“I was 12 years old when I met the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. It was the end of the school day and all the kids were standing outside waiting for the school buses to take them home. I noticed a tall, skinny, blue eyed girl with curly blonde hair and a smile that could light up the world. I sparked up a conversation offering my strawberry Laffy Taffy to her. Ashley was her name, she was new to my school and had just moved from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I was so ecstatic to find out she lived right down the street from me! From that day forward, Ashley became my best friend. Attached to the hip, we spent every second of every day together.
When high school came around, sadly, we went our separate ways. Going in to our Senior year, we reconnected. The same love for each other was still there. I had never had a friend who was so pure, loving, caring, funny, and empathetic. We were so different, yet so alike. We went back to spending nearly every day together, just like old times. I was the happiest I had ever been to finally have my best friend back.
I never knew what was to come.
After graduating high school life seemed perfect. It was our first semester of college and we were finally doing all the things we dreamed of as little girls. Ashley was planning to move to Seattle to finish school and start a life with her boyfriend at the time. I was beginning my nursing career working in an Emergency Room as a Nurse Tech. Life became hectic again, but every day we found a way to talk. There were nights we could eat an entire gallon of ice cream together while watching Sons of Anarchy or destroy an entire bottle of Honey Jack Daniels while our parents had no idea (sorry mom) we finally felt like adults and life couldn’t get any better.
Until the day the came where my life would completely turn upside down. September 14th, only four months after graduation, my world came crashing down. I can barely remember a thing from that day, other than the pain. It was 10:45 p.m. when I heard the words ‘Ashley’s gone. She’s dead’ I remember my heart sinking. I fell to the floor screaming, this couldn’t be real. How? How could she be gone? I wanted to die. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. I was so angry at God for taking such a beautiful soul from this world. We had just started reconnecting and in the blink of an eye, she was gone.
A fatal car accident tore her life away. Ashley was so skinny, that she flew out of her seatbelt and was thrown into the back seat of her car. The blunt force trauma caused her aorta to dissect, which would lead to her death hours later. Not a single scratch on the outside of her body, but a small bruise on her cheek. She had grass in her hair still from the man who pulled her out of her car to begin CPR on her lifeless body. She looked like an angel, just peacefully sleeping.
I barley remember that week. Ashley died on a Monday. Her funeral was Friday. I remember sleeping in Ashley’s bed and waking up the morning of her visitation to her mother rummaging through her dresser saying ‘No, no this isn’t happening. I can’t be picking out her outfit. I can’t do this’ I couldn’t do it either. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t real.
Thursday evening, we arrived at the funeral home for the visitation. I walked inside and felt the walls closing in on me when I saw one of her senior pictures on a canvas with her name, birthdate, and death date written below it. Her beautiful smile and baby blue eyes looking back at me in the photo. I ran outside and puked. I couldn’t breathe again. I sat outside on a cold white chair looking at the sky. It was a cool September evening. Ashley’s step mom Desmonda came up to me, asking if I had been inside yet. I told her I couldn’t do it; I was too scared. I had to be strong for Ashley’s family, but I was crumbling into agony. Desmonda grabbed my hand and told me we could do this together.
We walked inside, down a hallway which seemed to go on forever, into a room where Ashley’s casket was. We walked up to it and I fell to the floor. I was suffering a panic attack and thought I was going to die right there. Desmonda scooped me off the floor and told me ‘baby we can do this, I don’t want to either, we have to’ as she helped me on my feet. We walked up to the casket where Ashley lay. Her beautiful blonde hair was curled. She was in her favorite white dress. I remember how horrified I was at her swollen face. They put too much makeup on her, she never wore excessive makeup, she was always so simple. I felt sick again. ‘Wake up, please wake up’ I mumbled to myself. The panic was back. This wasn’t happening. I ran out the back door into the parking lot. I fell to the ground, the asphalt scraping the palms of my hands. Desmonda followed me out and sat on the ground with me. ‘What if she didn’t know how much I loved her? I didn’t tell her. I never told her. What if she didn’t know? What if she hates me?’ I couldn’t stop asking these questions. Desmonda reassured me that Ashley knew how much I loved and cared for her.
We made our way to the front of the funeral home where I sat back down at a table. Ashley’s step brother Justin sat down next to me. It was the first time I had met him in person, but I always heard so many stories about him over the years from Ashley. She loved him more than anything, she loved all of her brothers. Two half-brothers, Justin and Marc (Marcy Marc) one step brother Zakk, and one full brother, Coty. Ashley was the only girl. Like all of them, Justin was tall and skinny. I wanted to melt in to him and give him my heart so he would hurt less. I couldn’t bare to see his pain. For some reason, he got to me the most. We talked for a bit, only for me to realize he had not seen Ashley’s body yet. This time, I HAD to be strong. Something inside me told me I had to. I grabbed Justin’s hand and told him we could do this together.
We walked in, down the hallway, and into the room. Ashley’s mother Angie sobbed loudly at the front. I couldn’t look at her. I knew I would fall apart if I did. Justin and I walked up to Ashley, I felt his grip become tighter on my hand, to the point I lost circulation in it. I wrapped my arms around his skinny waist and pulled him close to me. He was twice my size in height but in that moment, I felt like I had to be his protector. The music played, all of Ashley’s favorite songs. I wasn’t listening until Justin started singing, ‘Baby your soul, could never grow old, it’s ever green’ Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran. For the first time in days, I smiled. I placed my hand on Ashley’s and started singing the song to her. In that moment, I felt okay.
The next day came and we had the funeral. I said goodbye one last time. Her body was taken to be cremated. We let a beautiful white dove go. Weeks went by, months went by, and now years have gone by. Ashley’s ashes were spread at Mount Rainier in Seattle Washington, exactly where she wanted. Life seemed to slowly go on.
It has been 3 years and 9 months since Ashley died. Her life was taken too soon. I am 22 years old now and still learning to live life around the constant pain. Grief is like having broken ribs. You still have to breathe in order to live, but every breath hurts. There are days I can’t get out of bed, nights I can’t fall asleep. I scroll through pictures of us, I watch videos to hear her voice, to hear her laugh. I talk about her to new people, to friends, to my family. I feel her presence when the rain comes, when the air gets cold in the Fall, when I see a motorcycle, when I smell coffee, when I eat chocolate chip muffins. I decorate her memorial for holidays, for her birthday every year. I spend time with her mother Angie, as she’s basically my second mom. I have a tattoo on my forearm with Ashley’s handwriting on it, I watch Sons of Anarchy on repeat just to reminisce on her memory. Every day I think of her, I miss her.
Ashley was an organ donor. Her life lives through the people who were blessed to receive her organs and tissue. So far, Ashley has given to 15 people, 2 of which live in our area have received her corneas, in total, she will eventually give to 60 people. People all over were given a second chance by her selfless choice to donate. I have worked as a nurse for 2 years now and have gotten to whiteness the beauty of organ donation hands on.
Ashley will always be my best friend, my sister at heart. I will never forget her beautiful soul. She was a kind spirit, a beauty that could take your breath away. She was unique and special in every way. She gave me a friendship and love I will cherish forever. As Ash always told me, ‘Just Keep Smiling’”
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