Loss and Living On

Today, I share with you the essay that helped get me into college. I always believed a good essay should come from the heart in a way that the reader can sense the passion behind your words. So I wrote about losing two of the people that inspired me the most but focused not on loss, but on the importance of living on after loss and letting their memories live on as well. Thanks for reading.

A wise person once said, “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.” I don’t think this is ever thought about by anyone who takes that small step forward- that little step that, in time, marks their transition into maturity, into adulthood, into themselves. I think these people go into their projects with a checklist with one blank box next to their goal: to make a difference. At least, that’s how it was for me.
Growing up, I rarely experienced loss. I have this huge, close-knit family and we do
everything together. I had that childhood where grandparents visited daily. My grammy always lived across the street from me, and my pepere lived close enough I’d wake up to see him downstairs sipping coffee. When I started performing in plays and talent shows, my grandparents were always there encouraging me. They were always there for me until they couldn’t be.
That’s what hit me the hardest in high school. I lost both of my heros. My grammy
passed away from cancer the fall of my freshman year, and it truly didn’t sink in until the
following spring when something happened to me. I was sitting watching my older sister
perform in a play when I became restless; I was sweating and struggling to breathe. This episode occurred again when I was singing in my church choir. I looked out at the crowd and thought I was going to pass out. These panic attacks grew worse and began to happen regularly: in the halls, in classes, during more performances. Every day for me was a battle against fear. When my anxiety was at its peak during my sophomore year, I lost my pepere who had cirrhosis from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. More loss meant more panic. I needed a new way to cope.

Top: Roger Cote stands before the Vietnam Wall in D.C.. Bottom: Roger Cote’s grave on Veteran’s Day.

I had a family friend whose nephew committed suicide due to PTSD. He was a veteran
and, like my pepere, had died from an illness resulting from war. In many ways I saw myself in my friend’s nephew and the many other veterans living with PTSD. They were suffering episodes of panic similar to that of mine, only worse. I wanted to help them, and a little voice in the back of my mind said maybe helping them could help me. And that is when I came up with the idea for the Roger A. Cote Run for Courage. My aunt and I dreamed of hosting a run or walk in memory of my pepere and the dream became a reality. With the aid of BNS Event Management, we held our first annual 5K race on June 14, 2015.

A young Roger Cote in his Navy uniform.

The morning of the race, I set up t-shirts and raffle stands and scanned the parking lots.
Could this work? Friends and family came, our dozen volunteers helped out, and the runners began to show- 120 runners surpassed our goal of seventy five. Some said my pepere wouldn’t have wanted anyone to make a big deal out of his passing. “Just honk your horn and wave as you pass by my grave,” he would say. But maybe the truth is, it isn’t so much for him as it is a coping mechanism for my family and me. The money raised would go to Operation Homefront, an organization that financially assisted wounded veterans. We were helping people like my pepere and my friend’s nephew overcome their illnesses. At the same time, I was overcoming mine.

Roger’s grandchildren and wife Rita at the 2nd Annual Roger A. Cote Run for Courage.

I grabbed the microphone and in a shaky, but strong voice, counted off “READY, SET,-”
and the power behind my words was almost unrecognizable; it was the sound of a familiar voice that had been hidden under panic and fear for so long. In complete control, I took a small step toward the crowd: “GO!”…
…And it was the biggest step of my life. Making a difference? Check.
Happy Birthday Pepere!
Your Granddaughter

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