Rest in Peace, Ashley
This is a painful blog post for me to write. Because I know my number one blog reader, won't be reading it. (Or commenting on it.) Because it makes this past week a reality. And because it's hard to put it all into words, but I'm going to try. Events like this are what inspired me to create my bucket list in the first place and really start living life starting today, not waiting for "someday". Let this be a reminder that life is fragile and short and we should make the most out of the time we have here and with each other.
It's with a heavy heart that I share that my dear friend, Ashley McGowan, passed away unexpectedly Monday from a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot formed in her lung and while the team at the hospital tried their hardest to revive her, her heart couldn't take it anymore. She was 28, a good friend, and a force to be reckoned with. Ashley and I met at a happy hour that was being put on by the recent college graduate network at work that she organized. When I met her, I noticed two things immediately: 1) She's like a fricking mayor--she knew everyone at the happy hour, had a personal story for them and I wouldn't have been surprised if she knew everyone in town, even though she had only been in Oregon for a little over 6 months. 2) The girl is loud. Not in a in-your-face-I'm-feeling-overwhelmed-loud (she only reserves that voice for when she's REALLY excited) but loud in the sense that you can't be in Ashley's vicinity and not know her or feel her presence. She seemed nice enough, and I could see how we were similar, but I wasn't looking for more friends when I met her. Ashley, had other ideas. That day she called her mom and the conversation went a little like this:
Ashley: "Mom! I met someone today."
Mom: "You did?" (thinking it's a guy!)
Ashley: "Yes. And she's great!"
Mom: "Oh?" (hmm...is there something I need to know?)
Ashley: "Her name is Sejal. She's really cool. And I really want to be friends with her! But I don't want to scare her off, so I think I'm going to slow play this."
And what Ashley wants, Ashley gets. (To be honest, I felt honored--who doesn't like to be pursued?!) I'm not quite sure when we became friends, but it happened. Over time, we hung out more, bonded over our mutual love for Grey's Anatomy, delicious food, baked goods (she baked, I ate--it worked out great!)--and became great friends. While we had our similarities, it was really our differences that was the foundation of our friendship. She was emotional while I was more rational. I helped her see the big picture and not sweat the small stuff while she helped me recognize and own my emotions and not be afraid to express them. She could make friends with a chair and would walk up to strangers and say hi, I'd prefer an introduction. (Though as crazy as you may think this sounds, both of us had our shy sides and moments. ... Stop laughing or rolling your eyes!) I wouldn't wear heels because I'd feel "too tall" around my mostly short group of friends, while she didn't give a shit and would grab heels from my collection and rock them like the champ she is. We'd open up to each other about our goals and struggles and hold each other accountable. When we set goals to eat better, we bought matching waterbottles (mine was pink, hers was purple) and would go on water breaks to the cafe together. She'd also text me/IM me asking what I had for breakfast/lunch/dinner and cheer me on, or scold me, based on my choices.
We'd get giddy over our newest kitchen gadget, trade yummy healthy eating recipes and share our love lives. If there was something that needed to get done, we did that for each other. From spending the night after a wisdom tooth surgery to airport pick ups and drop offs to making dinner together to sending a dish to Can-Indian Thanksgiving even when she couldn't attend, our friendship was special. I could go on and on about Ashley stories and how we learned to snowboard together or how she was more excited than me when I got my SCUBA certification because it meant we could go diving together or how our 5 minute water breaks would turn into 20 minute breaks because she knew everyone in the cafe by name and would stop and talk to each of them or how she could the karaoke the heck out of any song (a personal fave is when we did TLC's Waterfalls: I "sang" she "rapped"). We created more memories on our time together on a softball team and bowling team (where neither of us was especially consistently great at bowling, but the Spirit Award was in the bag thanks to our creative costumes, her cupcakes and our combined tweets via @smileysejalee and @ashmcg02. Which btw, if you read Ashley's profile,...smh, that girl and her sense of humor.)
I, like most of her friends and family, was shocked (and still am) but over the past few days, it's started to sink in and become a reality. I've had people in my life pass away before, but they were usually older or sick, which made their passing inevitable. Those who were younger, were distant friends. This was the first time that I've unexpectedly lost someone and had someone call me directly to tell me the news. And the first time I've had to call people to deliver heartbreaking news like this. I'm shocked and sad but never did I ask why--because I know I won't get an answer that will make sense. And I know that in the big picture, this is just the way that it's supposed to be. And instead of being sad or mad about not being able to do things we wanted to do together, the things we talked about doing together, that my focus was going to be on the short, amazing, time we did have and the memories that came from it.
I look around my life and I see reminders of her. As sad as I am that she's no longer physically with us, her presence is felt and I smile at the memories. I have these beautiful peacock earrings that we bought together. She taught me a way to style my wavy/curly hair so that it looked less crazy. I wore cowboy boots to her memorial--they were boots she gave me after my first country bar experience because it was her Texan duty to make sure I had a legitimate, comfortable, stylish pair of cowboy boots.
There has been an overwhelming amount of support and prayers and wishes that people have sent--people who know Ashley, people who don't know Ashley, people who just hear her story and want to offer their support. Thank you, to all of you. It means the world and is amazing to see Ashley's impact. I know Ashley is supremely touched right now. I don't think she quite realized how loved she is and how many lives she's touched. She wouldn't want us to cry and mourn, she'd want us to celebrate her life and continue to spread her spirit. (Actually, she'd want us to cry a little bit, because she's crying because she's so touched---and she doesn't like crying alone.)
Ashley was always the first (and only?) person to read my blog posts and comment on them, making this even harder to write, but I'm going to believe that there's internet access up there and she'll find a way to read this :-) Ashley, I love you and I miss you. Thank you for making me a better person and my world a better place to live in. You'll always live on in my memories and through the lessons you've taught me. To find more joy (per #25 on your Thirty Before Thirty list) in the big things, the little things, the ordinary things, the extraordinary things. You're on to something here--there's joy in everything, but it's up to us to see it, to recognize it, and to share it. To love fearlessly. You loved without any expectation, any bounds, any fear--you just went for it. You gave with gusto and felt with your heart and weren't afraid to show it or share it. Be the best you. You weren't perfect, and you knew that, and that's what made you the best Ashley you could be. You were so self-aware, it was inspiring and something I strive to achieve. You knew exactly who you were, what your strengths were, what your flaws were, and you accepted them, you embraced them--girl, you flaunted them. You really encouraged me to be the best version of me I could be and to do things for me, not because I should or could or was expected to.
I know you're watching over me. I love you. I miss you. This is for you.
(I just went through your blog posts--it's almost like we had a sign a year ago that life could be taken from us at any moment. We went to lunch and Ashley almost saw me get T-boned driving back to the office.)