My best friend in the entire world died two weeks ago. And ironically, it wasn’t from the Coronavirus.
Aimee and I met in my Facebook group “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” a few years ago. It’s a group that I founded over 5 years ago for peeps who live with chronic conditions who just want to escape negativity for a little while and concentrate on living with GRATITUDE and HOPE.
Aimee had been a member of the group for a few years before we “met.” I had seen her name in the group for various things beforehand such as stating her GRATITUDE for the day, telling us what her daily intentions were, or putting her own positive posts up that she thought our members would find uplifting and helpful. However she and I had never had a conversation until the end of 2017 when she contacted me privately about a particular member whom she thought could use some extra TLC because she seemed very lonely. Aimee wanted to make sure that this member would receive something for Christmas that year because she did not get the impression that she had much of a support system. I already loved the selflessness of this girl!
After that initial conversation, I’m pretty sure we never stopped talking again. Ever.
Although we were incredibly different as were our backgrounds and upbringings, the chemistry that we had together made it seemingly impossible to stop talking. Aimee had a hilarious sense of humor and every time I sent her a PM saying something that I thought was oh-so-clever, it was only a matter of seconds where her own wit would come back at me with something even more clever. I’d found my soul sister.
In “Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain” (or AoG as we call it), one of our guidelines is to NOT discuss our specific ailments. We feel that in order for our group to work the way it does, we need to stay away from comparing our pain to each other’s in order to stay on an even playing field. We feel that the source of our pain isn’t really what matters….it’s the emotional pain that it causes which is what AoG aims to help with.
And we all deal with our emotional pain very differently. Someone who stubs their toe can deal with their emotional pain in a much more major way than someone who is told they are dying.
Speaking of which, when Aimee and I really started sharing with each other, it wasn’t long before she told me that this was her reality. She was dying.
A few years prior to meeting me, she’d had a heart attack and was told by her doctors that she had one year to live. Aimee had quite the trifecta of medical issues….congestive heart failure, type 1 diabetes, and pulmonary hypertension. And she was only in her 30’s at the time.
Me, being the empath that I am, knew that becoming close to her and then losing her would be difficult on me. I feel the ‘feels’ very deeply and with my own medical issues, emotional turmoil affects me physically very much. So when she confided this in me, I’ll shamefully admit that I’d decided it was best to try to not get too close to her for the sake of my own health.
That didn’t last very long…I was already hooked. It didn’t take long at all before this girl became “my person.” She was so sweet and kind with a truck driver’s mouth and wicked sense of humor. She loved deeply, was a great listener, a great wife, mom, grandmother, and friend….and a great all-around person who was incredibly generous and thoughtful.
She was shy and selfless in that even though she was dying herself and her heart was giving out, her biggest care in the world was making sure her family was happy and raising her then 3-year-old granddaughter, Anna.
It was a no-brainer for me to make Aimee a co-Admin of AoG as her attitude was exactly what we were trying to teach our members. Aimee knew more than anyone I’ve ever known that although we cannot control the cards we are dealt, it doesn’t have to stop us from living our best life possible.
Aimee and I did a lot of back and forth visiting each other for awhile as we lived 7 hours away from each other originally. I loved our visits as we had such fun showing each other around the areas we both lived in.
One of the many reasons that Aimee and I got along so incredibly well was that ‘enthusiasm’ was both of our middle names! We could do anything together and have fun! I adored showing her new things and new experiences because she looked at everything through the eyes of GRATITUDE and not boredom or cynicism. I’d never before met someone who looked at life so enthusiastically. It was refreshing and infectious.
Eventually, as Aimee’s heart started to get worse and worse, her wonderful husband, David, got a transfer through his job so she could be close to me and near Philadelphia where the medical care was much more advanced for what she needed. The cardiologist she found here felt confident that a heart transplant would be in her future which would ideally help her to live longer and with a better quality of life than she had at the time.
So they moved locally and we were both thrilled! Those adventures that we enjoyed taking when we periodically got to visit each other would now be possible on a regular basis!
And we did so many of them!
We went to the Statue of Liberty which Aimee had always wanted to see. We saw a Broadway show which was also a dream of hers (we saw “Wicked”) We went to the Jersey Shore and took Anna to the boardwalk.
We went to Philadelphia many times for her doctor’s appointments but we also turned these not-so-fun days into special memories by doing things like going to Reading Terminal Market or fulfilling our quest to try every Philly cheesesteak place we could (and we tried a LOT! lol)
We took Anna to every park we could find and every indoor play place in the tri-state area. We taught ourselves how to watercolor paint which we’d both always wanted to try. We weren’t very good, but we had fun with it.
We had sleepovers like teenage girls. All the time. We cooked together (we were both foodies!) watched movies, ate junk food, and played with Anna. We’d stay up all night talking.
