Friday, December 23, 2016

Reflecting on real purpose

If I had a dollar for every time I have shared this story, 
I probably wouldn't have a bath bomb factory in my mother's dining room right now. 

I grew to resent this story for a long time.
It came to a point where I would be asked about myself and what I was up to and I would literally roll my eyes and huff and puff over it. 
My mom would be left to answer the harmless question. 
It was the same story. 
It became rehearsed.
I joked that I should just type it up and hand it out. 

This is my story that I have chosen to share with you.
It is very special and dear to me.
It is very raw. It is very deep. 

I have to take you way back for a moment.

When I was 12, my mom signed me up for Camp Cadet. 
Various PSP (Pennsylvania State Police) Troops put on a week-long camp every summer for 12-14 year olds to educate them on law enforcement and to create a positive relationship. 
It also establishes respect, self-discipline, self-motivation, working as a team, etc.
There are no phones, no contact with family, a lot of running and team-building exercises, a mock crime, mock trial to follow, and a lot of lectures from different community members that are all a part of the judicial system. 
It is not a camp designed for "bad" or troubled kids. I have to say that because I feel like it is easy for anyone to assume that it is. You hear "camp for kids put on by the State Police" and... yeah. It's not for "bad" kids. 

So, anyways. My mom heard about it, she thought it sounded neat, and she signed me up. 
It was a miserable thing to be 12 and awake to the sound of a horn, having less than 5 minutes to pull it together and be outside for a group run.
Running was followed by push-ups, screaming, standing in the same place staring at the same wall for 10 minutes. 
And, it was the dead of summer. My least enjoyable season. 

At the end of the week, I decided that someday I would be a Pennsylvania State Trooper.
The calling came to me very blatantly and I am so grateful that from that week on I knew what I wanted to do with my life. 
11 years later, I signed myself up for the real deal.  

December 14, 2015.
My first day at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. 
This was also my mom's 44th birthday and my brother's 15th birthday. 
I did it. I followed through. I chased my dream to Hershey, PA. I was in the final, toughest, realest phase of becoming a Trooper.
After this, I would have the gray shirt, the badge, the hat, and the honor of the whole thing to boot. 
I was so happy to be there.
Yes, I bawled when I called home at night. I was totally homesick. 
And yet, I was so happy to be there. I felt so grateful and so special. 
So many kids, teenagers, and adults aspire to make it to that place and ultimately become a Trooper.
I was there.
Everyday was surreal for me. 

Come January, I was in the swing of things. 
We were deep into our academics.
We spent hours mastering our firearms.
My body was in it's best shape. 
We were getting close to hanging our blues to put on the gray shirts.
I squealed at the thought of that and still do.
Training was passing by quickly. 
The days were dwindling down to June 17 when we would officially become Pennsylvania State Troopers.
At this same time, there was a full-blown investigation going on at the Academy. 
There were cheating allegations. 
With that being said, one of our sergeants unexpectedly sent my class home on January 22.
His reasoning was to separate my class from the class that was being investigated for cheating. He didn't want this to trickle down to us. 
This was very unusual, very unheard of, and very exciting for all of us. 
We were all preparing for a duty weekend at the Academy and now? We're going home!
There were tears shed. Even by some of the guys. This was a big deal.

I remember bawling at any given moment the entire trip from Hershey to DuBois. 
I was supposed to be home the weekend prior, but I failed a test and got held over.
I had been devastated, heartbroken, and extremely disappointed and angry with myself.
I missed my brother's first high school dance. 
Now, it would be okay and I could put that behind me.
I was getting to go home and see everyone and it was going to give me the push I needed to continue on. 

I met my mom and Kyle at Station 101, a local restaurant.
I got in later than expected because my jeep broke down twice on my drive home and then once I got going, a huge snow storm blew in. It was some time after 9pm. 

