I write this post with a heavy heart. In the past year, too many loved ones lost their lives too soon. It’s hard to make sense of it all when a 20 something year old - bright, beautiful, full of energy and ready to take on the world - is suddenly taken from us. Why them? Why now? Could it have been prevented? Who’s to blame? Were they in any pain? We are left with so many unanswered questions, but mostly just left with a hole in our hearts that they once filled. Life will never be the same when we lose someone close to us, but life keeps going and we must keep going too. When a beautiful soul leaves us for a better place, we must remember that they would want us to keep living life to the fullest; even more so now, in their honor.
A few beautiful souls in particular come to mind while writing this post. The bright, courageous, and soft spoken Anne Smedinghoff. The life of the party, big guy, handsome, smart John Malone. The man full of life, energy, spontaneity, and charm, Otis Green. Finally the stunning, radiant, smiley, adventurous Rachel Smylie. These four have impacted my life and the ones I love to a degree I cannot put in words. These four, all in their 20s, went to a better place this year. They will forever be on my heart and the hearts of so many throughout the whole world.
I struggle to put into words how to come through the darkness of losing someone you love or being a friend to someone who has lost a person close to them. Most times there are no words. It doesn't make sense when lives end abruptly like this. How do you begin to carry on with life? I really don't have answers for that, but love, family and faith are the starting points for me. Everyone is facing a battle in some way or another. Some have battles greater than others, but we can pray for each other, love each other a little more deeply, lean on each other when it’s too heavy to carry it on your own, and believe above all else that God does have good plans for us all, even in the darkest of times. There will be light. I love the quote "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain." It reminds us that even when we are facing the toughest challenges, set backs, losses and heart breaks, we must try and find hope. Hope will help us, encourage us and keep us moving forward.
For those that have gone before us, I feel it’s important to carry on their legacies with us every single day. John, Anne, Otis, and Rachel did more in their 20+ years than many will ever do in a lifetime.
Anne was always so thoughtful, dedicated and hard working. She was not afraid to take risks and fight for what she believed in. At just 25, she was an American Diplomat working in Afghanistan. A job not easy to receive, but also one many 25 year old women would be wary of taking. Anne was always ready to take on a challenge, especially if she knew she could make a difference. And make a difference she did. She worked for equality -- equal educational rights for people of all ages, and for women's rights. Anne's life was taken there doing what she loved, serving others and fighting for what she believed in. The work she accomplished while she was there will continue to make an impact for years to come. Let’s remember to live more like Anne – be courageous, fight for what you believe in, be strong and selfless.
You can find more about the charities Anne supported and was involved with here.
Otis: the man, the myth, the legend. He was truly a treasure. My brothers and "sisters" thought of him as a part of our family and we are so thankful for the years we were able to spend with him. Otis was someone that over a hundred people would call their "best friend." He made you feel special, he heard your needs, he was there anytime you needed him and could always make you laugh. He had a zest and passion for life unlike anyone I have ever met. He wanted to seize the day, everyday, and he was always on the lookout for the next adventure. He was a proud Wisconsin Badger, wonderful brother and truly brought joy to everyone he encountered. We lost Otis last summer, and our hearts will never be the same, but we will continue to live with Otis in our hearts every day: more excited about EVERY day, intentional, kind and passionate.
The Otis Green Foundation can be found here.
John Malone, the life of the party. John was a young, handsome man with the brightest of futures. He was working hard at Indiana University as well as having lots of fun :) All of the stories heard about John are of what a blast he was to be around. He always had a big, goofy smile on his face and he cared deeply about so many. He was an incredible athlete and student, but always made time to be there for the ones that he called his best friends. When it was John’s time to go last year, watching all of his amazing friends and family band together was profoundly moving. He left an impact on thousands of lives through his humor, his heart and his humility. We can all learn to live a little more like Johnny -- happy, loving and always ready to have a good time! Life's too short to be anything but happy, and he certainly defined that in the time we were blessed here with him.
You can find out how to donate to organizations John was involved with and passionate about here and the John J Malone Memorial Page .
Most recently, the earth lost another angel, Rachel Smylie. I did not have the pleasure of knowing her, but ones I love dearly did and it is so clear what she meant to them. She was a girl that truly lit up a room with her big, beautiful smile. My brother describes her as was one of the most down to earth and fun loving people he had ever met. Her energy and passion for adventure and life was actually contagious. She was determined to be a light to others and to make an impact in the lives of those around her. She was doing just that, while studying and living abroad this semester in Africa. Rachel was taken too soon, but we can be assured she was doing life right up until it was her time. We can learn to live a little more like Rachel in her honor: to live with an open heart, to not cast judgment on others, to dance a little more often and to smile, always.
To support Rachel's passions, you can donate to the Rachel Smylie Memorial Fund here.
To say these four will be missed does not even come close to what their friends, families and loved ones have to experience every day, but we can take something away from the grief of it. We have to find some positive, as I know they would want us to. Their lives will serve as a reminder that this precious life is a gift and to never take one day for granted. Let's just try and live a little more like they did.
“You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”