Loss is tough. At the age of five, fifteen or even fifty, loss is tough. What makes loss even harder is the circumstances surrounding it. The guilt, denial and regret. In November of 2016, the youth cheer team that me and two of my best friends Amanda and Gillian coached together, had accomplished a goal that diluted that team for so many years. They had won the regional championship and earned the right to compete at nationals in Disney. This probably sounds great, and it was. It was amazing until December 4th when we got to Florida. It was even okay for the first few hours we were there.
The warm air, the palm trees, the parks and everything else was just great. First thing to do when we got there was to go to the ESPN venue for practice. So around 3 pm we all get on the bus and go over. While on our way over, The word spread to us that our all-star coach and gym owner Lauren, was in the hospital. No one knew why. All we knew was that something happened with her cystic fibrosis and she was in the hospital with no brain activity. As bad as this sounds, we brushed it off because this had actually happened before. This wasn't the first time that she was in the hospital with things not looking so good. We thought it would be okay because it always had been. She always ended up being okay because she always fought. So we moved on with our day and about an hour later there we were, sitting outside of ESPN in the beating sun waiting for our practice time. Amanda, Gillian and I even managed to get our minds off of Lauren because come on, We were in Florida. Our head coach or “Mom coach” as we like to call her, called us over. I remember being so nervous walking over. The funny thing is that I was nervous that we were in trouble or something stupid like that. She said “I have to tell you something. It's going to affect you and the girls but i need you to keep it together for them.” I replied with “Oh no, are we getting in trouble or something? Whats wrong?” “No.” she said. “Lauren died this afternoon.” I remember so vividly the blank stares that me and my friends exchanged when we heard this. For 5 minutes before even tearing up we just looked at each other more speechless than ever. Words couldn't even describe how we were feeling or the shock that we were in. Somebody that had watched us grow up and been around us more than some family members, was gone. Although she was sick, she was still 32 and we weren't anywhere near expecting that.
We all got our phones and called our parents to tell them and that's when the tears started flowing. We sat outside of the practice arena for a good hour just crying before we went inside with our team. The reason it was so important to keep a happy face was because each and every little girl on our team had some type of connection to lauren as did most people who did cheerleading around here since her reach was endless and she was practically the expert. So soon enough we gathered our things and went inside with our team, still crying but covering our faces with hats and glasses. It was so hard to think straight with this going on. I mean, I had just lost the person that I owed so much of who i am too and still do. I thought about everything I wished I could say and thank her for just one more time, everything she had given me. I wanted to say thank you for all of the jackets, medals and trophies she had helped me earn or thank you for giving me a place to always go and for pushing me like no one else did. But most importantly, I wanted to say thank you for teaching me some of my most valuable life lessons. Even my parents will say, Lauren was part of making me who i am. But i couldn't say it and while i'm sure i showed my appreciation while she was around, i wanted to thank her a million more times so she knew. I couldn't have thanked her enough for all that she did for me. I went on facebook while sitting on the bus on the way back to our hotel. I scrolled through and sure enough my feed was filled with thousands, and i mean thousands, of posts, pictures, videos and messages in which lauren was tagged. It was so amazing to see how many people she reached in such a small area and i don't really think anyone could understand it unless they were apart of it. I sat on my bed for hours trying to think how to put it into words on facebook or instagram but it wasn't really possible. There was so much I had to say and so much i was thinking. That night my whole team was at the gym making collages, letters and more for lauren. I felt guilty for that. For not being there when it was probably what I probably needed most at the time; to be with the rest of the people who actually felt lauren's reach. But there i was, a plane ride away from New York. Fast Forward a couple of days and my team had placed third in the nation, i went to every park about 3 times and got as tan as could be. this took my mind off of things but as i got on my flight home and sat down, the thoughts rushed through my head again. The worst part of it all was that the minute I landed, I would be going to laurens wake. Yeah, that was pretty tough. With my friends at my side, and even our parents, we got the funeral home and the line to get in was out the door, down the walkway and even down the street. I have to say that this was probably the bright side to all of this. I got to see how many people lauren impacted and it was eye opening.
I had never seen so many people or so many flowers in my life. I mean, of course I still had guilt and regret. I wished everything was different but it wasn't. I had to face the reality of all of this. Above the casket was lauren's National champion jacket which was so fitting because cheerleading really was her life. That was her biggest accomplishment, and mine too. She helped me do that. I thought to myself, I may have regrets about what I wish I told her or what I wish I did while she was around, but Lauren surely lived without regret did because she never let anybody tell her she couldn't do something. She had even lived twice as long as doctors told her she was going to live with cystic fibrosis and had a baby which was so not in the timeline if you had cystic fibrosis. That was inspiring for me. That's when it really hit me that I wanted to start living how Lauren lived so that I didn't have regrets. Walking up to people's family at wakes and funerals always made me so nervous. I hugged lauren's mom and she said “she loved you girls so much. She talked about you nonstop.” That was probably the best thing anyone could have told me. I Stuck around for a bit but enough was enough. I could only cry so much. I got in the car and on the way home didn't even say a word. I thought how crazy it was that I saw lauren sunday and by the following sunday, she was gone. I thought why couldn't i just tell her how important she was to me every time i saw her. I thought for so long about this but over time, it has made me live differently because i realized that life's too short to hold back. Life is too short to have regrets.