10 years ago today…my life changed — why I don’t let money get in the way of life

oklahoma city

Oklahoma City Memorial

There’s been a lot of talk this week about all the American tragedies that occurred in the month of April. Events like Columbine, Oklahoma City bombing, and Virginia Tech shooting come to mind. We all remember where we were at that moment in history when we heard the news of destruction and lives lost. Now, we’ll add the Boston Marathon to the list.

During moments of national tragedy, we all pause aghast at the images we witness on television. We then grieve. Finally, we unite and rally for the victims. These events paralyze us for a few days. Newtown perhaps paralyzed America for a few weeks because so many children were lost in a senseless crime.

When I witness a tragedy like this, I am lost for words. The tears flow freely when I hear the families of victims speaking about their unthinkable loss. Their grief is often raw and palpable as they try to speak through heavy breaths. Their thoughts often rambling. It’s a moment I know all too well.

megs pixEvery tragedy makes me relive my own personal tragedy. It’s hard to believe it was ten years ago today that a senseless crime took my sister. I know how those families who lost loved ones in Boston and Newtown feel. I felt it too.

In the early morning hours, I was learning the details of what happened from my friends back in Connecticut who were watching the news. Ten years ago, there wasn’t Facebook or Twitter. News didn’t spread like it does today. When I arrived home, and pulled up to the accident site I saw a news photographer. The accident wasn’t on the scope of these national tragedies, but the accident impacted several families and the emotion rippled through two very small communities.

Unlike these national tragedies, the headlines didn’t last long. They came and went over the years as the trial ensued, but people went on with their lives in a few days. It may be hard to believe now, but soon we’ll move on from Boston. That’s the hardest part about losing someone. The families who lost loved ones will never move on. Their journey is just beginning.

megs coverMy journey through grief is ten years old today. I’ve been through a lot, and worked hard to get to this point emotionally. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Megs and all I’ve lost. The pain is too difficult to bear some days. The hole in my heart is still there. The wound has scabbed over, but some days it still bleeds. I have good days and bad days. I had many bad days after the Newtown shooting because of the senseless nature of the crime, the innocence of those children, and the bravery of those teachers. I thought of my sister who was just like those young teachers killed. She was a month away from being a teacher, and was busy interviewing for jobs in April of 2003. Then, it was all taken from her.

Salve Regina University held a memorial service soon after the accident. It was hard to walk back on campus, after cleaning out her dorm room.  She was a typical college student going about her life preparing for exams and job interviews. It was hard to see that room frozen in time knowing Megs would never return. Going back to Salve wasn’t easy until I met her students. Megs was student teaching at the time, and it was her students who taught me how to laugh again. They told funny stories about activities they did with Megs, and how they loved her hair. I’ll never forget those brave second graders standing up in front of a room full of college seniors and adults. 

megs college tennis134Those students are now graduating high school. They still remember Megs, and that means so much to my family. A few recently attended the tennis tournament held every year in honor of my sister. It’s hard to believe those little kids are graduating. For them to take time out of their busy lives to remember and honor their student teacher is more meaningful than words could ever explain. My sister didn’t get long to teach in a classroom, but it’s apparent she touched many lives in her short time.

Life is short. We need to make the most of each and every day because we never know when it will be our last. That’s hard to do with all the craziness that life throws us, but you need to find a way to do it.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

I’ve been living life to the fullest this past year. I got married in August. It was a day I dreaded since my sister was killed. How could I get married without her? I posed that question to myself many times. I did it, and I had the best person I could think of by my side walking me down the aisle. My sister’s boyfriend walked me down the aisle. He’s become a brother to me.

If only Megs’ knew how much Kevin and his family are a part of our family. I know she’s watching and cracking up at it. She pushed me from the beginning of their relationship to get to know Kevin. When she was in South Bend, she had me talk to him on the phone. When I came home to CT, she made sure we all went out together. I remember her saying to me afterward, “Isn’t he great?” He is great Megs and he’s a gift from you.

