Celebrating Savannah

In honor of my beautiful friend and sister, Savannah Feinberg, today’s blog post is a little longer than usual.
September 15, 2005
The wind bit at my cheeks as I walked back to my dorm after class. I checked my phone and saw thatonly my mom had called, as usual. I pressed number one on my speed dial and was instantly connected with my voicemail. I expected the usual, “Hey, Aly, it’s Mom. . . call me back,” but nothing sounded normal about her message.

“Aly, it’s Mom. I know you’re in class, but I really need you to call me back,” she pleaded, her voice tired and pale like she hadn’t slept in days. Images of my Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother tangled in tubes and gasping for her last breath flashed before me.

I expected the worst.

I punched down my mom’s speed number hoping that my worst fears were still fears, not a catastrophic reality. Not yet. She answered on the second ring, and my heart sank like a small sailboat caught in the acidic storm of my stomach. She had been waiting for me to return her call.

“Aly, I need to tell you something. Where are you? Are you sitting down?” I wasn’t sitting, I was walking home from class, but curiosity trumped my mom’s concern.

“I’m fine, Mom. What?” I snapped. I was angry already, and I hadn’t even heard the news.

“Aly,” my mom’s voice was hushed, and I had to strain against the wind to hear her. “I guess Savannah Feinberg has been sick for awhile. She was in the hospital last week with meningitis. I don’t think anyone evenknew she was sick, and I think everyone thought she was getting better. But there were complications. ”

“What? Getting better from what? Savannah’s fine, Mom. I don’t understand.” By now I had stopped walking and was standing at the top of the hill above my dorm overlooking the ocean. None of this made sense.

“Aly, Savannah died this morning.”

Savannah wasn’t my grandmother. Savannah wasn’t anybody’s grandmother. Savannah was a beautiful 15-year-old cheerleader and my former gymnastics teammate. She was like my little sister. She couldn’t be dead; there must have been some mistake.

I didn’t hear my mom as she explained the details of the funeral. I didn’t hear her when she told me that she wished she could hug me. I didn’t hear her tell me that she loved meand didn’t know why this had to happen. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. My head, my heart, my wholebody, felt empty and meaningless. When I finally said goodbye and snapped my phone shut, I crumbled.

Tears slashed my face as I fought the cutting wind and the urge to throw up. I zombie speed-walked back to my dorm, passing by couples talking happily outside the grey cement building. With my puffy eyes and pathetic attempts to control my sobs, I imagined them thinking I had just been dumped by my boyfriend. I wish.

I made my way down the hall only to find I was locked out of my room. I knocked on the door, praying my roommate was home. No answer. I ran down the hall to my best friend’s room and quickly collapsed into the oblivion of her lime green, garage sale couch and the comfort of her embracing arms.

The next day I was on a flight back to my hometown.

“I think you need to be here, Aly,” my mom had advised. “The girls need a big sister.”
Savannah was like my little sister, the epitome of pink. All of the little girls who loved Savannah most, with their bra stuffing contests and prank calls, and now in their grief, were my sisters, too.

Savannah’s dream car was a white VW convertible bug with leather seats and fuzzy pink dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Everything she did, she did with style. Savannah liked to make a statement, and she especially liked to make a fashion statement. She was our resident drama and fashion queen, always commenting on fashion victims’ wardrobes as if they had set out dressing to personally offend her.

“Oh my gosh, look at what she’swearing. Doesn’t she know you can never wear black and brown together? Uuggh,” she’d cringe.
We’d just roll our eyes; that’s how Savannah was. We knew deep down she’d always love us even if we didn’t have the best fashion sense. We knew she’d always be the first one to congratulate us on mastering a new skill, her bright smile wide in genuine excitement.
This is the flexible little Savannah I remember–hot pink and all.
The last time I had seen Savannah shewas wearing too much makeup and a much-too-tight halter top at the annualNevada County Fair. She told me that she had just found out she had ADD.

“Don’t tell anyone,” she pleaded with us. “Oh my gosh, I am so embarrassed.”

