Tuesday, January 28, 2014

'A note to my friend, David' by Justin Ungs

When I first made "Loving David" public, I invited all David's friends and family, or anyone who felt inspired, to author and share a guest post. It's been a few months now and last night I was sent my first submission. Like many things lately, this came at the perfect time. While it is therapeutic and rewarding for me to process, write, and share my thoughts and feelings, I feel a great sense of relief when someone else shares theirs with me. Without any further introduction, I share a beautiful reflection from one of David's wonderful friends.

A note to my friend, David.
By Justin Ungs

I had known David since about 7th grade, starting as small-town baseball competitors. We became friends in high school, and closer friends in college where we lived, worked, and learned together. We took spontaneous road trips, he tried to make me a better tennis player, we both worked at the local hardware store, and very much looked forward to the weekend activity.    

Most recently, I had lived just minutes from his new place in Minneapolis. I was eager to once again be close to David, beyond our routine Skype updates.

I recall one of the very first of his Sundays in Minneapolis; we grabbed lunch then headed to the lake for a stroll. We talked about a lot of things, about everything; chatter that took us the 3 miles around the lake. Because it was such a nice day, there were lots of people swimming. I remember David saying he wasn’t sure if he would fit in since seemingly “every guy” had a 6-pack. I then reminded him who he was standing next to, disqualifying his sentiment.

During the walk he talked about all that he was looking forward to; how excited yet nervous he was for class, how he was looking forward to starting something new and meeting loads of new people. And I spoke how I was so looking forward to having him around again.

In the course of his short tenure in Minneapolis we had done a lot: rode bikes, went to clubs, watched Iowa football games, bonfires, spoke politics, tried new cuisines, went to movies, the fair, and laid around on Sunday afternoons while he did laundry at my place. It was like we were back in college, just getting back from class, not having even a single minute pass by. We were always able to pick up right where we left off.

One thing I'll always cherish, no matter what life sends, is the memory of us just being friends.


A broken shadow
How I can sometimes relate
Life is hard
For you, it just could not wait

That night of darkness
It shook us all
Although the first end for us
For you, an earlier call

I am sad to no longer see you
Your walk. Laugh. And zest
While you were here
It was the best

And now we move on
With new forms of you
You’re no longer with us
How we once knew

Your physical being
No longer here
But your energy and spirit
Still everywhere

We’re somehow closer
And live through your spirit
You brighten my day
And bring strength to it

I often ask
What would David do?
It brings me joy
And memory of you

I still sometimes cry
Because you’re no longer near
We had so much to do
You just got here

We need your help
Continue to guide us
Stay by our side
With hope, we progress

I cannot wait
To see you again
You will always be
My great friend

Until the day
We meet again
Let’s stay connected
This is not our end

Monday, January 27, 2014

Our Relationship Now

It is interesting for me to think of David and my relationship now. It is different, and of course it is difficult, but most importantly, it exists. David is such an essential part of my present existence. In some ways, I have more of a relationship with him now than I ever did.

The last few years we were very close and spoke at least once a week, but now he is on my mind throughout each day. I laugh at his memory, cry at my loss, and am comforted knowing he feels peace. The greatness of his 27 years inspires me to be better every single day. It is a very bizarre relationship in that even though we can't speak, hug, or spend physical time together, we're inseparable. David has truly become a part of me. 

 I would trade this intimacy now, in a moment, for the way it used to be. Since I cannot, I am so thankful for this feeling of companionship with my brother. David is living on in all who love him. The beauty of his soul is no longer contained in one body. Instead, he's with us all: inspiring us, making us laugh, and even making us cry.

I know that David is very available to us now, since he lived his life making himself available to others. He was always there to listen, share, and offer advice or support. Whether his role was teacher, student, friend, son, or brother, David always did the best he could do. I like thinking of his potential as limitless now, without daily struggles and commitments, he is able to foster the goodwill he wished upon others as a force for positive change in our world. 

David was incredibly empathetic and I know that he must understand our pain now. He cares about us too much not to know. He doesn't feel our pain, because he's so filled with peace and joy, but he can truly understand. He showers us with love and healing as a preview of what he feels. I believe the moments of peace we feel are gifts from his spirit to ours. 

The last couple weeks have been very difficult. As the time continues to pass, the longing for David grows, just as the healing and peace we so desperately need. It's an internal struggle of yearning for what was and what we need now. This tug-of-war leaves me feeling overwhelmed with emotion, and often exhausted.  

