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A Eulogy for Who I Was Before Surviving a Traumatic Event

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To be able to capture someone in a brief eulogy is, as we all pretty well know, practically impossible. There are so many qualities that so many different people see in each other, it’s impossible for us to recognize one person as a whole. We sometimes only get the bits and pieces they want us to see.

I wanted to do her justice; I wanted my words to come from the words of not just me, but of those who knew her well — past and present. I didn’t want to just tell you the version of her that I was able to know, but also the version of her that others, all of you, were blessed to know. I wanted her friends to have their voice in this eulogy.

Most of her friends could agree on a variety of things about her, such as the opinions that she was a good mother, a good wife, helpful, honest, loyal and hardworking. One of her friends even said, “she had the ability to make people feel special, and she always seemed to be smiling or laughing.” They called her kind, caring, compassionate. Her friends made it perfectly clear that she was able to give other perspectives to their issues, opening their minds a bit more to understand where the other person they were fighting with may be coming from. “She was fiercely loyal to those she loved most, sometimes to a fault,” they agreed.

“But, man, was she a savage video gamer,” one friend recalled with a smile.

When asked about the memories made, some of the more common answers were the weddings they would attend together, for each other, be in together. Weddings brought people together, and I know she loved when love was being celebrated. Game nights, “especially that one time when she threw her back out putting in a Harry Potter Scene It DVD!” they laughed, remembering the moment fondly.

“I remember when I would be the first one every year to take a ride in the convertible, top down, wind blowing through our hair, radio up. Scaring her at 11 at night screaming ‘deer‘ as she went down the road at 60 mph when people usually went down that road at 30. She threw her hands up in panic instead of trying to avoid the deer that wasn’t there because I simply wanted to scare the hell out of her,” one of them explained, giggling at the memory.

Other common memories were bonfires at different locations, drinking but being safe, having no responsibilities, believing life would never lead them astray from each other, waiting in the midnight waiting lines for movies like Harry Potter, Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings and being so excited about them. There was no memory that didn’t involve at least a bit of humor or joy when reminiscing about her.

Two of her closest friends said roughly the same thing, and so, paraphrased, they told me about “her wedding — how she was so beautiful and seemed to be glowing.” They “couldn’t wait to see what kind of life they would go on and lead. And were so blessed to be able to witness the beginning of it.” Jake’s best man Trevor said his favorite memory, without a single doubt in his mind, is “literally watching Jake fall in love with her. She made him happy, and that’s all that mattered to me. But I’m so happy I was there to watch it all happen.”

That doesn’t mean she didn’t have her flaws though. Most of her friends agreed, wholeheartedly, that sometimes she was too emotional, would get caught up in her own head sometimes, would get easily frustrated and hold a grudge for too long. Follow through on long term plans were never a strength, and she sometimes allowed her past to bring her down, preventing her from living her life to the fullest. Others laughed as they pointed out her coke addictions, and others begrudgingly reminded us she was a smoker — as much as they hated it, it seemed she couldn’t quite kick the habit. Despite all her flaws, the one that came up a lot was she was “too nice sometimes,” almost always allowing people to walk all over her.

Despite these flaws, “we loved her. We couldn’t help but love her.”

However, at the end of the day, her friends loved her most because she was always there, always willing to listen even when she had her own stuff going on, always cared about the people in her life until she’s given a huge reason not to.  She was an open minded confidant to so many people, family and friends, giving them amazing advice, showing them different perspectives, always easy to talk to and get along with.

“She was an amazing wife and mother, and it’ll be hard to fill her shoes,” one friend said.

“She had a heart of gold, and she wanted to share it with everyone, and sometimes I think, even though that’s what I loved the most about her, I think it was also her biggest flaw,” one friend whispered to me secretly.

This woman was all of these things, and more. Humbly, I must say I did have a deeper connection with her than most. And although I can attest to all of the things said about her, I also want to share what kind of connection I had with her as well.

I was this woman. I was strong and caring, allowed people to walk all over me, nice to a fault. I was all of these things and more, and the memories and laughter that was shared with all of these different people were at the heart of my love for them. My friends were my family, and I tried hard to be the person who everyone needed me to be. I tried to be open-minded, a good listener, there in stressful times, loyal to a fault, a dreamer, honest to a point that could be considered harsh at times.

And I know I had my faults. I know I sometimes hold a grudge for too long, that I could be stubborn, cared for others before I cared for myself and overthink way too much. I knew my flaws and strengths intersected together, that each one was a strength and a flaw depending on how I used it that day. I know all of these things.

Unfortunately, that woman is gone. From September of 2017 through May of 2018, Katie dreamed of a beautiful, exciting, wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, France and Spain on a cruise ship. And for those eight to nine months, she poured every ounce of herself into planning that trip and making sure they could pay for it. She had plans to travel America, taking one big trip each year and two tiny ones to nearby states.

She dreamed of living; of experiencing new things. Remember, this was the same Katie that had gotten to pet cheetahs and swim with stingrays, seals and dolphins.  This was the same person who somehow injured herself and began to bleed in a shark tank when she was swimming with them. Katie was craving life, craving adventure, craving experiences.

And Katie, well, when she wanted something that badly, she did everything in her power to achieve it.

And then, the Katie we knew, the one we loved so much, the one we thought was strong and could survive anything life threw her way, a large part of that Katie — she died. On May 5, 2018.

May 5, 2018 started out like any other day for her. She woke up and got dressed, kissed her husband goodbye and gave some love to her dogs and cats on the way out the door. She went to work and opened up the store, did her morning routine all without a second thought.

Her store was open for a mere 54 minutes.

And then…

A door opened. A man stepped in. White flat cap baseball hat. Bearded face. Black shirt. White gym shorts. White shoes with the tongue hanging out. Approximately 300-350 pounds large and five foot eight inches tall. Running at her. Jumping the
counter, feet narrowly missing her face.

His voice yelling at her to move, that he’s done this before. Yelling at her to give him the money, to open the safe, to give him all the money. Forcing her into the backroom, telling her he has people watching her if she leaves or calls the police. Reminding her, several times over, he has people watching her. Stay where she is. Don’t move. Don’t call the police. People are watching you. Man, white flat cap baseball hat, bearded face, black shirt, white gym shorts, white tennis shoes with the tongue hanging out, 300-350 pounds approximately five foot eight inches tall running at her, jumping the counter narrowly missing her face, move, I’ve done this before, move, give me the money, open the safe, give me the money, don’t move, turn around with your hands up, open the safe, give me the money, forced to the backroom, don’t move, people are watching you, don’t call the police, don’t move, people are watching you, stay where you are, people are watching you…

“People. Are. Watching. You.”

She didn’t know it then. Others didn’t really know it then either. But that…that’s when we lost her.

She waited a few minutes, shakily opened the door and crawled on the floor in hopes that if someone was watching her they wouldn’t be able to see her. The phone was already ringing; it was the security company.  She had flipped the alarm when she opened the safe. She answered, told them she’d been robbed and hung up. She called her manager, alerted her of the robbery and hung up. And then unbeknownst to her, she looked up the number to the local police department instead of calling 911. The detective on the case later told her it had to do with shock. They questioned her, and she answered all the questions. Wrote a statement, waited for her manager to come over and allowed her to go home early.

She left for her home where her husband and child were waiting. They embraced her. She sat in a trance for most of the rest of that day. Took two Xanax a friend gave her and passed out at 7 pm.

When she woke the next morning at 10 am, she ushered her husband and son out the door to her mother-in-law’s house and cleaned her house like she never had before. She became Cinderella for a day in the respect that she washed the walls and floors on her hands and knees, made sure everything was perfectly polished and cleaned. It kept her from thinking.

She returned to work the next morning. She opened the store, ran to the bank, came back, did her usual routine. She was anxious, yes, but was determined to not let this break her. And then her first customer came into the store. A usual customer, one she’s worked with time and time again. While she took care of him she could hardly breathe. Tears slowly seeped out of the corner of her eyes. And as soon as he the door had closed behind him, she went into a full fledge panic attack. The walls closed in around her, she could barely gasp for breath, her heart was racing, her head was light-headed, she tried to breathe but every time she gasped for air it seemed like the air wouldn’t come. She called her manager, who immediately sent someone to cover the store, so she could go home. She had another panic attack later that night while her son was asleep, and her husband was at work. She called him home. She made a doctor’s appointment, was properly prescribed Xanax, and referred to the local Occupational Health department.  She was diagnosed with PTSD and referred to a therapist.

Over the next few months, we slowly saw parts of her disappear. She didn’t smile as often. She got angry easier. She didn’t see justification for others’ actions the way she once did. She was no longer as resilient as she was. She felt like she had hit a brick wall, a dead end, and there was no turning back. She felt as if she either had to climb the wall in front of her or be stuck in this moment forever.

She was, in short, no longer the woman we once loved and cared for. She was no longer the woman who was a “fun person with a spunky personality.”  Her friends who once described her as strong, easy to talk to, always there despite her own stuff going on, could not clearly see those qualities anymore. And so, I had to come to accept, we had lost that woman who craved to live her life to the fullest or bore an immense love for the people around her. She was gone.

And so now, here I am, impossibly describing the loss of someone who was so dear to so many; mourning a woman who I felt a deep connection with. A woman, I thought, I could always count on. But I now face the reality, that the woman I felt I could always sincerely connect with, is now, in most ways, gone.

So the question now becomes, if the person I once was is dead, lost in this impossibly traumatic event, how do I keep my head above water as I navigate the after affects and discover who this new me is? And will those who knew the me before accept the new me?

I’ve written this eulogy for myself, because I have finally been able to properly accept that the old me will never fully come back, and a new me is on the brink of the horizon… I must find a new foundation to stand on, I must begin a new life from scratch.

I have begun doing that by staying who I was at my core: a wife and a mother. I’ve taken those two roles and done my best with them this past year. I was also a mother to two cats, two dogs, and a turtle; that responsibility has kept me grounded as I spend time with both cats, and now three dogs, and I make sure that the turtle is well taken care of. I started there, and continued on to find the new me.

I am 100 percent sure that I have not found the new Katie. But thankfully, I have friends who are family who continue to not only keep me grounded, but remind me of who I was before, and who I can become after.

Rest in Peace
Katie E. Fauth-Washkowiak
May 15, 1989 – May 5, 2018
Beloved mother, wife, daughter and friend.

Welcome to the World!
Katie Elizabeth Washkowiak
Born May 5, 2019
Still figuring out who the new her is.

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Originally published: March 5, 2020
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