Grief is a weird sensation. When you first experience a loss, you feel like a freight train pass through. Over time, your grief transitions into memories and a beloved sense of remembrance. And even still, after ten years, grief sometimes finds you in the stairwell halfway up a climb to the top and knocks the wind right out of you.
In December, we signed up for the Fight for Air Climb that benefits the American Lung Association. My brother and I trained in the weeks leading up to it and raised money for a cause so dear to us in honor of our Aunt Joan who passed away from complications of lung cancer in early 2004. We opted to climb 31 floors of the Oak Brook Terrace Tower three times.
Crazy, right? And so the Fort Wayners embarked on an upwards journey to honor one of the most influential women in our lives.
Here we are before we start. Footloose and fancy-free.
After Round 1
After Round 2 (The Oldies have water. The younguns look…exactly the same as the first picture)
After Round 3 – We DID IT! (I look horrendous, I blame the picture taking, but I also blame having just climbed 2,040 steps. My niece and nephew also look…exactly the same as when we started. RUDE!)
The second climb up was a real struggle. Around floor 20, I was listening to my music and climbing and suddenly felt overcome with grief. The reality that after ten years, she is still gone. After catching myself, I started to climb again, invigorated by finishing what we started and knowing that we just had 31 more floors to go.
If you never had the honor of knowing AJ, you missed out. Beautiful inside and out, she lived for everyone but herself. Selfless, courageous, giving, and a true treasure – she was one of a kind. If I could be even half the woman she was, the world would be a better place. And the world is a better place for having her.
I texted her son last night who’s like a brother to me and told him about how I seemed to miss her just so much yesterday. I shared with him how she had taught us all so much about life. His response?
“She’ll keep teaching.”
May you live a life of inspiration and leave a legacy so powerful that even after time passes, people still learn from all you shared in your life and strive to be better people because of you.
We love and miss you so much, AJ. It was our complete honor to climb for you. You have and continue to inspire us.