"The Happiness Project"

Last year, Theresa gave me a beautiful journal that reminded her of Stephanie. For a long time, it sat blank on my nightstand. Journaling in the way I imagined it involved writing lengthy, reflective  passages. And that seemed like too much work, too much of a commitment. I wanted to use the journal for something meaningful, but I was feeling uninspired.

A few months later, browsing the shelves of a gift shop bookcase at the Cape, I noticed a journal that went along with a book by the same name: "The Happiness Project". The premise for the journal was simple: Write one sentence a day, every day, for five years. The author suggests developing this habit to compensate for the reality that time goes too fast. And, as much as we think we will remember the little intricacies of each passing day, we won't. Well, not without something that will trigger our memories... a photograph, a souvenir, or, in this case, a sentence.*

I thought about how true her words were. How, since losing my sister, I've struggled to recall specific memories. I know that we shared in so many seemingly trivial interactions and countless little adventures, but the details I long for are lost.  I also thought about how my babies are growing so fast that it's hard to keep up. I know that my days are full of silly little moments, but, by the end of every sleep-deprived week, those moments have blurred together into a general sense of wonderful chaos.

It's ironic, but the small fleeting moments that are hardest to remember are actually the ones that life is about. They're the ones that you enjoy most without realizing it, the ones that you miss most once they are gone.

It was there in that gift shop that I found a purpose for my journal. I couldn't fathom writing nightly essays, but, a sentence? Even at the end of a really long day, I figured that I could manage that!

It's been 8 months since I turned my colorful peacock feather-painted journal into a makeshift "Happiness Project" journal. I don't write every night. And I usually find myself writing a few sentences as opposed to one. But it's worked! Tonight, I flipped back and smiled as little sentences triggered memories of moments that I may have forgotten otherwise. And those moments were gateways to other moments from the same day or the days surrounding it.

I know that I can't go back in time. And I know I can't record my life as it's happening so that I can rewind it ten years down the road. But I CAN write a few sentences here and there so that I can find my memories when I need them. So that I can capture as many of the fleeting moments as possible, and treasure them. Forever.

* If you're interested, here's a link to a blog entry by the author about her one-sentence journaling: http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2007/03/one_of_my_succe/



I knew that life would never be the same when I lost my sister. But I didn’t realize that, in losing her, I’d also lose so much of myself. The weight of my sadness challenged the inner workings of my mind, body, and spirit in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. As the months passed, I allowed myself the freedom to experience any and all emotions as they came. I didn’t want to pressure myself into feeling one way or another. So I let myself fall into the fog. The world was turning, and I was wandering aimlessly within the passing days. I often noticed that I was going through the motions while my mind was elsewhere. I was very anxious, and I felt helplessly controlled by my racing thoughts. Other times, I felt like an observer to my own life. I felt like I was living outside of my body. My life was a story, and I was watching it unfold.

As the year anniversary approached, I was tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally… I knew that I needed the fog to rise. I couldn’t live in it forever. I was always living in my head or outside of my body, when I really needed to be living in the moment. I also knew that I needed to start taking care of myself. Between caring for two young children, and coping with losing Stephanie, I’d lost the diligence I formerly had with eating well and exercising. Factor in my lack of sleep and it was a trifecta of poor self-care. Between my need to be present and my goal to get healthy, my challenge was a mind and body makeover. 

I decided it would require a very conscious effort on my part to accomplish such a lofty transformation. And, judging by my energy (or lack thereof), I knew that I needed to keep my expectations realistic. So, in the spirit of New Years Resolutioning, I made a little list. And I figured I would share it here to increase my accountability.  
  •       Start running again. Nothing crazy. Two times a week. Just me, doing what I used to do all the time to find my head. Twenty minutes of fresh Scottish air in my lungs and sweet Stephanie-approved music in my ears.
  •       Eat three meals a day plus snacks. Munching on the boys’ leftovers might appease my appetite, but it won’t gain back the weight I lost last year. Weight that my naturally small frame couldn’t afford to lose. 
  •       Practice mindfulness. Whether through yoga, meditation, or simply forcing my thoughts into the present moment, I have to get myself out of the fog.

And there it is. A little happiness project for 2015. For me. For my sister. Bring it on.  

Peace and love, Sarah


A Year Later

January 5th came and went. The anticipation that preceded the day was actually worse than the day itself. As we hung a dreamcatcher in her memory and watched footage from her memorial in New Hampshire, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sadness I’d expected, but by a far more gentle feeling. In the days since then, that feeling has grown in substance, making it more tangible and definable. It’s love, yes. But it’s also something else… It’s pride.

As Facebook lit up with countless stories from countless of her friends, I kept thinking about what a good person my sister was. How she befriended everyone she met. How she could look past anyone’s weaknesses and find their gifts. How she was as genuine a person as you could ever hope to find. And how she had the biggest heart. As I read post after post, I was filled with an enormous sense of missing her and knowing that so many of us lost a wonderful friend. But the pride was there, stronger than the sorrow.

The pride also came when I reflected on her spontaneity. She may not have been the most financially responsible 23-year old, but she didn’t need to be. She lived simply. She didn’t get caught up in the materialistic culture of our society, and spent what little money she had on things that mattered… On music festivals where she danced and laughed uninhibitedly, surrounded by like-minded souls that loved her. On gas so she could visit her hometown friends, attend her nephew’s baptism or be a part of her family’s Christmas. On rent payments so that she could continue to live in Burlington, a place she loved and her spirit felt free. She invested her money in the same place she invested her time and energy… in living in the moment, chasing her passions, and developing meaningful relationships with people she met along the way.

