Living Without Paula (Dealing With the Loss Of Your Best Friend)

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In the fall of 1995, I was a sophomore at Kent State University and a member of Delta Sigma Pi.  I met Paula when she pledged my Business Fraternity. Mid semester, in a Statistics review session, we sat together and laughed and joked like we had known each other forever.  It was an instant bond.  Our bond lasted even as we moved to different cities. We found a way to stay connected, only the way best friends can. Emails, calls and visits. It was a part of my routine – check in with Paula.

While I was getting married and having children, Paula was finding Craig.  It was a short, quick romance that made her happier than I had ever seen her.  They got married and she became pregnant.  Her due date came and went and on Monday August 27, 2012 she was induced.  That afternoon, I was told by her sister that something was wrong but very little detail.  I sat on my red couch and prayed to God. I prayed harder than I ever prayed in my life. I was convinced the next time I saw her I would be furious for making me worry.

Then, I got the call.  The call that you hope never comes. “Michelle, she died.” That’s all her sister said. Two words that I couldn’t comprehend, but they changed my life forever. I remember screaming. I remember feeling the vomit rise through my throat. I don’t remember packing or even driving back to Ohio.

My first real memory after that call was meeting Mason, Paula’s son, as I walked into the NICU.  In a strange way, I felt like Mason was the only person who understood how I was feeling. He had just lost his mom – who had kept him warm for the last 9 months. I fed him, held him and cried with him.  I found out soon after that Paula had suffered an Amniotic Fluid Embolism (AFE). It’s very rare.  1 in 40,000 and it’s often fatal.

The next few months were awful. You hear about depression when you lose your spouse, your parents, or God forbid, your children. But no one prepares you for losing your best friend. My red couch became my new home. I stopped functioning as a parent and a wife. I couldn’t seem to face my new life without Paula. The funeral was the most gut-wrenching experience of my life, but that feeling seemed to linger with the following weeks and months. I remember my husband begging me to talk to someone.

I worked hard to find my new normal. To find my life without Paula. But it wasn’t working.

At Christmas, I went to visit Craig and Mason, just like I would have done if Paula were alive.  I had no idea how much that would break me. Being in Paula’s house without Paula made me face the fact that our afternoon phone calls were forever over. Our hugs and trips were never happening again. The grieving started all over again.  This was real.  Life was going on without her.  I cried the whole way home and my life on my red couch continued.

Then something happened. I was asked to help coordinate a 5K in Paula’s honor in her hometown of Clyde, Ohio. I wanted to be involved, but I wasn’t sure if I could mentally.  Turned out, that planning an event to celebrate Paula was the best therapy.  I got to talk about Paula all the time.  I got to tell her story.  I got to do it with other people who loved Paula. After months of prep, I was in a better place.  Race day was more emotional than I expected, but I managed to smile quite a bit. Every time I said my best friend’s name.  I got to see all the people who gathered to honor Paula, telling stories about her and coming together to remember her.  And just like that, I started to really breathe again.

Our first race was so successful that we made it an annual event.  In the last three years, we’ve raised $22,000 for the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation.  Planning these events and raising money in her name has been healing.  The most therapeutic thing I could ever have done. I have to laugh that even after death – Paula is still supporting me. Her memory and doing things for her is the only thing that keeps me from returning to that red couch.

A piece of my heart died with her that afternoon in a Cleveland hospital. I’ll never be the same and life will never be the same. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. But I am committed to a new life. A life without Paula. But a life of remembering her. And a life of raising awareness of AFEs. They are rare, but they happen.  We don’t know exactly why or who it will happen to next, but the AFE Foundation is doing research to answer these questions.  I ask that you visit the AFE Foundation website and read more about how you can help stop this from happening to someone you love.  www.afesupport.org

And wouldn’t you know – simply writing this blog about Paula has brought a smile to my face. And one more day off of my red couch.

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Michelle Walker

Born and raised in Ohio, Michelle moved to North Carolina after college, but will always be a Buckeye at heart. She lives with her husband and two children and their Yorkie, Brutus. Michelle spends her days teaching preschool and volunteering in her children's classrooms. She enjoys cooking, baking and never misses an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Beautiful tribute to Paula and your friendship. I didn’t realize what you went through. I think we were so overwhelmed with our own grief. This made Stan cry, but that was needed also. I understand why you and Paula were so close. Thanks Michelle!

    Jane

  • Beautifully written, filled with compassion from a woman who is beautiful inside and out, and passionate about this cause. We all are blessed, very blessed💜

  • I have now read your blog at least three times. Each time I cry for a different reason. Thank you for sharing and I send you hugs and positive energy as you continue down your journey to finding your new normal. Love you, friend.

  • Absolutely beautiful! Paula was a classmate of my sister, but I knew her when I was a manager for the basketball team and was a year behind Kristi. Your blog undoubtedly expresses the impact that Paula had on the lives of many. I praise God that you have found a place of joy in the tragedy because one thing I am sure of, Paula would not want her friends and family living on the couch. Thank you for sharing your heart and your story. I was in tears while reading as I was reliving my own experience in learning of her death. I was pregnant with my own daughter. She was born on Paul’s birthday. We celebrate her life every year, right along with Paula’s. Her life is one that truly should be celebrated!

  • Beautifully captured Michelle! You and Paula were lucky to have such a loving and supportive relationship. I am glad that you have found strength through raising awareness about AFE.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Michelle your story is my story except it was my sister! I went through EVERYTHING you described! It’s been almost 12 years and I will never get over this loss!

    Thank you for sharing on behalf of all AFE survivors and family’s of those who did not!

  • As I sit here with tears running done my cheeks I can only say just how much I love you Michelle. No one knows how much you went through! I am so proud of the woman you are. God has a plan for each and everyone of us!! Paula will live on through you!

  • Paula was a classmate of mine. She was a truthful friend. Honestly no we didn’t keep in touch after high school along with a lot of others. But connected again thru Facebook, I’d talk to her every now and then. And when she announced that her and Craig were expecting I was thrilled for her and Craig. But then tragic happened. I wondered if she ever did get to see her son mason? But I know she’s his angel mommy now and is always with him. And I bet Craig’s new wife will be a lovely mother to him. Paula would have wanted that. Who knows maybe Paula sent her to Craig and Mason?? But not a day goes by I don’t think if my friend and I love seeing pics of Mason he’s such a cutie. Paula would be proud.

  • A beautiful tribute by a wonderful friend. How lucky you were to have such a friendship - they are very few and far between. Cherish the memories:)

  • Touching story. Especially after just losing my father a month ago. Makes me look at his loss differently and how I can learn to live the rest of my life without him in it by sharing our stories and memories. Thanks for sharing!

  • Beautiful story Michelle. You are a strong woman and I am sure your family and Paula’s family is so proud of you. It is amazing that you are carrying on error legacy for her and her family. Keep spreading the word about AFE.

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