Hot air balloon ride, Queenstown, New Zealand

Hot air balloon ride, Queenstown, New Zealand

As if getting married wasn’t enough, my husband and I decided to take a trip to New Zealand. We wanted to take a second trip of a lifetime. It was exhilirating, breathtaking, and enjoyable. We did things we’ve always wanted to do. My sister and I used to chase hot air balloons with our family during festivals. So, we took a hot air balloon ride. It truly was a trip we’ll always cherish.

mickey mouse jenn megs089Why did we do this? New Zealand was definitely a bucket list trip. We did it because we believe you have to live life to the fullest. You can’t let money get in the way of life. For those of you who follow my blog, you’ve heard me say that the past few years. Growing up, we let money get in the way of life. One of my fondest memories is taking a trip to Disney World when I was in second grade.  Megs and I had a blast. I still vividly remember details of that vacation as if it were yesterday.

In college, I went to London to study for a semester and there was a lot of discussion about my mom and sister coming to visit. It didn’t happen because of money. My parents put four children through private school so I don’t fault them one bit. They had tough choices to make. I can tell you, though, that decision to not come to London was a lost memory and one I know we all wish we had.

I’m not suggesting you go spend money in a foolish fashion. After all, I spend the entire year helping you save money. This is the one time of the year I’ll remind you to take that savings you’ve created and use it for a good cause. If you’re smart with your money throughout the year, you might have a little extra. Do something with it that will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Plan something or do something spontaneous. Just a few weeks ago, I took spontaneity to a whole new level. The last time I saw my sister alive was during the semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament when Syracuse beat Texas to go on to the Championship Game. My sister drove from Newport to Syracuse in an ice storm to meet up with my friends and I. Megs was loved by all my college friends, and she loved to visit. When she was still in high school, she’d write me letters begging me to come up to visit. I found those in a box recently and they brought a smile to my face. So, she was determined to visit for the Final Four. I’m so glad she did because she was killed two weeks later.

This year, ten years later, when Syracuse was once again made it to the Final Four I knew I had to go. Plus, it was in Atlanta which is the new home of Kevin. There was simply too much symbolism to pass up the trip. For a day or so, I regretted booking the trip because I worried about money. Then I remembered why I was making the trip. It was another bucket list item. My husband told me to stop worrying about money, and I went to Atlanta and had a great time! I got lucky and found some great deals so it wasn’t even that big of an expense. My team didn’t win, but I won in the game of life!

megs and jennI’ve been creating lots of memories with my husband this year. I couldn’t think of a more perfect year. Perhaps that’s the good that’s come out of such a horrible situation. What memories are you going to create for your family this year? Do something in honor of Megs!

Related links you may like:
Don’t let money get in the way of life part 1
Don’t let money get in the way of life part 2

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12 responses to “10 years ago today…my life changed — why I don’t let money get in the way of life

  1. Mike Mancini

    Very well written!! I think of your sister and family often. I go home to visit just about every weekend and sometimes I drive through our old neighborhood. Whenever I go by your house I think of all the times my brother and I spent at your house, watching you and Megs grow up…it’s surreal sometimes. I am grateful for all of the times shared with your family and those memories will never fade.

  2. What a beautiful, well written piece. Your sister was an amazing person.

  3. Michael Butler

    I never had the honor of knowing your sister, but it still made me cry. What an incredibly well written and insightful story. I think your sister would be smiling with pride at how much you understand what is important in life. I’m certainly proud to know you and thankful for the valuable reminder you have shared.

  4. Jenn….you,your Mom and Meg are in my heart forever….

  5. Emily gorman

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. It sounds like she was loved by many.

  6. Beautiful said.

  7. Linda Harold

    Your story made me cry and think of how I’d feel if I ever lost one of my three sisters. I’m sorry you had to go through such pain and hope that eventually time will heal the hurt. Sounds to me like she is reaching out to you through your thoughts and letting you know she’s alright and for you to not be sad. You had the feeling of needing to be at that game for a reason – and I think that reason was Megs telling you to go and have fun. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story of Megs. She lives on!

  8. Kathy Cordone

    I love the Disney World picture because it brings me back to when you, and later Meghan, were in my third grade class. You loved to write stories and what an accomplished writer you have become! This is such a wonderful tribute to your sister and your heartfelt words brought tears to my eyes as I’m sure those words did to so many others. You certainly are living life to the fullest for both of you.

  9. Mary Lou Fitzpatrick

    That was a wonderful story, so beautifully written. It brought back so many memories of you and Meghan and all the fun we used to have with our two families together. I think of Meghan all the time, she’s still in my thoughts and in my heart. Kerri still misses her terribly, can’t even talk about Meghan in front of her as she gets very sad. Life goes on but the people we have lost in our lives live on in our hearts forever.

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