It has been a very eventful week around here. I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee if you're going to stick around to read this one!
Adam has been gone all week to complete his elective for his MBA degree. He's in a program at the University of Florida (we live in Atlanta) that requires him to travel to class one weekend a month. He's required to complete one week of class during the 2 1/2 year program to fulfill the elective requirement. At this point we're on day 7. He is tired and very ready to come home. The dogs and I are very ready for him to be home and are waiting anxiously for him to hurry up the 5 hour drive home.
I grew up just outside of Atlanta and possibly Smoke Rise Baptist Church had the most significant impact on my life thus far. The youth group there is amazing, huge, and gave me people who are still my best friends today. This week, 2 members of that youth group released their new CD! Ben Smith and Patrick Barrett were part of the Uth Praise Band and continued that journey after college. The CD is called Be and is available on Itunes. Here is the link to their website. I know I might be biased because I know these guys but truly this CD Is amazing! I have listened to it since the second it came out, it has lifted me up with every song. I highly recommend the investment.
Along with a new CD release came a book release from a Smoke Rise member. The book Later by Bill Smith was published just this week. I am halfway through and it is wonderful. The book is about Bill's son Wes. It tells the story of his battle with Leukemia. Reading Bills words have educated me on what this family went through as well as give me a chance to grieve for the loss. I highly recommend the book. All proceeds go to the When Everyone Survives Foundation. If you want to read on I am going to share what Wes meant to me. This isn't really for anyone else, just for me. To help me grieve for the person I lost.
I never "met" Wes, he has been in my world for as long as I can remember. Our families have been friends for 3 generations. My grandfather and father bought all their cars from the Smiths. Growing up I always thought you were friends with the people you bought your cars from!
Wes and I were in the same grade, he is 4 days shy of being one year older than me. We were in sunday school together for as long as I can remember. We wern't "close" just always in the same place. Up until about 8th grade we always sat boys on one side of the room and girls on the other during Sunday School, but then of course things change :)
We all got a little older, and eventually Wes and I started "going out" as we used to call it. I was stinkin' crazy about this kid. He was so much fun to be around. He was also 16 and could drive. Cars were a big thing in my group of friends. We all loved to talk about cars and ride in our cars 24/7. Wes taught me to drive a stick shift. Somehow his tires did not come out bald from that experience. I still drive a stick shift today and have no plans of ever buying anything else.
One significant memory from our "going out" days is that he rode with my mom to drop me off at my camp counseling job. Two hours each way, and after they dropped me off if was just the two of them! He was a great boyfriend but as most relationships do when you're 16 it ended...with me being the heartbroken one!
Car #1 was a 65' Mustang.
Car #2 the Cougar
Car #3 was the Acura Type R.We stayed in the same group of friends all through high school and I have countless memories from that time. Wes is always the life of the party, cracking jokes and doing anything to make people laugh.This is Easter Sunday of our Senior Year. A little photo shoot in the parking lot before jumping into our cars and heading to Chili's for lunch.
I left for Auburn in the fall of 2001 and Wes and I lost contact in between times we were not "home".
My sophomore year in college I began dating Adam, who is now my husband. One late night after hitting the bars Adam and I were in my kitchen making egg sandwiches and somehow figured out we both knew Wes Smith! I called Wes up and told him about the connection, they talked on the phone for a bit. They hadn't talked since the beginning of High School.
The story goes that Adam and Wes met at GAC (Greater Atlanta Christian School) and became the best of friends. Their sophomore year of high school Adam moved to Florida. Later in that year is when I started dating Wes. The crazy part about that is somehow although we had both been connected to Wes, we had never met!
It wasn't until my senior year at at Auburn that Wes entered my life again in a big way. I had heard through the ever present gossip line that Wes had been diagnosed with Leukemia. I was stunned, shocked and didn't really know what to do. I did not call and I did not go home to see him.
Eventually I got together with my two best friends to visit him in the hospital. We were all nervous, the group hadn't been together very much since High School. But when we got there, it was just Wes, just like he'd always been. Being there in a group with all our friends was pretty "formal" and no one really got a good one on one with him. I knew that I would be back. Alone.
I came back on a Wednesday night over Thanksgiving break. I don't know why I remember that it was Wednesday, I just do. People sort of "came and went" as I was there, some friends I didn't know, some I did, and his sister. As people would come in I felt like I should leave and give them their time. Wes was adamant that I not leave, at one point I wondered if he had offended the people that had come to see him! But I realized that after all my time pining away for him as a 16 year old girl, this time he wanted me to stay! As it got later the last of the visitors came, Wes and I did "laps". We just walked around and around the loop of the floor. He had his IV attached to him through a portal in his chest. As we walked I offered to push his IV stand. The second my hand touched that poll it was like dead weight covered my body. "He never get's away from this" I thought. The sense of depression that put on me that I would be able to leave that hospital that night and he wouldn't made me want to run for my life.
It was during this walk that I think we sort of made our peace. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner" I said. He frankly replied "I was surprised and hurt that you didn't, why didn't you come?" I honestly answered back that if I stayed away then it wasn't real. I didn't want to believe my friend had leukemia. He pondered this and said "I totally understand."
As we did our laps Wes talked to each patient we passed, making jokes and making everyone laugh. In his room his machine was constantly going off, nurses were in and out checking the beeping and constantly asking him about his pain to which he would give a number. He showed me his lower back, right above his tailbone, it was the blackest bruise I have ever seen in my life. It was from all the time he spent in that hospital bed.
The Chick-fil-a his sister had brought got cold and as the night went on I watched him use a mouthwash to try to help the ulcers that covered his mouth from the chemo. I put lotion on his face where his skin was peeling and he asked me to stay until he fell asleep. He did after the nurses put yet another drug into his IV.
I remember walking out and breathing the air outside, so sad. I was free and he was not.
I vividly remember the last time I saw Wes alive. Adam and I went to his house, at this point I knew in my soul that this was the last time I was going to see him. The best way for me to describe it was he looked drunk, probably doped up on so much pain medication he scooted to the edge of the couch and then just seemed like he was going to fall off. He couldn't talk much but eventually Adam hugged him, I kissed him on the cheek and told him that I loved him and I left. That was over Christmas break. In February I was in class and got the call from Brad that he was gone. No matter how much you prepare yourself it doesn't get any easier.
Today I am 26 years old, Wes would be 27. There are so many things that I have now experienced that he has not gotten to. It breaks my heart. When I got the call that Wes had passed I was in class working on a new logo project. We had to create a company and make an identity for it. I created When Everyone Survives (WES). Once finished I sent the logo to Wes' parents and they actually started a foundation by the same name.
Did I mention that Wes was always doing stuff to make us laugh? His eyes would bug out if he saw this picture again after all this time. But this is how I remember my friend, doing something funny like wearing MY sweater and dancing, just to make us all laugh!