. The cold reminds me how lovely the warmer months are. The warm months are ones of rebirth and change. Every year something new comes and reminds us how lucky we are to be alive. This makes me so grateful.

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Even just writing these things makes me smile. Seeing how many little things and people there are that make my world better every day and for those, I am truly thankful.

– Al

She Designed a Life She Loved.

“What good is livin’ the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place?”
– Lord Huron

The only word I have in my head right now is bliss. Sheer bliss.  I am receiving the amazing opportunity to travel throughout this incredible world with my best friend, sister, soulmate, my rock, my cousin, Kendra. I am the luckiest girl.

292878_10150286292526173_525871172_8126293_1900853_nIf you know me at all, you know this is something I have been waiting to do forever. I decided not to study abroad in college because I know I am just too free-spirited to be in a new country with new people… new everything, but then have to go to class or follow a schedule of where to be and when. I mean a schedule of countries, sure, but something didn’t feel right about studying abroad. So, I passed that chance up multiple times, decided on graduating early and using that money to travel through Europe and I can now officially say that huge risk paid off and I am over-the-moon ecstatic about it.

We booked these cities/regions:
Athens
Mykonos
Pompeii
Rome
Florence
Venice
Tyrol Region
Munich
Prague
Nuremberg
Heidelberg
Amsterdam
Bruges
Paris
The French Riviera
Barcelona
*Of course, if you have any suggestions for any of these places,
things to do, restaurants, beaches, etc., please let me know!

I have to say how blessed I feel right now. I have the greatest parents to be sending me on a trip like this, the most fantastic family to support us on our journey, the most amazing best friend & cousin to be coming with me and sharing this experience with me and the most perfect God and guardian angel, gramma, to guide us on the trip of a lifetime. I said it once, but I’ll say it again, I really am the luckiest girl in the world. I cannot wait to leave, but planning the details of this trip is going to be so much fun, too, so I’m just going to enjoy this time and take in every moment leading up to it. I know I’m going to want this time back one day.

IMG_9205As it unfolds, there will be plenty more posts. We leave June 30th, (right after my 21st birthday in Vegas…can this be any better?!) so we’ve still got some time, but a trip like this could never have enough excitement and the words in this post cannot convey how absolutely, exceptionally elated I am.

I love you, Kenners. Thank you for being my person and my best friend every single day, for being you. I cannot wait to share this amazing journey with you & experience all that this world has to offer together. Here’s to laughing until we cry, to trying new things in new places with new people and to the memories we’ll make that will last a lifetime! aafnmw.

My viaggi futuri Pinterest board can now be my viaggi presto board. Love it.

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Al

…Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away.

Whenever I hear this, I think of you. (This was the song that she sent me last night that I talked about on my status. I’m still in shock. I am so lucky.)

And I have absolutely no way to describe the feeling that I have right now knowing that you’ve been gone for three years. Three. Years. When I say it like that, it doesn’t seem too long. I mean, hell, college has gone by quicker than I can even fathom. But when I look back on how much has happened in three years, it’s an eternity. How much I’ve had to go through in my life without you being here with me. You would be so proud of all your babies here. I have to say, you raised the greatest three girls in the whole world. Auntie Gina is the most caring and genuine person I think I’ve ever met. To have her as my aunt is truly an inspiration and I’m so honored and lucky to have someone so strong to look up to. Auntie Mona is, to this day, someone I can go to in any given situation, no matter what. She’s such a good friend and an even better aunt. She gives the greatest advice and knows exactly how to make your day when you need it. I’m so happy for her that she’s found Quinn and I have a pretty good feeling you were behind that, so I’m sure she’s so thankful to you. And then there’s my mom. I know that she and you had a very unique relationship and I know that because so do she and I. As I’m getting older now and starting to look back on my past 20 years on the planet and I realize that these are the last times I’ll have with her before I graduate and start  my life, I’m starting to realize how great she really is. Not many people can say they have a best friend in their mom, but I really do. I haven’t been the perfect daughter by any means, but she looks past my flaws and mistakes and loves me like you did and that alone makes me the luckiest girl in the world. She cares about me more than just a “motherly instinct,” but as a best friend and as someone who, I genuinely know, won’t give up on me and will always have my back. She is the perfect mom and I have you to thank for that because I know you were so perfect, too. Us grandbabies ain’t so bad either. Zach’s in college in Mesa and as bad-ass as ever. Garrett is killin’ it in high school and is driving now! I still have my voicemail on our phone of you wishing me good luck on my first day of driving. I’ll have to send that to him now. Emma is just the greatest little human in the entire world. She’s so thoughtful and sweet and precious and perfect. Sam and Kendra came this summer for the weekend and I’m so beyond happy I got to spend time with them. I know you were there, too. I’m so incredibly blessed to have those two in my life because they, along with Z, G and Emma, are some of my best friends and I’m so lucky that they’re my family. You left a phenomenal legacy here in your family and I will never be able to thank you enough for giving me this never-failing support system.

I can still see us six standing over you on that last day and Sam telling us how lucky we are to have had the experiences and the beautiful, perfect moments that we had with you. Who else in the world could say that they had a best friend in someone who was 70 years older than they are? No one, but I can. Your advice and your guidance gets me through even my toughest days here and that’s something that I will never be able to replace.

I still cry every time I Love You, Baby comes on or I see old pictures of us. I found some old cards from you telling me how much you love me, your “sunshine,” but what you don’t realize is you were mine, too. You still are. You made my life so bright and so warm and my childhood would never have been even a fraction of as perfect as it was if you weren’t a part of it. The problem is, now, my sunshine is gone. Please don’t take my sunshine away. That line always made me cry when I was little because I couldn’t imagine my sunshine being taken away, but three years ago, it was and, now, I’m starting to realize that I’m not sure how to go on without it. I’ve never felt more loved than I did with you. I never had more fun watching a LifeTime movie or going to the “beauty shop” or laying in bed and talking about what the perfect life would be like. I’ve never seen someone more beautiful. I’ve never seen more happiness or love than with you and papa. I’m so lucky to have been able to witness those things because I know now what sheer bliss is because of you.

I just realized I’m writing this like a letter to you. Like, I’m hoping you’re reading it or hearing it in my head or something. I know you and I still have our little ways of communicating, but I want you to actually know all of this. I am so lucky to have had seventeen exquisite years with you and those will be something I cherish for the rest of my life. Every day you are on my mind. I know you’ll continue to stay there and you’ll be there for every milestone that I have from here on out. I know that there are going to be thunderstorms that hide my sunshine and some days will feel worse than others, but I promise you that at the end of those and even during their darkest points, I will still seek my sunshine. I will always look for you in my toughest moments and seek  your wisdom, whether that be through your words you left me with, the people you left behind here or just simply seeking you by myself in my soul.

“I love you more than the words of this letter can convey and more than you or I could even fathom.” I wrote that to you in our book and you best believe I still mean that. I’ll open our book and a bottle of wine for you tonight and know that my being and my soul will celebrate the person that you were and are and everything that I do is for you. Always and Forever, No Matter What. Oh yeah, and thanks for being you! I love you more.

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Al