It still doesn't seem real. One night we're texting about YPC events and when we'll be having lunch again and the next afternoon you're gone. It's hard to comprehend what happened, let alone explain it to anyone. It's just a totally terrible thing. I can't even write any sentence that makes sense.
Today we hosted a brunch for you. A birthday brunch to raise money and have people come together. We're weeks away from what would have been your 30th birthday and had a party to remember you and to raise money for this playground they are building with your name on it. I tried to tell everyone about you and keep it together and be cool. But as you always knew, and now so do all those folks, cool is never something I kicked ass at, so basically I cried a little and mumbled a lot, it was messy, but it was from the heart. You and your big heart and your helping hands. That's what I tried to say.
Since we lost you so much has changed.
I think (all the time) about what you'd think about where we all are now and what we've been up to. It gets all sad and complicated. But because writing this is sad, and hard, and probably-a-weird-for-some-people-to-read letter, I thought I'd write to you about the good. Because Ashley, there is so much good.
You made so many of us appreciate moments: the moments where you wear a hat made of foil in a room full of new friends, the moments where you watched your sweet Jane graduate college, the moments where you met Newt and his wife and their security peeps and handed them a card that talked about Newt-y photos, the moments where you smiled about living with a boy and were happy to fold his laundry and sit on the couch on a Saturday night watching basketball and eating ice cream, the moments where Des Moines triumphed, the moments where those charities you cared for raised money in your honor and these people you loved had babies and weddings and moments of their own.
For me, you changed it all. I stayed in Des Moines. I sucked it up and stopped feeling sad. You showed me that grown ups can make friends. Friends who will make sure their fly isn't down and will meet them for pedicures and will send thank you notes for the teeniest bit of help. You didn't get to see the best of me, I'm certain of that, but you certainly saw the best in me.
Thanks for changing me, for finding the good in it all, and for reminding me, constantly, that a big heart and helping hands can make a difference daily. Yours did for me. And they still do.