An Open Letter of Healing

“Grief, after the initial shock of loss, comes on in waves. When you’re driving alone in your car, while you’re doing the dishes, while you’re getting ready for work…and all of a sudden it hits you-how so very MUCH you miss someone, and your breath catches, and your tears flow, and the sadness is so great that it’s physically painful.” ~ Nicole Gabert


Hey Rel,

It has been five years, five months, and four days. I know this because I find myself counting the passing of time. The last day we spoke, your birthday, the anniversary of your death. All days in which I mourn you. It has been five years, five months and four days of missed laughs, debates (because we never really argued),conversations, and memories. Things in which I believed we’d get a lifetime of. It’s been two years since I finally removed your number from my phone. In some ways having it there made me feel like you were still here with me. Like I could reach out and make a phone call and you’d somehow answer. The day I pressed the delete button, for me, was the day I finally let you go. It was the day I accepted you would only be a memory. It comes in waves, this feeling, that I’ll be swept under by the immense sorrow. It never lasts longer than a few minutes, but it’s there. It’s sharp and repetitive, and so very much painful. To this day I can’t wrap my head around your decision. And honestly I don’t know if there would have been anything any of us could have said. They say you never truly know what someone is going through. And boy did you prove that saying right. Your last status update of “Lord please forgive me, or is it too late for that” is immortalized on your Facebook wall. A haunting echo of something we never saw coming. An event that forever altered my life.

In the beginning I was angry with you. I saw your decision as selfish, thoughtless, and heartless. Even though none of those words would ever describe who you were. It’s how I felt at the time. As much as I mourned you at your funeral Jarel, I was just as angry. I think that’s why I couldn’t walk up to your casket. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and I didn’t think it would come from the right place if I did. I was blinded by the pain I was experiencing. Too angry to want to understand how far you had to have been pushed, for you to make such a decision. I just wanted you back and because I couldn’t have that I lashed out at your memory. I tried to make it less potent. I tried to make you insignificant. For that I am sorry my friend. You were never insignificant to me. You were and still are one of the best human beings I have ever had the honor of knowing. My issues with your decision were mine alone.

Eventually at some point the anger faded and I remembered the love I had for you. I remembered the MANY times we stayed up late talking about anything and everything.  You would scold me and tell me to hang up because we both needed to get some rest. As if it was always my fault that you couldn’t get off the phone. Let’s face it we both know I can talk, but those late nights weren’t for me, they were for you. You needed a sounding board at times and I was always willing to listen. I mean, how could I not? You had always been there for me. I remembered that we always started our time in each other’s presence with a hug and we ended it the same. And it was never one of those normal hugs. Oh no, you always had to make our exchange unique. To this day I smile when I receive a “bear hug” from anyone because it reminds me of you. I remembered it was a ritual every month for one of us to text each other “don’t forget to follow your heart”, and that didn’t necessarily mean on the romantic side of things. You always pushed me to follow my dreams. I remembered the amazing friendships you built with those in your life (your funeral was a testament to that). I remembered how much you loved your daughter. How she absolutely meant everything to you. She was your world. Sadly I think your demons were stronger. I used to think I wanted to know what you were thinking those last moments of your life, but now I think I’m better off not knowing. This way I can keep a hold of the wonderful memories of our friendship without them being tainted.

I truly believe you have been watching over me so I know you know what has been happening with my heart as of late. How the hole that once was small has doubled in size. How I am trying to force myself to heal faster than I may be ready to. That’s why I know you’ve seen me struggling. It’s like I’m reliving all of my pain all over again, but in a completely different way this time. It was never his decision. Joe was just taken from us. It’s a different kind of pain and a different kind of question. With you, it was how could you? With him, it’s why? Both questions that I understand won’t get answered. But they still linger in the back of my mind. I know how to deal with my grief from the loss of you. I’ve spent five years perfecting my reactions. I know how to breathe through the pain and laugh even though it hurts. I know how to smile even when I’m crying inside. I know the pain won’t last forever, that it’s temporary. That it ebbs and flows. I know how to celebrate the life you lived (even if short) and not mourn the life that you’ve missed. I visit your grave to talk to you because I know you’re listening, just like I used to. I’ve made peace with what happened. With the decision that you made. I’ve forgiven you.