I wanted to call Kyle's parents so badly. 
They were in Lock Haven as his dad was going to run the "Frozen Snot" the next morning.
Kyle suggested that we just keep it a secret that I was home and let his parents be surprised to see me the next day when they came back.

So the next day came. 
January 23, 2016. 
I woke up still in disbelief that I was home.
It was pure euphoria.
I took a selfie on the couch with Kyle around 9am and I captioned it "All is well with my soul". 
And it really was.
My plan was moving just as I had envisioned it. 

Sometime in the late morning/early afternoon, Kyle and I went to my Dad's to visit. 
My aunt rushed in from Pittsburgh on short notice to see me. 
I was making my best attempt at seeing everyone I could before I had to go back. 
We were at my Dad's for maybe 30 minutes when Kyle's mom called.
She asked him to sit down. 

"Your dad died during his race". 

I heard the words, but I didn't believe them.
As soon as Kyle got off the phone, he repeated the news to me.
I told him that he heard his mom wrong and it was not his dad that had died, but maybe his grandpa. It wasn't that I wished for that, but in being honest here with myself and with you, that would have been easier for me to comprehend. 
Let me just add here too: I am not at all placing greater value on Dave's life than I am Papa Bish's life. What I am saying is that we are more inclined to accept an expected, "timely" death than we are the opposite. This was the case here. Papa had been recently diagnosed with cancer so in hearing this news, I was convincing myself that it was probably him we lost. Not Dave. Kyle must have heard Lori wrong over the phone.
This was what my brain did to protect itself for the time being. 

Total denial.
Total shock.
I stared off. I was in a trance. 
I was trying to bring my thoughts together, wondering aimlessly at how this could even be? 
I remember seeing the horror on my dad's face. 
He just stood there feeling helpless and just as in shock as we were.
And then this dawned on me: I am not supposed to be here right now.
Yet, here I am.

I went in the other room to call Kyle's mom because part of me didn't believe what she or Kyle had just said. Part of me needed to hear it again.
She didn't answer. 

I went back into the living room with Kyle and sat at his feet. 
I cried so hard I stopped breathing. 
The thought of never seeing or hearing Dave again had overwhelmed my body. 
Kyle remained calm, hugging and kissing me and telling me that we were going to be okay. 
I pulled myself off of the floor, stopped crying, and
I immediately decided that I could not and would not be going back to the Academy. 
I was pacing the kitchen with my hands on top of my head.
My aunt was attempting to talk some sense into me. 
I could see her, I could hear her.
I was not listening. 

I asked Kyle what he would like to do and he very simply wanted to go home.
Lori had not yet told Kyle's three younger siblings the news and asked that he just keep it quiet for right now as two of them were hours away. 
I drove us back to his house, bawling.
He was calm and stone-like in the passenger seat. 
He stared blankly out the window. 
I had so much fear in my heart for him.
I was bawling for that. For fear. 
I was still denying that Dave could be gone. I was anticipating that this was all somehow a misunderstanding and I fiercely hoped that nobody had died. 
Please let this be a nightmare, please let this be a nightmare. 

We returned to the empty Bish house. Slowly, it filled. People flooded in and stood around.
The air remained quiet. Eyes were distant and lost. 
We were all waiting for Lori to get back from Lock Haven.  

We met her in the driveway along with close friends that ran with Dave earlier. 
These friends that had just hovered over him and tried to keep him here with us while they begged and pleaded with God and performed CPR. 
Those accounts came later, I think. But when I recall seeing them that day, I know why they too seemed calm and stone-like.

It all felt like a movie. 
A horrifying, tragic film in slow motion. 

Lori came inside and exclaimed to Dave that she was going to tear up the carpets now that he was not there to stop her.
She laughed.
We laughed. 
And so the amazing effects of shock and denial enveloped her too. 

Here I was. 
I was not supposed to be. 
That thought circled around in my head the remainder of the day as we consoled each other and made all of the necessary arrangements. 
Why and how am I here right now? 
Lori and many others thought that I received the news while at the Academy and was sent home for this. 
Truthfully, had I been at the Academy as I was scheduled to be, I would not have been permitted to come home as Dave was not an immediate family member to me

Wrapping my head around Dave being gone was impossible. 
My heart hurt.
I had every intention of this man being the grandfather to my children someday.
I needed his wisdom, his teaching, his leadership.
He was only beginning to have his hands in on molding my faith. 
And then I felt selfish. I felt guilty.

If I felt this broken, how was Lori feeling? This was her life partner, her best friend, and her security.
How were Kyle, Braden, Bevan, and Jocelyn feeling? This was their dad. A funny, goofy, light-hearted, witty, intelligent, do-anything-for-you-and-with-you Dad.
He was that kind of guy for anybody that wanted him to be.
He just loved people.
How was our church feeling? These thousands of people that looked to Dave as their guide to faith in his pastoring. What was going to happen to our church?
How was his dad feeling? His sisters and his brother? They have had him and known him their entire lives. If I feel this way after knowing him for less than one year, I can't even begin to imagine how they feel. 
I felt really guilty for thinking about myself at all when I weighed all of these people in Dave's life on my heart. 

I have a blessing and a curse of being able to literally and physically feel pain of others.
I don't always understand the pain or even relate to it, but I can feel it. 
There were several times that first night that my body rushed with that feeling.
Pain. Actual pain. Unbearable, unspeakable pain
I removed myself from everybody and went upstairs to unleash it all.

I fell face first onto a bed.
I bawled.
I screamed.
I sobbed.
I thrashed around.
I grunted. 
My stomach was in knots and my head was pounding.

Here I was with all of these people that I loved so dearly. 
In just 24 hours, I would have to leave them in this mess of loss. 
I would have to return to the Academy with 30 minutes out of each day to have contact with them.
How was I ever going to do that?

Everyone distracted themselves from mourning by making it a mission to convince me that I would be going back to training and I would be graduating in June. There would be no exceptions. 
Nobody was going to allow me to tap out of this. 
"Dave wouldn't want you to", they would say. 
I was not worried about Dave. 

I was worried about Lori.
I was worried about Kyle.
I worried for everyone else hurting.
I was worried about my mom worrying herself about me.
I could not stomach the thought of not being there for what they were all about to go through. 
I had no real plan of how I was going to be of any service to them, but I knew I didn't want to be away from them.

The next morning came.
January 24, 2016. 
I still felt sick. Sleep deprived. Anxious. 
I woke up in Lori's bed holding her hands. 
Here I was, my heavy head on Dave's pillow.
It smelled like him. 
Day 1 without Dave. The earth still felt still. 
I laid there and reflected on the last 24 hours for Dave and Lori. I could imagine her kissing him goodbye and wishing him good luck on his outdoor adventure. 
He had just recently returned from the trip of his lifetime from Israel. 
All was well with his and Lori's souls, too. 
In the blink of an eye, everything had just changed. Never to be the same again. 
My heart ached for her. I squeezed her hands. 

Later on,
I was sitting at the table observing everybody crowded in the kitchen as they took turns plating food. I was trembling watching the clock tick away to the time I would have to leave to go back to Hershey. 
Everyone had successfully convinced me I would. I still didn't want to go and had no idea how I would possibly get through pulling out of the driveway let alone being at the Academy. 

My phone sounded.
I answered.
"Hello, Cadet Scarnati?"
Um, yes?
"This is Cadet so-and-so at the Academy. Due to the winter storm you don't have to report back to training until tomorrow at such-and-such time". 

I thought I was being pranked.
Again, let me emphasize this. 

Naturally, I hiked into another room and plopped down to bawl. 
Another how-is-this-even-happening? moment.
I am not even supposed to be here to begin with and now I get one more night? 

