Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Sept.11 most people remember 9-11, but I remember Melissa

Melissa and I at the Concert for Virginia Tech.

I remember when Melissa Cheliras first came to the Virginia Tech Baptist Collegiate Ministry as a staff member.  She'd been there before; she knew her way around, but I decided to make it my mission to be her welcoming committee anyway.  It was a phenomenal decision... Concerts, fish funerals, fairy stone hunting, and tea time; getting to know Melissa was a blast!

Melissa came the year after the shooting at Virginia Tech.  She came in the midst of us trying to process what had happened to our school.  I remember one night she talked about her friend that died in the 9-11 attacks.  Melissa told us how hard it was each year on September 11.  I decided to make sure Melissa remembered that she was loved every time that date rolled around.  I'm not sure she even realized the pattern, but every September 11 she got a text message.  It usually just said, "I love you."

N.C. roadtrip '08 for a Youth Conference
Melissa passed away in February.   She had been diagnosed with cancer that October.  I hadn't talked to her in months.  I'm pretty sure the last time I saw her was actually on the road.  We were both driving towards D.C. and passed each other on the road.  We freaked and called each other, we hung up with plans to catch up sometime.  I was so excited to see her. 

When she died it caught me by surprise.  I hadn't actually thought it would happen.  None of my friends had ever died before; I hadn't even lost a close family member.  I'd not experienced saying goodbye to someone who actively shaped my life, much less not getting to say goodbye.  When Lindsay told me that Melissa was "home," I thought it meant she'd been released from the hospital.  It took a little while for things to sink in. 
Sometimes Melissa's words terrified me; she had a knack for asking hard questions.  But more often her words brought me much life.  I remember one time... I was in over my head with meetings, school, ministries, friends, work, sorority, and the list goes on.  I had just signed up for a two year discipleship program with my church.  I had just retired from BCM leadership; I was a Bible study leader.  I loved both groups dearly, but was falling apart just trying to stay connected.  We were in the BCM parking lot.  Melissa said something that still brings tears to my eyes.  She said, "Amanda, I release you to be where God has called you to be."  She released me to leave and told me that I would always be family.  I never came back.  (Now, I don't think I staged my exit very well; I practically disappeared overnight.  But at that point I don't think I could have said goodbye properly.  I was too exhausted.) 

I fell apart for a day or two when I heard the news.  I fell apart again on her birthday, May 5.  Hers was the day after mine.  (She and I had a joint birthday party sophomore year--a bonfire by the river with all of our favorite people.)  It got harder this summer.  I drove past her old apartment everyday on the way to or from Richard's house. 

I miss her.  I know that I'll see her again.  I know she is with Jesus.  I know today she isn't sad because she misses her friend.  Today, I know that Melissa knows that she is loved.