For seven months, I have been unable to put into words how I feel about a tragic loss. Now seems an appropriate time to share my heart.
Seven months ago last week, we lost a dear friend, a young man who meant a great deal to our family. On Monday, July 4th, we celebrated his favorite day of the year with his family, our family and our extended beach family, as we do every year. This year’s celebration was tough; a little bitter, but a whole lot of sweet, too, honoring a boy who will now be forever young.
Corey Lee was a special guy, and not just to us, as we have found out over the last seven months, but to pretty much everyone who met him. He had a huge, kind heart and befriended nearly everyone who came across his path.
We met Corey when he was not much bigger than a toddler, on our beach. Natalie and he were the same age, within two months. Corey’s younger brother, Cameron is the same age as Anthony. The kids became fast friends, starting out by spending summers playing in the sand in big holes dug by their dads, then eventually graduating to building their own impressive forts (one was so good that an inspector was called out to see if it needed a building permit!). Tessa was the tagalong, but always included, and the five of them would spend hours playing hilarious games of Apples to Apples, having canon ball contests in the pool, riding waves brought in by cruise ships, talking around beach fires consuming my famous Beach Bars, and just hanging out in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
Corey taught Natalie how to braid out of material found on the beach, because rope was needed to make their forts stronger, and he taught her about the constellations as they sat around beach fires late at night looking up at the stars. He took long walks on the beach with Anthony because no one else wanted to walk that far, and they were pyro buddies on the 4th, the two of them lighting off the majority of the fireworks. He called Tessa “Leftfield” because her cards in Apples to Apples were always out of left field and made him laugh. He exhibited great leadership among the pack of kids he directed on the beach and was always respectful to the older folks as well. In recent years, our families spent more time together, and not only in the summers. We started making Coupeville’s Musselfest a tradition in the late winter, and got together for the occasional Seahawks game.
Corey carried with him a semi-secret, though. I say that because only a few friends and family knew the extent of the struggles he was going through with drug addiction. They call it “high-functioning” because Corey mostly carried on as though everything was just fine. An Eagle Scout and honor student, he kept his secret well hidden from most of the world. What started as an “innocent” experimentation with marijuana years ago led to the ultimate tragedy.
After Corey overdosed, we were privileged to be at his bedside for a little while before his passing. There, we each were able to recount our memories with him, and usher him to heaven’s gate.
Corey’s passing has left a huge hole in our hearts and while our Whidbey family truly stepped up this year and made the celebration one to remember, something was missing. We kept expecting Corey to walk up off the beach and join in our game of whiffle ball, jump in the pool just to get everyone on the side wet, try out our new paddle boards, or light off something during the fireworks show that could be heard two states away. Instead, we honored his beautiful life by doing all the things we had always done that he had loved, and also with some incredible artwork by another beach friend, Cheryl King. And before the best fireworks display we have ever had, our kids were honored to be some of the few who were privileged enough to scatter Corey to his final resting place, on the beach he loved so well.
As we carry on, we intend to honor Corey by telling his story. You can ready more about it at the website for the foundation created by his parents, ChoicesForAChange.org.
We trust we will see Corey again someday, on a heavenly beach where the forts will be impressive beyond our imagination…where we will all be together again, forever young.