But with him it’s like I have training wheels on again. I’m starting from a blank canvas. You see my grief for him looks and feels different. I’m not angry with him like I was in the beginning with you. I’m angry with THEM. I’m angry at the people who helped in taking him away from those he loved. I’m angry because I understand I won’t get the full closure I seek until he gets the justice he deserves. And all of that could take time. I know they say time heals all wounds, but when the wounds never get a chance to close, then what? His story isn’t over yet. I also find myself struggling with the fact that I wasn’t able to say goodbye. Not in the way I would have liked to. Being there and sharing in all the memories at the memorial. But there was no way I could have taken another trip, after getting back from the one for my birthday. I said my goodbye in the best way I could and I know he  heard me, but it’s just different. I understand I have to come to terms with that on my own. That everything happens the way it’s meant to. I guess losing you taught me that. But what has remained the same in my grief now as it was when I lost you all those many years ago is the love and support of those around me. Love and support that has at times come from the most unlikely places.

I was fortunate enough to recently meet one of Joe’s best friends. Someone whose life could have ended just as tragically. I thank God that it didn’t. We shared stories of the man we knew. I told him stories from my days at Denison with Joe and my visits to San Francisco over the years. He told me of the years of friendship with Joe in Cali. We both spoke of the good and the bad. Nothing seemed to be off-limits in our exchange. There were pieces of Joe’s life that were missing for me because after college Joe and I only saw each other when we could make it out to each others side of the world. We texted frequently, but it wasn’t the same as being in Joe’s presence. Fortunately, he helped me to place the puzzle pieces together. I smiled more in those few days when we reminisced and shared our stories than I had in a while. It was therapeutic in a way and I would like to think it was therapeutic for him as well. I am grateful to Joe (in a weird way) because while I lost a member of my family, I also gained a new one. You see, Jarel, he was just like you. Someone who could bring anybody together.

So now I find myself learning how to grieve again. Or maybe I’m simply retracing my steps. I still breathe through the pain and laugh even when it hurts. I smile on the outside when I’m crying inside. I celebrate the life he lived and I’m trying hard not to mourn the life he won’t (it’s a work in progress). I’m working on finding some semblance of peace for myself. An inner calm that I can hold on to for now. Surprisingly, I might have found that in my writing. It’s always been something I’ve loved to do and found soothing. It’s just somewhere along the way I lost touch with it. It’s heartbreaking that out of such a tragic loss I found it again, but they say writers best works come from inspiration or tragedy. I’m also learning that my anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It fuels the need for me to want to help get justice for Joe and the others involved. I just can’t let that anger live my life for me. I can’t let it consume me. I’m also taking comfort in those new friends that I’ve made through his passing, which is something I didn’t do with you. It’s a new experience for me, but it has helped a lot.

I’m writing this to you Rel because I’m not ready to address him yet. There hasn’t been enough time to process all of the emotions warring within me. And since I spent all those years listening to you I thought you could return the favor. I’ve learned there’s no right way to grieve for someone. You can’t lose a dear friend and then years later lose another and grieve the same. Just as you both were individuals separate from each other so is my grief. It doesn’t look the same now as it would have five years, five months, and four days ago. It’s evolved and it’s changed, but what it does do is fit the one I’m mourning for. What it does do is help to start the healing process. What it has done for me is teach me that because I live my life with an open heart I am able to grieve the loss of those I’ve loved. The moment there isn’t grief is the moment I’ve closed off my heart and like you always used to say “follow your heart.”  I am better for knowing you, Jarel, and for knowing Joe. And I am stronger (sadly) for the loss of you both. I will cherish every memory I have shared with each of you and I will grieve each of your losses in my own way. I like to think that you have even been lucky enough to meet him. That he is the DJ that you skate to. I hope so. Please help those of us that you both have left behind continue on in a world where you no longer exist. Watch out for us. Keep being a blessing to us up there as you both were down here. We will uphold your memories by the lives we continue to live.

All my love,



In loving Memory of:

Jarel “Mello” Jones (11/9/1984-11/24/10) and Joseph Amadeo Razo (4/26/86-2/2/2016 )

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