It's difficult to accept that it will never again be how it was, especially because of how wonderful it was. I'm trying to re-focus on what I can do in this moment to make it a great one. I am trying to open my eyes and ears a little wider to be more perceptive of the ways in which I can be better. How can I be a better wife, sister, daughter, and friend? How can I appreciate this moment more fully and transform it into something more meaningful? 

I'm so thankful for the opportunity to share these ideas and thoughts. I hope that some of the things which bring me comfort, will also comfort others. Thank you for reading, and most of all, thank you for caring. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Moving Forward

"We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, 
we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back." 

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream."
-Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, as I appreciate the beautiful life of Rev. Martin Luther King, I am confronted with the beauty, also, of his death. Not of the actual act of dying, but of the way that he continues to live, even though he is not here. He lived with such purpose, and left such an impact, that his spirit will live forever.

This is something I never realized before losing David: when a person dies, no matter the length of their life, they continue to live on. Their ideas, actions, and dreams are alive in those who loved them. Their spirit lives on in their memory. 

Today, I feel pushed to find deeper meaning in my own life and I am more inspired to learn from those who have gone before me. On this "Make a Difference Day," I reflect on what making a difference means to me. I see making a difference as the smallest and biggest of things, an attainable action that can be taken as far as you are willing to take it. It could be one action or it could be multiple interactions. Today I am reminded of the importance of one day and I am reminded of the importance of one life. I am further encouraged to do something meaningful with the time that I have.

-I strive to better appreciate my situation: my family, friends, education, work, and opportunities.
-I want to live with more respect for my friends and enemies, my neighbors and strangers. I will respect them because they are being, just as I am being.
-I want to better love: speak with love, act with love, and believe in love. Trust love as the means to its own end. By loving, we become love, and there's nothing I'd rather be.
-I want to seek truth in all I do. I will strive to better understand. 

I don't know exactly what my mission is and I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do, or how I'm supposed to do it. What I do know, is that I am here to do something. I'm here to do what I'm already doing, and I'm called to do it better. We are all called to do more.

At yesterday's mass honoring Rev. King, the words below were sung:

For everyone born, a place at the table,
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, 
For everyone born, a star overhead

For woman and man, a place at the table, 
Revising the roles, deciding the share, 
With wisdom and grace, dividing the power, 
For woman and man, a system that's fair

For young and for old, a place at the table, 
A voice to be heard, a part in the song, 
The hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled, 
For young and for old, the right to belong

For just and unjust, a place at the table, 
Abuser, abused, with need to forgive, 
In anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy, 
For just and unjust, a new way to live

For everyone born, a place at the table, 
To live without fear, and simply to be, 
To work, to speak out, to witness and worship, 
For everyone born, the right to be free

"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day." -MLK

What a beautiful dream for today, and all days.

I don't know where I'm going, but I know that I am going to keep striving, seeking, and loving. It's the best and least I can do. In Rev. King's words: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Missing Him

I felt like I was making progress in finding peace. For a moment I lost sight of my grief,
and when it came back a couple days ago, it completely knocked me off of my feet. 
It's like my pools of tears have been re-filled and are ready to over-flow at any moment. 
My breath escapes me with the recollection of my heart.

 I've been snapped back to the reality of missing him, and this sadness that is all encompassing.
As time goes on, the events of October seem more and more surreal; 
I must remind myself David's gone multiple times a day. 
Sometimes this memory is accepted calmly, but other times it hits me with the velocity of that first night. 
It is difficult knowing that I will always miss David, and this pain will always be with me. 
It is impossible to think of him as gone forever; it just hurts too much. 

Unlike most things in life, there is no solution to fix this.
In an instant, this sadness became a part of my "new normal."

David's life was so much more than the crisis that took him. His life was so much greater than his death. 
In some weird way you think that that means his life should somehow win. 
It seems like death's punch should be dodged with the force of his life. 
It doesn't seem possible that something could take that away from him. 

I know David. I know that he would have kept fighting. Why didn't he get the chance? 
Why was the strike of his illness so powerful? How did it escalate out of control? 

David was a fighter. 
He was also a lover, a thinker, and a giver. 
He brought my life joy, support, and love. 

I just miss him. 
I miss hearing his voice. 
I miss hearing his laugh: sometimes boisterous, sometimes a soft chuckle. 
I miss his eyes, beautiful brown eyes which he proudly credited to my mother. 
I miss his walk, 
the way that he moved for here to there with the coolest stride that I never could emulate quite right. 
I miss his dance moves, and his complete lack of inhibition on the dance floor. 
I miss his energy and his enthusiasm for all experiences and all people. 
I miss my brother. 

All I want is to give him a hug. 