I took this extra, unexpected time for all it was worth.
Now, Monday was the thing of dread.

At some point, I went with the family to the funeral home.
We sat around a table listening to the plans, throwing in ideas for the obituary.
We all seemed to have the same blank expression on our faces.
If I had to guess... The general thought was this:
"What are we doing here? How is this happening?"

Then it was time to go see Dave.
His body was not yet prepared for the viewing that they would all be having the following Tuesday. Lori felt that it was absolutely necessary that I see him one last time as I would be at the Academy when everyone else formally viewed him. 
We all did it together. 

The door opened and there was his body. On a skinny, metal table. All but his face was covered with a white sheet. 
It was evident to me, immediately, that this was not Dave.
This was Dave's body.
Painful, nonetheless.
The shell of what he left behind here; the rugged, temporary home for his soul. 

We quietly sobbed together around him.
Kyle held his grandfather in one arm and me in the other.
I vividly remember my forehead touching Papa's and holding onto his hand so tightly.
The man that raised Dave Bish and the man Dave Bish raised. Both of their touches comforted me greatly in that moment. 
Papa nor I would look at Dave after that initial entrance. 
It was unbearable. We buried our faces into Kyle's chest and wept quietly.

When we left we all felt relieved that we had that moment behind us.
We went back to the house where Lori realized she hadn't given the funeral home clothes for the formal viewing on Tuesday. We picked out the most "Dave" outfit we could. 
Black and red plaid flannel, of course. Worn, lightly faded jeans.

For whatever reason, I volunteered to take them for her.
I went back into that room. I felt braver this time. 
I stood by and watched Jeff modestly dress him.
He gently combed his facial hair. 
He sat his glasses upon the bridge of his nose and tucked them behind his ears.
He was ready now.
Not Dave. Just Dave's body.

I drove the 3 hours back to the Academy slumped over my steering wheel.
Snot down my face and neck.
This is grief physically manifested. 
I gasped for air.
I rubbed my swollen, red eyes.
It was unusually sunny that day.
There was sparkling snow on the ground, and the sun was absolutely blinding.

Before I knew it, I was back.
I now needed to put my best game face on and handle my business.
This was going to be a true test of my training and my composure. 
This was going to force me to look deep within myself for strength and perseverance in a way that I had never sought it before.

I turned into an absolute zombie.  
I did the workouts.
I sat through lectures. I took notes.
I ironed my uniform, I made my bed, I cleaned my firearm.
I ate.
I spoke.
I studied.
I ran. I swam. 

I was rolling right through the motions.
My body was there. My heart was at home.
I was doing everything demanded of me, but my passion was no longer in it. 
The spark of excitement and enthusiasm of becoming a Trooper had been buried deep within me. 
This all became noticed very quickly.

I told several fellow Cadets that I no longer wanted to be there.
They sensed the cold, blank state that I was under.
I had their support entirely.
My family and friends were not there to keep the sense talked into me. 
Without many of those people I went through training with, I would have quit. Truly.
Tuesday night I spoke on the phone with Kyle, my mom, and Lori. They all took turns stepping out of the viewing area to talk to me between 8:00 and 8:30pm. 
After returning my powered-down phone to it's rightful place and walking back to the female dormitory, I was done. I had enough. 
I decided that I did not need to be there right now and I wanted to go home.
I didn't care. 

After hours, there is typically one Trooper on duty at the Academy.
The "CQ" or Charge of Quarters. The CQ oversees all of the cadets after regular hours and is the first contact for any issues or concerns. 
This Tuesday night, while everyone at home was viewing Dave and consoling one another, Cpl. Richards consoled me.
He, like most of them, has a tough exterior and a commanding personality, yet is very human and very real.
I slugged myself up to his office with way more issues than he was ready to handle.
Even he would tell you that.