We went to local food truck festivals, a garlic festival, a bacon festival, and every festival Aimee could find. I would joke with her that ‘Facebook Events’ was exhausting me (she looked at them constantly to make sure she wasn’t missing anything! LOL)
We went to every enormous Christmas light display that she could find. Christmas lights and fireworks were her favorite things to watch in the entire world. I couldn’t always take her to all of them as my own health would go up and down, but we sure tried our best!
We went away on week-long vacations to my parent’s second home in the mountains of the Poconos. Although hikes weren’t in the realm of possibility for us, we drove around and found places where Aimee could see waterfalls not far from the car. We also went strawberry picking, apple picking, and would swing on the porch swing and just talk for hours. We took Anna on pony rides and saw a ton of deer which was something that Aimee viewed as very sacred and special. Boy, how she loved those deer….
These are all things that most people would just take for granted….including myself. But when I got to experience the enthusiasm of each of these things through Aimee’s eyes, I would quickly realize how much LIFE I took for granted.
The last year of Aimee’s life found her health declining rapidly. She had to have a PICC line installed so she could have a constant dose of a drug called Milrinone which would help her heart to work temporarily until a transplant was possible for her. It did work well for awhile, but eventually it stopped, and her time started running out. She would go into the hospital for 2 weeks or so and then be out for 2 weeks. This would be the pattern as the doctors tried to get her various issues straightened out so she would be a heart candidate.
When she wasn’t in the hospital, we still did our mini-adventures. We had to do them with a wheelchair in tow as she couldn’t walk more than half a block anymore….but we still did them.
We were lucky enough that the hospital she stayed in allowed me to stay with her. In the beginning I would bring games along with our painting supplies just to keep her mind off of the scary stuff she was experiencing, but towards the end she was just too sick to do any of it. We watched a lot of bad TV (lots of Judge Judy and Catfish!) and talked and talked and talked.
When COVID-19 started coming into the picture in a big way in early March, David and I knew it was incredibly important that Aimee be able to stay away from the hospital. We knew that, with her issues, if she had to go in for any of her heart issues, her health and immunity was such that she would never make it out if she were to contract the disease.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to keep her out of that hospital. Her heart and diabetes was taking it’s final toll on her and on March 19th my best friend took her last breath at 2:25am.
I still can’t believe it. I feel her loss so profoundly and am having a difficult time accepting it as reality. I cry all the time. I’m doing it right now, in fact.
When you are lucky enough to have someone in your life who lives it so enthusiastically, it leaves a gaping hole in yours when they’re gone. But I can honestly say that there is not one thing that was left unsaid between us and there are very few things that were on Aimee’s “wish list” that we didn’t do. What a gift that is!
I’m not sure how I’m going to get over the pain of losing this spectacular person in my life. I’m hoping that writing this will help to dilute the devastation a little bit and I hope that with me honoring the way she lived her life it will help you look at the way you live yours.
What I do know is that the lessons that I learned through being Aimee’s person will stay with me forever, and I have to remember what a gift it was that God gave me this woman to teach them to me. I had the privilege of living like I was dying because she showed me how. This isn’t something that many people get the opportunity to do.
We all have annoyances in our lives…..especially now. But it’s temporary. We need to remember that.
Some of us have chronic illnesses that we may have to deal with forever. However as Aimee showed me and which I now pass on to YOU, we have the opportunity to still live a life of beauty and fulfillment by changing the lens we look at things through. And although we may not get to do things the way we would like to do them, if we use our imagination and are willing to be flexible, we can still do them and have much more fun than never doing them at all.
We can opt to complain and do nothing about it, or we can accept things as they are and do the best we can to live life enthusiastically while we are blessed enough to be here on this earth. Although it doesn’t always feel like it…..our lives are very, very short.
I miss you so much, Aimee Gray. I thank God for the gift of blessing my life by putting you in it and for the lessons you taught me that I will take with me forever. I will do my best to teach others how you lived as it’s a way of life that makes our life worth living and loving.
Lauren has lived with lupus & fibromyalgia for 18 years & is the founder of the FB group, "Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain (AoG.)" Also a recovering alcoholic, Lauren discovered the power of GRATITUDE during her recovery for that as well as in dealing with her chronic illness. In 2016 she embarked on her "Gratitude Project" by writing an essay on one new thing that she was grateful for every day on Facebook for the entire year. It was that project that sparked the website gratitudeaddict.com and she's currently writing a book called "Attitude of Gratitude with Chronic Pain" based on how living with the intention of gratitude has changed her life with chronic pain as well as the lives of the thousands of members of AoG. Lauren also sits on the Board of Trustees and is Social Media Coordinator for Chronic Pain Anonymous. #GetYourGratitudeOn