Luckily for her, when cute blondes have ADD, it’s misinterpreted as a bubbly and enthusiastic personality, not a disorder often associated with hyperactive, delinquent boys.
For Savannah’s funeral, one of the moms bought us pink silky shirts that were too skimpy to wear to church on any other occasion. None of us wanted to be haunted by Savannah’s critical fashion eye, so we erred on the side of attractiveness. We assembled popcorn and M&M goody bags because it was her favorite treat. We tied each bag with pink ribbon and made our way to the church.

In the church we moved robot-like through the sea of pink. Pink flowers,pink flowy skirts, and pink ties flashed through the sanctuary; even her small, white coffin was trimmed with pink. The blackest day of my life was also the pinkest.

Streaks of rich, black mascara streaked our raw cheeks, but we looked good in our silky tops, form fitting jeans, and strappy shoes. This was my church. The same sanctuary where I lifted my hands in worship and thanksgiving every Sunday I was home. The same sanctuary where I sang my favorite worship song, “Blessed Be Your Name.” The refrain of that song grated against my head and my heart.

You give and take away. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.

I prayed constantly throughout the funeral, and for weeks after. I prayed for peace and comfort for Savannah’s family. I thanked God for the abundant life Savannah had lived. I prayed that I could somehow be a comfort to those around me. I prayed that, although I didn’t feel it, I would be able to mean the words “blessed be your name.” I clung to the idea that God is good because I couldn’t live with the alternative. I knew life had to be meaningful, otherwise it wouldn’t hurt this bad when it is taken away.

When my friends picked me up from the airport the same day as Savannah’s funeral, I wasn’t ready to get back to real life. They threw me a surprise birthday party because I had been attending memorial dinners and coaching my teammates on how to give a eulogy instead of celebrating my 19th birthday. As they waited to surprise me in the darkness of a lovingly decorated dorm room, two of my friends held my hands as I sat in the car, heaving and sobbing, empty and tired of being strong. After a few minutes, I pulled myself together and went back to my life.
For the first week I was back I talked about Savannah non-stop. I recounted detailed stories of my favorite moments with her, like the time she tried to convince us that the water under a frozen pond is actually colder than the ice because the water is under the ice or the time we convinced her that the roof was leaking in August by spraying her with a water bottle when she wasn’t looking. I told them all of the funny, ditzy, Savannah things she did. I talked about her mom. I talked about her sister, pregnant with her first child, because if I ceased to talk about her, it would mean that she was really gone.

I prayed like crazy, convincing myself that God had a purpose in all of this.
God, please be with Savannah’s mom. Help her to know Your love, Lord. Thank you that I could be there for my friends. Please bring them comfort. Bring them peace, Lord. I want to feel Your peace. Surround everyone who is numb, heartbroken,and hurting. Let your glory shine.
Today, September 15, 2011, I echo the same prayer.
Lord, thank you for Savannah. For the life of laughter and love that she lived. Please be with her mom today, her sister, her family. Please bring them comfort. Bring them peace. Let you glory shine.
I love you and miss you, Savannah.

4 thoughts on “Celebrating Savannah

  1. Audrie says:

    I remember reading this in the Driftwood before I knew you or any member of the Lewis family for that matter. This is a beautiful tribute to your friend. Your writing touches people deeply. Always.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is so beautiful Aly, I stumbled upon this post and am so thankful that I did. For you to share you memory, your inner most feelings like this is truly a gift, especially to us who experienced the same. I too remember being in a daze, not even believing it was real; I still can't. But like your prayer said, she really did live a beautiful life of love and laughter, a true legacy for all of us to remind ourselves of. Love you big sis:)-Caitie

  3. Aly Lewis says:

    Thanks, Caitie. Sometimes I still can't believe it's real. But we can remember and celebrate her incredible life and spirit. I hope you're doing well, little sis!

  4. Barry Pruett says:

    Someone called me while I was at work in Indiana. I promptly walked down the hall to one of the partner’s offices and ask for a few days off. When the words came out of my mouth, I could no longer hold back tears. So sad…but so glad to have been her friend.

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