I sat down. 
I began to bawl.
Every emotion I held in that day came out. 
I was trying so desperately to convey to him what the problem was.
He couldn't understand me.
He handed me tissues. He leaned forward and waited.
I told him everything.
I told him that I couldn't focus. I didn't want to be there. I wasn't doing myself or anyone else any favors, and that I wanted to go home.

Understand this: "going home" meant quitting.
Once you quit the Academy, there is never another chance of returning. You get one shot. That's it.
It doesn't matter what your reasoning is. 
It doesn't matter what's going on at home.
If you quit, you're done. 

Instead of saying, "Don't quit" or "Oh okay let's do the paperwork and you can go home"...
He said, 
"Well. I am not trained for this. I don't even know what to tell you. I'm really sorry for your loss. I am going to get in contact with Sgt. Duffy. He will know how to help you. He's trained for this. He won't be here until tomorrow, though. In the mean time, Scarnati, what would Dave want you to do?".

Yeah. You can just imagine what I did when he said that.
Puddles, I swear. 
Here I was. 
Training to become a Trooper.
I had many ideas of how I would be out there with that uniform on, 
How I would carry myself, how I would behave and speak.
I had many plans. Many preparations. Excellent training.
But this?
This was something I hadn't thought about much. This is what they can't train us for:
Confronting people that we barely know and being the face and beginning of unimaginable grief for them.
Cpl. Richards wasn't trained to get me through this. He wasn't in a place to tell me what to do.
He was only there to listen and to help by calling somebody else.
The last thing he wanted was to see me walk out of there and throw all of this away.

What a lesson for me to take in. 
This was a lesson I otherwise may not have had if it weren't for Dave's untimely death. 

I returned back to my room.
I felt better knowing that somebody other than my peers knew what I was experiencing and had my back.
I felt great support and love in a place that isn't designed for such things.
Cpl. Richards gave me enough assurance to get through the night. 
The next day I was pulled out of lunch and taken into an office with Sgt. Duffy.
He told me many things. He encouraged me in many ways. He prayed with me and for me.
Can you imagine that?
Little, 120 lb., broken and defeated me, sitting knee-to-knee with this intimidating guy that had screamed in my face and pushed me to work harder at any given moment.
Not only a Trooper, a sergeant. Before all of that, he is a human. And here he sits, praying for my troubled heart.
The most memorable thing he said to me was this, "I knew the day you reported here, your very first day, that you were one tough chick. I could sense it. I knew without a doubt that you would be just fine here and that someday you were going to make one hell of a Trooper. It took a lot of guts for you to come sit here and say you have a problem." 

My. Heart. 
He, just like Cpl. Richards, gave me hope to hold onto and something to get me through.
I continued my zombie-like state for the rest of the week.
The weekend ahead was a scheduled weekend off.
This meant I would be going home as planned with the rest of my class.
While they would all be enjoying family and dealing with stresses of their own, I would be celebrating the life and mourning the death of Dave Bish alongside his dear, heartbroken family.

When Sunday evening fell and it was yet again time to go back, I detested. 
I couldn't leave Kyle.
I knew the worst of all of this was yet to come.
The realization and acceptance that Dave was gone. That hadn't set in yet. 
For any of us. 
I had a tougher time going back the second weekend. I didn't know the next time I would see anybody. 

This man, who invited me into this family and just had his 26th birthday five days after losing his father, cradled me and prayed over me in his mother's bed.
He begged and pleaded with God to get me through.
He assured me that although he couldn't be with me at training, Jesus could. 
I sobbed to the point of exhaustion. 
He picked my lifeless body up and sat me upright so that I would breathe. 
This is his faith. 
That is his strength. 

I went downstairs and looked into the other faces I longed to stay with. 
I crawled into Joelle's arms and melted again. 
She held me and loved me. 
And then everyone said, "Ok. Goodbye. You can't stay here. Go". 
And that, too, was love.

So off I went.
I wasn't allowed to quit. 
I wasn't allowed to lay down and give up. 