That is all for tonight: tonight I am missing him and I am loving him. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Third Month

Today is the 9th of the month. Since October, the 9th has become the anniversary of the day my brother left this earth. This was the day he last spoke, thought, or felt. This is the day that David last lived. 

Every month since October, the 9th has been a difficult day. Being re-acquainted with the events which happened just one month before, two months before, and now three months before is difficult. These are frequent milestones which painfully remind us that time cannot be re-wound, sometimes there isn't a second chance. 

This month, the 9th has a different feeling to it. This feeling is hard to communicate but it shows progress. 

This month, I feel stronger and I feel proud. 

I feel proud because I am surviving. All of those who loved David, we are surviving. We have felt pain, sadness and utter despair. We have pleaded with ourselves, God, and even David, yet the pain persists. I feel stronger because I am living this sorrow, yet I am persevering. 

The most difficult moments allow a view into David's feelings that day, October 9th. The pain felt from David's passing has allowed me to understand his feelings more than any words he could speak. Through this understanding, I feel closer to him. Not in the way that we used to be close, but in a different, more intimate way. 

This January 9th, I'm thankful that while I experience this pain, I am also able to see the light. There are still many moments where I feel that darkness, but I am able to open my eyes wider, so that the light may enter in.

My mom sees David's light in in the sky: the beautiful rise and set of the sun. David also appreciated the beauty of the sky. This summer he posted photos of  two different Iowan sunsets, one of the captions read, "Iowa has some of the most beautiful sunsets in the summer." 

This holiday break, I too was awestruck with the sky's beauty. The winter sunset captured below illuminated the sky, casting beautiful hues above David's place of eternal rest. 

Bankston, IA

No matter where these beautiful winter sunsets are coming from: whether it is David painting the sky for us, God showing his beauty and promise for the world, or even if it is just David opening our eyes a little wider to appreciate this light, this is something I am thankful for.

This January 9th, I am grateful that we are still here. I am thankful for every person who has offered support, understanding, and love. I am thankful most of all for my immediate family. I feel blessed to have become more closely united to them through this tragedy. After three months, I feel like I can, and we will, endure. 

The fact that the sun rises and sets, the same way it always has, is comforting. 
The fact that it does so so beautifully, fosters hope. 

The worst days will end, and with each morning comes a new opportunity to start fresh. Each new day is a gift given to us to do what we choose. We are able to appreciate nature's beauty, embrace opportunities, and love one another. Every day is one to cherish, in an effort to honor and remember David. 

Some days memories of David draw tears, other days they make me laugh. Always, they make my heart flutter with the vulnerability of loving someone so much. 

This 9th of January, I know that I can do it. I know that we can survive. I hold David in my heart especially close this day, and as it flutters in his memory, I imagine his smile and his joy-filled soul. 

With anticipation, I imagine our reunion. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Thoughts for the Day

"From our very first breath we enter and trust the cycles of life. As infants we trust our parents to tend to our needs. As children we trust the good in those around us. We are taught that if we are good to others, they will in turn be good to us. Soon we become adolescents who are taught cause and effect. We are taught that if we eat nutritionally and take care of our bodies they will serve us well for years. And we grow into adulthood, where we continue to trust these basic cycles. We trust that the sun will rise each morning and set each evening; that our children will outlive us; that there will be many days to cherish those we love. 

Then, in a split second, with the news of a loved one's sudden death, the world changes forever. The orderly world of predicable cycles ends. We are thrown into an abyss with few tools at hand. No time for preparation. No time to gather what we will need for our journey. No time for unfinished business or goodbyes. 

Physically we may be composed of cells and genes and skin and bones, but emotionally we are composed of thoughts and feelings and memories and pieces of the people we have touched, and of those who have touched us. The death of the person we love creates a gaping wound. We have somehow changed. Our cyclical structure has been eternally disrupted and we find ourselves wandering through the broken pieces of yesterday's foundation. 

Grief brings that moment when you look into the mirror and no longer recognize the eyes staring back at you. Though the sun still rises and sets as it always has, everything looks just a bit different, a bit distorted. Grief casts far-reaching shadows around us." - I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye

Days pass on and the world continues to go 'round. Some days are good and I feel peace but the cycle of grief continues to circuit. The passage above encapsulates so completely the struggle I've had losing David and the confrontation I've felt with the reality of life and death. 

I miss my brother. I miss talking to him and laughing together. I miss witnessing his antics and hearing his thoughts. I miss being challenged and supported by him. 

I find peace in remembering that death is a part of life. I am comforted by the idea that what seems like an end to us, is really only a beginning. 

"What we call the beginning is often the end. To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." -T.S. Elliot

David lived a great life. I wish it had been longer, but I am thankful for all it was.

"God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference"