Dear Jess

Speaking of anniversaries, October 15th is not a good one. On this day last year, we lost a sweet and kind and generous soul, my co-worker Jessica, who died suddenly at the age of 28. I have seen Jessica so many times this year---which is, I guess, what happens when you live in a city of hip and leggy brunettes---except when I've got closer, it's never been Jessica at all. I have dreamed about her a lot too, but when I've woken up, the dream has always slipped away.  

We had a memorial service at work last year, just a week after her death, and while it had been warm and sunny in the days leading up to it, a storm rolled in as we all trooped down from the office and slugged back margaritas in the function room of a fancy restaurant. I was newly-engaged---just nine days engaged, in fact---and there was no possible way for me to know how to feel. I had a marvelous blessing in the midst of a horrible tragedy. Nothing seemed real.

A few of us stood up and said things. When it was my turn, my legs shook and my voice shook and the piece of paper I was holding shook, and all of these things surprised me, and outside the rain kept coming down. I read a letter I'd written, a letter I have not read again in the year since I wrote it. I'm making myself read it again today so that I don't forget. I'd hate it if we forgot.


Dear Jess,

I’m writing this from my cubicle at work, where I still haven’t got used to you not being. I often have to stop myself from popping my head over the wall we shared and asking you some inane question about whether you’ve written what we’re supposed to write yet, or whether you know the deadline for a certain assignment, or just how I’m supposed to incorporate SEO terms into my copy anyway. We miss you terribly around here.

Working with you for close to two years, I’m lucky enough to have some lovely memories of you, and I’m grateful for that. I often think about how your cell phone would ring on the other side of the cubicle wall some days and the next thing I knew, you’d be speaking this beautiful, mellifluous French—every word of it perfect—and I’d stop whatever I was doing and just listen to how pretty it sounded. Or how a few of us went to see your band play somewhere in the Mission once, and you seemed so shyly pleased to have us there, even if none of us felt quite cool enough.

You were always so kind: that’s how I think of you most. Right after you joined our team, I was planning a vacation to Ecuador and bemoaning my lack of a backpack and a rain jacket. You offered to loan me both—even though you barely knew me!—and lugged them both into work for me to borrow for ten days. Last month, when we’d all been scattered around the country on various trips and hadn’t been in the office together for a few weeks, it was your “Welcome Back Teammates!” sign that actually made me happy to walk in on a Monday morning. You’d even bought pastries and muffins to welcome us back as well, and it was that kindness and generosity that was at the core of your spirit. You always used to bring us souvenirs back from your trips and travels too. You were just so generous and thoughtful.

My favorite memory of you, though, is also my most recent one: it was a few weeks ago, on the office field trip to Angel Island, and you seemed happier than I’d seen you in a long time. I can picture you all tall and skinny and glamorous in your shades, and all day I just remember you smiling. You know this already, but five of us signed up for something silly called the Six-Legged-Race, where we had to don this enormous five-person pair of pants and race to the finish line. While we managed to get a pretty good rhythm going in our practice runs, it was in the middle of the race itself that we got out of sync and suddenly had this spectacular fall. Three of us went crashing down onto the grass--I was one of them---while two of us, you included, managed to stay upright.

We were all laughing as we attempted to untangle ourselves from the jumble of limbs and carry on with the race, but I somehow just couldn’t pull myself upright off the grass. I was trying and trying just to stand back up and keep going but it was such an awful struggle; I just couldn’t get my balance. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, your hand swooped down, grabbed tightly onto mine, and pulled me straight back up onto my feet in one fluid motion, before we set off again for the finish line. We didn’t win in the end—our fall had been too catastrophic, I guess—but I was just so touched for the rest of the afternoon by the way you’d reached down and picked me up. It’s a clumsy metaphor, I know, but you seemed to help so many people like that, to grab them if they were down and lift them back up again. I want to say thank you for that. 

We miss you, Jess, and we probably won’t ever stop missing you, but I hope you’re at peace now. I hope you’re hanging out with my grandpas and all my old pets, and maybe even Heath Ledger and Paul Newman, because they seem like they’d be a laugh, especially together. Though I’m sad that I won’t be able to get to know you better, I’m happy to have known you for as long as I did.

I think of you often.
Much love,

Oct 15, 2009

Beautiful, Holly. Everyone should hope to be remembered this well by someone.

Camels & Chocolate
Oct 15, 2009

Great letter, Holly--I've been trying to write such a letter to my godmother who died 10 days ago and can't bring myself to do it--and so sad to have lost such a great person at such a young age.

Oct 15, 2009

what a beautiful memorial.

Oct 15, 2009

Absolutely beautiful, Holly.

Somewhere, lovely Jess is smiling.

Oct 15, 2009

I was so touched to read this. Thank you for sharing.

Jenna Jean
Oct 15, 2009

Thank you for sharing this.

Oct 15, 2009

Grief is a funny thing, isn't it? My cousin died a month ago now today, and I still feel like it, at times, isn't real. I am not sure when it will feel real. And I fear the day it finally hits.

This is a beautiful letter to your friend, and that picture of her with the rainbow! How gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Thank you for posting this. ♥

Oct 15, 2009

This was a lovely tribute. Jess sounds like a lovely lady. I'm just sorry you had occasion to write this letter.

Linda Illsley
Oct 15, 2009

A tough year for all who knew this beautiful, young woman. An even tougher year for her family. A good friend of mine lost her only son at age 28 and the only thing that gives her comfort is that he is not forgotten. Perhaps you could send a copy of this letter to her parents... or a copy of your blog posting. It means so much to know that one's child left a lasting memory with those that you don't even know.

Nothing But Bonfires
Oct 15, 2009

Linda, we made a scrapbook for each of her parents, in which we all included the letters we'd written.

Oct 15, 2009

What a beautiful, touching letter.

Sensibly Sassy
Oct 15, 2009

What a touching tribute.

Oct 15, 2009

What a beautiful and touching tribute,Holly.

Oct 15, 2009

Such a lovely note for such a tremendous loss. I hope peace finds and soothes all of you who remember Jess, and that Jess is comforted by the love you all feel for her spirit.

Oct 16, 2009

Wow. What an incredible tribute. May someone as eloquent as you eulogize me one day. I'm sure Jessica would have been touched. And I'm wishing I had the chance to have known her.

Oct 16, 2009

Lovely. We all just want to be remembered, you are doing it well for Jess.

Wacky Mommy
Oct 16, 2009

Ah, dang it. Some people just don't stay around long enough, do they? Sorry for your loss, and holding her family in my thoughts and prayers.

Oct 17, 2009

I Always say "We meet the people we meet for a reason"

We just can't help but touch each other's lives.. sometimes in ways unknown.
That's why it hurts so much when they are gone.

I would like to share a Brian Andrea's quote.

Smaller World
I know she's not really gone, she said, but the world still feels smaller to me today

Oct 20, 2009

Thank you very much for sharing- I am very sorry for your loss.

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