In the following weeks, I clouded into a spiritual high.
I felt that my purpose was in line. I rested my trust and my plans in God's hands.
Really, I think, for the first time in my life. 
It was a genuine trust. I knew that He had just worked through the people I love to pull me through this and I felt as though I was standing on a mountaintop. 

I felt that I had overcome something so unthinkable and that I would be capable of anything moving forward.
I knew this was going to effect me as a Trooper and that I would be better now because of everything I had just endured.
I had fought temptation, and I had overcome it. 
I was smiling when I went to bed every night.
I was high, I'm telling you. Spiritually high.
I talked to God during my workouts. 
I talked to Him on my morning runs in the dark, snowy hills of Hershey. 
I thanked Him. Unrelentingly. 

I was ready for this
The days ticked by. 
When I or somebody else was having a worse day than usual, I would say, 
"Hey. June is coming. They can do a lot of things to us here but they can't stop June from coming!"
I was in a really good place again.
My broken heart was scarring and the wound that had slashed it no longer spewed.
I believed Kyle's words from that very first day: "We are going to be okay". 
I never returned to same good place I had been in before Dave passed, but I was in a new, good place. 
I had grown. 

February 15 rolled around. Another day.
The same routine. 
I went down to the gym in the evening to bench press.
It is required of us to be able to do 1 repetition on the bench press with 85 percent of our body weight by our graduation date.
At the time, this meant 100 lbs. 
I was slowly increasing my weight and my strength to achieve that. 
On this particular night, I decided I better up the weights.
I was lifting 65 lbs. I shot for 70. 
When I lifted the bar and brought it back down, I felt something
I don't recall what I felt. I know it didn't hurt.
I may not have even remembered this incident if it hadn't been for the phone conversation with my mom a few hours later. 
I think I did something to my shoulder.
I moved forward. I didn't give it much attention or thought.
The next few days, it got worse.
I was in the "tank" (swimming pool) when I noticed pain and weakness.
I could barely use my left arm. It was like a noodle. No strength. 
I got pulled from the workout, and screamed at. 
I got back in and went for it. Being wounded is the most important time to fight. 
It continued to worsen.
By the following week, I was carrying an ice pack everywhere and popping Vicodin. 
Injuries at the Academy are not a surprise. At any given time, somebody has an ice pack, a wrapped up foot, a limp, tissues stuffed up his/her bloody, swollen nose. 
The physical aspect of training is so demanding and so rigorous that these kinds of things just happen. They come with the territory. 
Usually these injuries are treatable and temporary. Sometimes, they send us home. 

The Academy doctor sent me for an MRI. He suspected a tear. Nothing showed.
My pain was worsening. 
A physical therapist came and evaluated me. 
He, too, suspected a tear in my shoulder, but he didn't want to come to conclusions. 
Before long, I was no longer participating in workouts. I was not going on morning runs. I was not swimming. 
I couldn't concentrate in lectures (which consumes most of the days) because I was either in so much pain or I was drugged and delirious. 
I remember being on the shooting range. I was all bundled up and standing by watching my platoon target practice. 
I couldn't even hold my firearm.
I had a "snood" pulled up over my mouth and nose because the wind was so wicked down there. Tears rolled down my cheeks and froze. I was surrounded by everyone yet I was alone.
I knew what was coming.

Then, the morning of February 29, 2016 came.
I was preparing to put my duty belt on to serve on desk duty and I couldn't reach around my body to wrap it around. 
I was high. No longer spiritually. I was now high. Very high. On narcotics. 
They were prescribed to me for the pain. 
They were playing on me and taking their toll. 
I didn't care about anything.
I didn't want to do anything.
I didn't want to talk or listen. 
I just wanted to lay in bed with an ice pack and be high. 
Otherwise, the pain was too much. 
I had the physical pain of my injury, and now the emotional pain at the thought of going home. 

