Losing the One You Love

Written by: Sheena Jeffers for Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins

The story starts, as many love stories start: Boy sees girl. Girl sees boy. Some good conversation and laughs later, boy becomes "boyfriend" and girl becomes "girlfriend." Then, they fall in love.

We all know the next part is supposed to be "...and they live happily ever after." It is hard to admit (and even harder to live with) that all stories may not be destined to include that sentence.

Let's go back to 2008. I was dancing at an amazing studio in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Every class added inspiration, athleticism and courage to my dancing. This is where I met the Goodwin family. Watching Jaimie and Cara's dancing helped push my dancing to new levels. I was honored to have met and danced for their beautiful mother before she passed away from Cancer. This, I knew, was a beautiful, compassionate and strong family.

I left Virginia Beach to attend college in Richmond, Virginia. But I've always been a silent witness to Jaimie and Cara's life. I watched and relentlessly voted for Jaimie as she competed on So You Think You Can Dance, and I silently rooted for Cara when she moved to New York City to pursue her dreams in dance. I always knew they would both be tremendously successful, not because I've seen them dance and know their caliber of dancing, but because I danced with them and know their spirit.

One night, Cara went out with a girlfriend. They walked into a bar to share a few drinks and laughs. It wasn't long before her friend leaned over and whispered, "There's a guy checking you out." She glanced over, he was looking. He'd glance over, she was looking. The playful glances continued until the guy's friends wanted to leave. He told his friends he wasn't ready to leave yet, that he needed to see about a girl. That is when the "guy" who was giving her glances, was introduced to her. His name: Josh.

The fun, carefree conversations led to a challenge. "The Milk Challenege" (where you have to drink one gallon of milk in 30 minutes) was put out on the table. Could she do it? Could he? She was convinced by her love of milk that it was possible. They left, friends in tow, and found the closest grocery store.

Josh purchased 2 half-gallons of milk, and said, "If you finish one, I'll give you $50." Challenge accepted.

Within 4 minutes, Cara only had one inch of the half-gallon left. Admittedly impressed, Josh continued to wait. Cara stopped just long enough to breathe, and accept Josh's compliment. And then... she felt sick. Before she knew it, Cara was throwing up. Josh lovingly held her hair back. When she finally felt better, he said, "I know this is a bad time, but can I get your number and take you out to dinner some time?"

And so their journey together started. Josh was an Art major at Davidson college, and Cara danced so together they shared a unique vision of the world. Full of colors, layers and discovery. Josh was also a Navy SEAL; something he always felt called to do. He found fulfillment in his art, but equally so in his work for his country.

When Josh was scheduled to deploy, it was nothing new to their lives or their relationship. "Deployments are extremely difficult for so many reasons. You miss the person like crazy, and it's such a long period of time, but also you know the danger behind it," Cara recalls. For this deployment, Cara felt calm. She had been through this dance before, and was comforted that this deployment was scheduled to be the shortest of all his other deployments.

When it was time, she hugged him goodbye; he whispered in her ear: "Be strong..."

Cara went on with her day-to-day life. Living for his phone calls and e-mails, which she received regularly. One night, Cara felt nervous. "I wrote him an e-mail about how I had a feel bad feeling."

That night, Josh died.

"Before I knew... I knew," Cara said. "It was like a landslide."

Not long after sending the e-mail, Cara received a phone call from Josh's mother. "We lost Josh."

Cara immediately replied, "Where? We need to find him."

"I couldn't even fathom she was talking about death." And then... "the military was at my door."

Cara fell to the floor. She'd take a few steps, then fall to the floor. A few steps the other direction, then, floor.

Her heart, mind, body and spirit were thrown through so many experiences (I use the word "experience" because "emotions" isn't a strong enough word to capture the loss).

"The main feeling was that my heart was collapsing inward. I couldn't breathe. I just cried and held my chest for days... lingering into months. I couldn't comprehend that Josh wouldn't come home because he always did."

Cara had been keeping a countdown to the days of Josh's return. "It was so difficult to translate the short-term countdown of missing someone to missing that person forever."

Josh's art.

Cara had found a person she loved unconditionally, who knew everything about her, who treasured her, who Cara had planned a future with... "I realized I will never see his smile again, or hear his laugh again, or hug him again. My future was gone. All I had was pictures and memories and stories to tell people."

"I didn't get to say goodbye or do anything 'one last time' with him."

Cara grieved every single day, cried every single day, for an entire year.

"And then one day, I woke up and moved to New York City." She couldn't stay where all of the memories were. She felt a calling in New York City (where Josh had once studied art), and she followed her heart there, taking his memory with her.

She threw herself into dance, and changed her train of thought. Instead of anger, she was now thankful for the time she had with Josh. She still remembers to "be strong" every day. "He knew this could happen. He chose to love me, and he knew if this ever happened... he expected me to be just that, strong."

Cara is now putting together a show because she wants people to know something: "I hope this show brings awareness to the sacrifices the military and their families make every day, whether they experience this loss or not." Cara hopes the show will bring a message of hope after loss.

The show links Josh's art with Cara's dance. Throughout the process of securing a theater, auditioning dancers, and choreographing pieces (which have been emotionally challenging to do) Cara has felt Josh's presence. "I know he is here helping me."

Josh taught Cara what unconditional love is, and she will carry that with her always. After the loss, Cara had to teach herself how to pick up and move on with Josh's memory. But Josh's unconditional love still exists within Cara, and with his constant guidance from above, Cara said, "I learned how to feel blessed again."

For more information on Cara's show Behind Painted Lines, visit: http://www.behindpaintedlines.com/

To donate (All donations are 100% tax deductible): Donate Here

All proceeds from the show will benefit Wounded Warrior Project.

The men, women and families who serve our country go through unimaginable experiences (that are difficult to translate into the written word). But there are people who have been there, who are there, and going through similar experiences.

Please, reach out to those who know. Do not fear what you cannot understand.

For further reading, check out Elizabeth's blog, Chaos and Clarity. Elizabeth is a mother to 3 amazing children, and a wife to a Marine, who has been there over and over for our country. Elizabeth knows what it is like to be waiting and loving from a distance. She knows what it is to never give up, to never stop believing and to always have hope.

Elizabeth's husband, Jason, writes of his experiences going through post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. He writes of his experiences in his blog USMcrazy. Together, Jason and Elizabeth are unstoppable. Their energy, their focus, their love for each other and their 3 children is undeniable. Together, Jason and Elizabeth strive to reach out and spread knowledge, understanding and a helping hand to those going through similar experiences.

God never promised us an easy life. It is also never promised that the one you love will always be there. My discussions with Cara, Elizabeth and Jason, have shown me the key is to keep going, keep loving, keep believing, keep sharing.

Eventually, through it all... you'll be able to feel blessed again.

And, thank you Josh for the beautiful reminder, remember to always... "Be strong."

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