My Heart Is Aching, But Heaven Is One Star Brighter

It always happens.

The morning after.

You wake after a night of crying, a day of loss, and you have one moment…one beautiful, solitary moment when everything is right in the world.  Because THAT is the moment before the moment when reality crashes into you like a semi truck in the wrong lane speeding at you in a nightmare.

And you are suddenly awake and without air.

It is close to impossible to breathe because you remember.  And of all things you know in the world at that moment – you don’t want to remember.

My friend Gina died on Monday.

I started to write about her yesterday, but found myself at such a loss.

My heart physically hurts.  When I found out, I was, in fact, unable to breathe. My poor small girl was sitting next to me and ran for my husband.  She told him I couldn’t breathe.  And she was right.  I doubled over, barely able to say her name.  But, that was all he needed to hear.

Gina had cancer.  It took less than a year to steal her away from everyone who loved her.

For 36 hours, I’ve been struggling to find the right words to describe my friend – to tell you about her, to explain why this loss is so tragic.  And, I can’t seem to find them. Any death of someone so young is a tremendous loss, I know.

Gina was special. Dare I say extraordinary….

How do I describe the most selfless person I know? How do I explain the multitude of ways she made me better, or how she never missed an opportunity to encourage me, tell me she loved me or supported what I was doing? How do I begin to recount the dozens of organizations she helped, the people she inspired, the lives she touched? This is a woman who donated her time and talents to the Pujols Foundation multiple times a year, for free, because she felt called to do so.  She photographed Proms and special events, even traveling with them to the Dominican Republic.

“How can I help you?”  I can’t be the only person who heard Gina say those words over and over again – no expectation of anything in return. To call her a ‘giver’ doesn’t do her justice.  Giving was simply part of her nature, a portion of her soul.  I came across this article I wrote about her three years ago – she has always been extraordinary.

Gina was a mother, a sister, a friend, a woman of faith, a defender of those in need, a fighter, a brilliant, talented photographer and someone I can honestly say made me better.

I wandered my house today… Gina is present in nearly every room.  She has been taking photographs of my family for years.  She started before Cooper was born. If you have received a Christmas card from us in the last 5 or 6 years (with the exception of this year) our smiles had Gina’s fingerprints all over them.

She had a special way with my small people…. treating them with such kindness, as though time with them was a gift.  So for Ms. Gina?  They always gave their best smiles, their goofiest silly faces, their biggest jumps, their best ‘leaf throwing’, their biggest hugs.  And she never missed an opportunity to tell me how much she adored them.  If we made a lunch date?  She *wanted* them to come…..

You know… Gina is the photographer who took our ‘stolen photo’ that ended up in Prague, right?  (up there in the middle of that first collage?) We laughed about it even when we talked last week.

When. We. Talked. Last. Week.

This is one of the things that is comforting me right now.  I didn’t see her, as I’d hoped.  But we talked, we laughed…. she sounded like she was in such good spirits, though she did tell me she was heading to Tulsa because her situation had worsened. I guess I didn’t want to believe what ‘worse’ really meant.

I still have the texts on my phone she sent during a trivia night in her honor (she was too sick to attend)…. I’ve been looking back at the messages she sent me on Facebook.  Even faced with such an extreme challenge, her faith and will to fight never waivered.  She was fighting for her life…. fighting for her family.

She leaves behind a lot of people who loved her – including a daughter and son, both who considered her their best friend.  If that doesn’t mean something special, I don’t know what does.

You were a treasure, my friend.

When I last wrote about Gina, it inspired poetry from a stranger.  That’s the kind of soul stirring she motivated.

She was THAT good.

I am better for having known this beautiful soul.  I will always miss her.