My roommate, Deanna Miletta, was at the Academy for the second time.
We had grown very close. 
A few years back, she graduated and became a Pennsylvania State Trooper. 
Instead of embarking on her career right out of the Academy as intended, she was held there for two more months post-graduation due to a vicious shoulder injury.
She couldn't bench press the required weight. 
There were disagreements between higher-ups on whether to let her go or not.
In the mean time, she sat stagnant. Waiting.
She kept trying. 
It got worse. 
The ultimate decision was that she would have to leave, be treated for her injury, and start over in the future.

Can you even imagine?
So here I was. 
Sharing this little room with this 5'0" girl, full of spunk and determination. And heart. A lot of heart.
She is older than me, and at this time stronger and wiser than me, too. 
She was bawling on her bed at the sight of me. 
She saw herself all over again. 
She also knew how much I had just endured. 
And seriously? Now this? This is going to be the demise of me here?

She knew what kind of journey I had ahead of myself for she walked the same path not so long ago. 

I went down to the doctor's office and sat with him and the nurse.
They felt helpless and sorry for me.
It's not up to them to tell me I should resign, so I said the words.
I'm done.
I threw in the towel.
I knew that whatever was wrong with me was not going to get better there and that I was only holding myself and others back. 
I made that embarrassing, heart-wrenching phone call to my mom.
She left work and came immediately to get me. My grandma and Kyle accompanied her.

As I packed my personal things, Academy employees came to collect my state-issued items.
My firearm.
My uniforms.
My hats.
My identification tags. 
My duty belt.
The very boots on my feet. 
All of these things that had become a part of me for the last 11 weeks.
They were mine and would be going out there with me to face the world.
Not anymore.
I handed over my identity and my dignity that day. 

My mom was sickened at the sight of me when she picked me up.
I was underweight. 
I was on Vicodin and Percocet. Visibly not my high energy, happy self. 
I was pale. 
I was lost.
I took a picture of myself that day. There was no light in my eyes. 
The three of them didn't know what to say to me.
I was lashing out. I was angry, crying, taking everything out on the people who loved me most. That's a common theme I find. We hurt those closest to us.
My mom always tells me it's because I know she will still love me the next day. 
She did. 

When I got home, I was no longer wanting to be there.
That feeling of wanting to be home with everybody had surpassed. 
I now wanted to be at the Academy and absolutely no where else.
I made that be very known, unfortunately. 

I barricaded myself at the Bish house during the day while my mom was at work.
When my mom was home, she sat on the floor with me while I drank wine and colored. 
That's all I felt like doing. 
I was trying to dig myself out of this grave that I had crawled into.
I was unsuccessful. 
I was now faced with my own grief and mourning over Dave that I was forced to set aside for training.
On top of mourning the loss of Dave, I also had to mourn the loss of my dream. 
Yes, I could go back and I could still someday be a Trooper.
At this time, that did not matter. It was too far away and too difficult to imagine.
Right now I was broken. 
Actually, I was completely shattered. 

The only times I smiled and laughed in that first week home was when Deanna called.
I waited anxiously for her phone call every evening. 
She was the only person that truly knew what I was feeling and how badly I was hurting.
My family and friends were amazing at loving me and supporting me, but she actually knew.
She also kept me updated on Academy life and for a few minutes I could close my eyes and pretend that I was still there. 

Within a day or two of coming home, my mom took me to see Dr. J.
My gifted, trusted friend and chiropractor.
She immediately could feel that my first rib was rolled out of place. This was causing the excruciating pain through my neck and back and shoulder. 
This was the reason I was hitting the wine.

