‘Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.’

One of the biggest things that almost deterred me from taking this journey was that no matter how small the world is becoming, no matter how much easier it is to travel to and from, to communicate to those who are important in my life, I am still a world away from my family and friends.

This week has been difficult to say the least. Two events have coincided this week that mark the passing of two very important people in my life and the lives of many others. One, a long time family friend who has lost her battle with cancer, the other a former teammate who was taken from us in the tragic MH17 accident.

Denise was a member of the Sacred Heart Parish, the same church my parents attend. Anyone who knew Denise knew she was a determined, passionate, and thoughtful person. She was the definition of living for other people. My mom and I went on a pilgrimage to Bosnia Herzegovina in 2005, which was organized by Denise and her late husband. From then on Denise became more present in the lives of the Hoshaws. My family and especially my parents have shared many good memories with Denise. She was a supportive friend and mentor to many.

Karlijn was a teammate I met in my first year of rowing for Indiana University. I was only able to spend a short amount of time with her, as the novice and varsity teams were usually separated for most of the year. However, towards the end of our season I was able to spend time with the varsity rowers and I eventually lived with a few of them. Karlijn and I lived together for a few weeks while we prepared for Big Tens after classes ended. It was then most of my memories of Karlijn were formed. Karlijn, Leis, and Catherine were the cool older sisters of our group and were always inclusive of the three of us who were a lot younger. Even though I only spent a small amount of time with Karlijn, I can never forget her spirit. It shines through the impact she made on our team that year and the years to follow. She was always pushing herself and her teammates, on and off the water. She was caring, intelligent and extremely passionate.

Denise’s family and friends gathered this week to lay her to rest. It was hard to witness such an amazing person battle a terrible disease, but I think we can learn from Denise even through her pain. After reading the blog penned by her daughters throughout Denise’s treatment, I could see that Denise’s love, compassion, and tenacity wasn’t lost. She was brave in the face of death just as she was brave in life. She used her life to fight the good fight, to work endlessly for others. I know I have learned a lot from Denise and her family and the extent to which Denise touched others’ lives isn’t hard to see.

My former teammates gathered in Bloomington this week to commemorate and celebrate the lives of our teammate, Karlijn, and her boyfriend, Laurens. Hoosiers from all over the world came together, ate at Karlijn’s favorite restaurant, spent time with her family, and rowed the shell, which was freshly dedicated in her honor. Indiana University lost a dedicated scholar and IU Women’s Rowing lost a family member, but not in vain. We remember her and we strive to live as she has. We have learned that living fully is a choice and we must choose to love and support those around us, as Karlijn had.

All of these words I’ve used to describe my two friends sound like filler words. Even if it feels cliché.. these words are true and they are important. It seems that after death we are flooded with words and thoughts that should have been shared every single day.  It is hard right now to be here in Zanzibar. We gather together in times like these, to find closure and peace. We gather in order to make some sense of it all. I can’t be with my family, friends, and teammates (read: family). I’m not a very emotional person, but the lack of grieving I’ve been able to feel makes this time a hell of a lot harder. My attempts to find the right words have failed. All I can really say is this. It. Sucks.

Yet, as hard as it is to be away from my family right now, I know Denise would want me to be here. Likewise, I’ve learned from Karlijn that ours is a life that needs to be lived with tenacity and passion. Their lives and what they stood for pushes me to find my place here and (try) to make a difference. It forces me to remember why I chose this path and to keep what’s important in front of me. I am reminded, yet again, to keep my people (even strangers) close and to never forget to share my love and appreciation for them. I am excited for what is in store in these coming months, even if it means I have to be a world away from the comfort of home.

If you’re a Vonnegut fan, like myself, you’ve probably recognized the reference. That quote has been in my mind recently, and I enjoy the irony. Although the quote was contextualized in the senselessness of mass killing and destruction during wartime, I think it lends a piece of insight in our daily lives. If we lived a life without pain would we enjoy the ‘good’ stuff? Would we remember to appreciate our loves ones and remember to live compassionately? Taking this frame of thought doesn’t make the pain any less real, but some sort of understanding has begun to take root.

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