I think sometimes people measure themselves against a very narrow definition of success, one based on diplomas, professions, and net worths. But if this year has proven anything, it’s that my sister leaves behind an incredible legacy all her own. And her successes are more commendable than any degree or career accolade. She lived life in the way that it is meant to be lived: vibrantly, uniquely, compassionately, spontaneously.

Not many people can be the person that everyone turns to for judgment-free love and support. She could. Not many people are brave enough to take their own path. She was. Not many people make such a lasting impression on the people they meet. She did.

Stephanie really and truly made a beautiful little life for herself. And she made so many lives more beautiful just by being a part of them. There is nothing else she could have done to make me more proud. Of all the emotions I’ve experienced over this awful year without her, this pride is one that I will embrace for the rest of my life.

I LOVE you, Stephanie. And I am incredibly, yell-it-on-top-of-a-mountain-so-it-echoes-across-eternity, PROUD of you. 


The Day Before

This picture was taken a year ago today. January 4, 2014. I was tired and overwhelmed, caught in the blissful whirlwind of having a newborn and a toddler. I look at it now and I think of how innocent I was. How unaware I was that my world was about to come falling down.

There are days in your life that you want to remember forever. You want to re-live them a million times over. These are the days that you cling to desperately but somehow the details manage to fade away. 

There are other days that you wish you could forget. And these are the days that stay with you, playing over in your mind more times than you’d ever imagine. I couldn’t have known when this picture was taken that my tomorrow would be one of those days…

January 5, 2014. Kevin was on a roadtrip and I was driving my friend to the Edinburgh airport. It was a gray day, but for the first time in what seemed like weeks it wasn’t raining. Which was perfectly inconvenient given the fact that we ran out of windshield wiper fluid on the motorway. We then encountered several obstacles as we tried to replace it. We eventually made it to the airport on time, though just barely. The ride home would have been uneventful if I hadn’t missed the exit and extended the trip by twenty minutes. Twenty minutes that felt like a lot more because Tyler cried for at least nineteen of them. By the time we got home, all I wanted was a nap to give the day a much-needed restart. But the boys had different plans. And they were just as cranky as me. In the exact moment that Ty finally fell asleep, I heard Brayden waking up in the other room. I will never forget how I felt right then. So close to the nap that I desperately wanted but very clearly wasn’t going to get. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. And alone. I wanted to cry. It’s hard to look back at this moment where I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself because, little did I know, at that very moment, my sister was thousands of miles away… dying.  

I know that, no matter what kind of day I was having, it would be painful to think back to that moment. And, no matter how I’d been feeling, it would be impossible to forget it. The same goes for every other detail from the day Stephanie died. I can’t un-hear my mom’s broken voice on the phone later that night when she called to tell me about the accident. I can’t un-feel the knot in my stomach and ache in my heart as I cried, shook, and screamed out in agony. I can’t un-feel the trembling in my knees before I crumpled to the floor. I can’t un-see Tyler’s sweet face as he continued to sleep soundly in my arms while I rocked myself back and forth. These details are etched in my memory as permanently as my sister’s fate is written in history. They are a part of me now. And they will be forever.

I imagine tomorrow all of this will come flooding back. As will the thoughts that have haunted me at different times at different intensities this past year...

The questions about her final moments: Before her car started to skid, what had she been thinking about? What song was playing on the radio? When she lost control of the car, was she consumed with fear? What did she think about in the final seconds as her car slid over the embankment? Did she feel pain as she broke through the windshield? The thought of my beautiful baby sister lying broken beside a frozen pond is as unbearable now as it was the day it happened.

I’ll think about the people that lived by the scene of her accident. How they’d raced across the street only to find there was nothing that could be done to save her. How traumatizing it must have been for them, but how comforting it has been to my family to know she wasn’t alone.

I'll cry at the thought of my parents driving up to Vermont to see the body of their youngest daughter. Nobody should have to endure such a nightmare and I feel so deeply for parents that have. As much as I mourn the loss of my sister, I also mourn that my parents have lost their baby girl. Even now, their heartache shows behind their smiles. It hurts to know the depths of their love for me as it's the same love they have for Stephanie. And feeling this love gives a glimpse into the depths of their pain.

I’ll reflect again, for the millionth time, on my relationship with my sister. And how, as much as we loved each other, I’ll always wish for more. One more chance to say “I love you”. To see her hoop on the back deck, dancing in the sunshine. To watch her hold my babies, covering their cheeks in kisses. I’ll wish for one more hug. One more shared laugh. One more outrageous story. One more. Always one more.

I’ll remember the seemingly instantaneous and incredibly widespread flow of support in the hours after I heard the devastating news. All the love Steph had shared with the world was being gifted back to my family. It's a year later and I am still humbled. I’ll be forever thankful to the people that took care of my mom, dad, and sister in the days before I got home. And to all the people involved in getting me, Kev, and the boys back home to join them. There was so much support and it’s continued all the way up to the conclusion of this first year.

These are the thoughts that will likely race through my mind as the day passes. They are things we will inevitably talk about as we spend the day missing Steph. Like the 364 days before it, I imagine it won’t be easy. But the day will go on. As days always do. And if we are lucky, the end of it will come and we will feel a small bit of relief. The details of the day Stephanie died won't ever fade. I might not ever be the same person seen in the picture above. But the first year will be over.