She body slammed it back in. 
This alleviated so much of my pain and frustration. 
Something still wasn't right.
I visited specialists. They manipulated my arm and asked me a ton of questions.
I went to physical therapy.
I continued to see Dr. J. 
I had X-Rays. MRI's. MRI's with contrast. More consultations. 
I accepted a shot of cortisone to try to rule out a tear. 
Nothing. It persisted. I wasn't gaining strength at PT. I was feeling weaker and weaker. 
I still had no answer as to what was wrong with my shoulder.
It came down to taking a chance on surgery to see if there was something there that wasn't showing up on any of the tests.
Dr. Spencer suspected a tear as all of the others had, but couldn't say it with certainty. 
So surgery it was.

When he finished my surgery, he told my mom that I had popped out a piece of my labrum. 
He said that I definitely had to have felt that whenever it may have happened.
Now it was fixed and so the journey of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing began. 

A month later my uncle died.
This loss did not shake me deeply but it certainly affected me.
It affected my family. 
Three days later, my sister died.
I was in the midst of great loss and the ending of seasons in my family.
And here I was.

Now for the mental and physical preparation of returning to that place.
That place where I was torn down, built back up, and torn again. 
Somehow, I love it there. 
When I'm asked if I am ready to go back I often tell people, "Of course I am ready. I left my heart in Hershey and it's time to go and get it". 

I seem to leave my heart in a lot of places.
I always go back for it.
I polish off and I hold it close until it's next adventure.

You see, all of this had great purpose. 
It has taken the last year for me to really come to terms with that. 
There's an old quote that I really love.
"It's not about how many times you've been knocked down. What counts is how many times you stood back up". 

Do I believe that Dave died so that I, Kelly Scarnati, could learn a lesson or two? 
Absolutely not.
We never know why somebody like Dave leaves us at the prime of his life.
Somebody so great and so inspiring who seemingly does life "the right way". 
I'll never fully understand why my sister came into this world to be tormented with health problems for 25 years and then leave. 
I'll never understand why my uncle had a horrific accident followed by a vicious disease and suffered greatly until the end. 
Were they here to serve as lessons to all of us? No. In their deaths, we chose to take lessons.
I believe that in Dave's death, I chose to take lessons. 
I question why, in the time I have been home, I have been connected with people suffering.
I entered a family as an experienced caregiver with high hopes of healing and sat at the funeral one month later.
Was I prepared and given this task of helping them heal? I don't know. But I chose to. 
Was my plan put on hold so that I would be able to hold my mother's hand as my sister's heart stopped? I don't know. Was everything in my life moved around for that very moment of Lori calling Kyle so that I would be there? Maybe. I don't know. 
I have had people reach out to me and just simply say, "How do you live the way you do? Help me." 
Is that my ultimate purpose? I don't know. But I choose to. 

A childhood life lesson. Simple. 

You may catch something that could have been missed.

What if we all took lessons out of each other's lives before they end?
That's something really profound to think about. 
And even better, what if we told people how we really feel about them and how much we love them before it's too late?
Imagine the world that way. 
What if that's the purpose? I don't know. 

The last thing and the last "message" I have from Dave is a letter he wrote me 6 days before his sudden death. 
He wrote to me as an effort to encourage me and give support during my training. 
I called him the night before and bawled his ear off because I failed a test. 
He told me, "Belly, it's not the end of the world".

In his letter, he shared a short summary of his Israel trip and said, "I can't wait to tell you all about it the next time I see you." 
He shared his favorite verses with me, as he know knew that my faith was taking off full blast.
He told me that he and Lori loved me like their own.
He ended by telling me to be strong and courageous. 
He offered me "peace" and he signed his name. 

Little did I know, I would need that strength and courage 6 days later. 
And for everyday after. 
Not just in losing him, but in life. 

Did Dave sit down and write me what could be interpreted as a "goodbye" letter?
Absolutely not. 
Dave was amazing, but he was human. 
That's all any of us are. 
He simply told me how he felt about me. 
He looked at people and took lessons from them and offered lessons to them while the opportunity was there. 

I strive now to do that, too.
I have taken from other's stories what I've needed. 

So please, take from this story of mine whatever you wish.
Until "next time", 

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