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.