In Loving Memory

by Charise Rohm Nulsen

Jessica NolanThis post is in response to the memoir prompt from The Red Dress Club which asked us to write about a memory, to really mine it and write about what the memory meant to us.

It was a cool, grayish day at Jones Beach in October 2009. My family and I were attending The 1st Annual Brain Aneurysm Walk In Honor of Jessica Lynn Nolan, my beautiful cousin and friend.

We walked the beach boardwalk with hearts and memories heavy with the weight of missing Jessica’s vivacious and loving life. My sneakers peeked out in a clownish fashion from Jess’s bright pink miniskirt, which I wore over leggings, and the only thing that made this walk seem less than surreal at times was the sound of the slap of my unmatching sneakers on the wooden walkway.

My flip flops slapped the boardwalk as Jessica, her brother Thomas, and I prepared to climb into my uncle’s tiny boat. We were going to check the crab traps fastened in the bay behind their house. The sun glowed in an orange haze as it began its descent, and we giggled as we wobbled our way down to the boat. Little Jessica could barely get into the boat on her own, and I watched and laughed and thought of how much I loved to sleep over my cousins’ house in that way that only children can be present in a single summer moment.

I walked the boardwalk awkwardly holding an oversized cardboard poster. Jessica’s bright smile lit up from the poster, stretching from my neck to my knees. Photographers covering the Brain Aneurysm Foundation Walk snapped my picture as I sadly realized that holding a poster in memory of my cousin was the only way I would ever be photographed with her now.

My small arms grasped Baby Jessica awkwardly and proudly as I held her after her Dedication ceremony. I was so excited to have this new baby girl in my life, and I thought of how we would grow up together and how I could be a role model for her and how one day we would do girly things together like go to the mall and tell each other secrets and be in each other’s weddings.

I watched the dark, yet colorless ocean wash the shore as we walked in Jess’s honor. The sound of the small waves simultaneously offered comfort and a sense of mocking tantalization, as I thought of how much fun Jess must have had on this beach with her friends.

The dark water called out to me daringly, as I watched my friends jump into the moonlit liquid one at a time, Jessica, being one of the first. It was my bachelorette party, but I was too inhibited to join in the skinny dipping adventure. I watched Jess laugh and float in the water happily, and I felt pride and awe as I recognized the woman she had become – a person who was always up for fun and laughter and parties and joy – and I wished I could be more like her.This was almost two years to the day before the walk for Jessica.

At the end of the walk, I watched family, friends, and strangers, all equally moved by the beauty and passion of Jessica’s life, offer hugs and tears and kind words to my family members. This, too, was over and again I felt the weight of what was missing.

I looked out at a sea of nearly 800 faces belonging to family, friends, and strangers. I swallowed my grief and anxiety and tried to replace it with composure, as I tried to honor Jessica with my words at her funeral service. There was nothing about this experience that felt right or real.

Just a few days after the walk for Jessica, as I tried to shut out the newly opened wound in my heart, I received a special gift from my precious cousin and angel. I looked at the positive pregnancy test with disbelief, and I thanked Jess for her blessing. I felt hope and excitement and some peace once again.

In loving memory of Jessica Lynn Nolan, 4/30/1986 to 4/17/2009.

Please check out my other RemembeRED memoir posts:
In This Moment: A Memoir of 5 Minutes
My True Self: An Illustration

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Barbara February 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

What a beautiful tribute to your cousin. I truly got a sense of her spirit through your memories. Thank you for sharing!

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2 MamaP February 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

You captured both Jessica and your caring self beautifully.

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3 Elaine February 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm

What a lovely story about an obviously dear friend.

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4 Brenna @ Almost All The Truth February 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm

What a beautiful memory you were able to share. Beautifully written.
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5 Carrie February 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm

So sorry you lost your cousin at such a young age. Her memory is forever captured here.

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6 Jessica@ Clothdiaperingmama.com March 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I’m so sorry about your loss. What a beautiful tribute and a beautiful photo.
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7 kate hopper March 3, 2011 at 6:04 pm

What a beautiful and moving tribute to your lovely cousin. I feel so much love in this post and I love the way you wove then and now together. Really beautiful! Thank you for letting us know her through your words.

~Kate
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8 Yuliya March 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I am so sorry for your loss. But I loved the beautiful tribute to her.

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9 Natalie April 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I could not help but mourn your loss as well, your words are so poignant.
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