It is with profound sadness that I tell you I attended the funeral of one of my friends this past weekend. She was a passionate, creative soul who strived to live on daily. She was an artist with an astounding view for the world around her. Now more than ever, I can see how she beautifully captured it in her own unique way. Her perseverance, dedication, and the persistence she carried helped her to face each day. Her compassion and love for others will forever strike a chord in those who knew her. Her name is Amy Bleuel.
As difficult as this is to write, I wanted to reassure everyone that Amy’s memory lives on; her story is not over.
At her funeral, I watched the community come together. It was beautiful to see her family, her friends, and supporters join together to celebrate Amy’s life. In our sadness, it was her mother’s words that allowed us to start healing from this tragic loss.
“In these difficult times we can find comfort knowing that she is now painless, no longer suffering, and finally at peace by her father’s side,” – Amy’s mother told us, with tears in her eyes.
While holding on to our own sorrow and pain, it was these words that I found to be invigorating and they offered a way to find hope again. As I sat back and listened to her friends and family share their stories of Amy, I could not help but think about how greatly Amy served others. In fact, it was the pain she endured that in turn allowed her to open up to love and help so many others.
Losing a loved one can indeed bring misery, hardship, strain, heartache, and a great amount of hurt. What I have learned, though, is that we can begin to heal by sharing our loved one’s story with others.
The day Amy passed, some of our mutual friends shared a few words with one another.
“We are shocked and devastated at the loss of Amy. I first met her at Lifest 12 years ago when she was at one of her darkest moments, but I saw Christ loved her as she was and in that moment, I could see such potential in her,” said Bob Lenz of Life Promotions “Amy was struggling yet she was a giving soul and will be forever cherished and loved. Her message will continue. I know she would want that – for others to know we are the authors of our lives and we must choose to continue on.”
“After some time to reflect, sitting here crying, and starting to feel the shock and grief soak in, I see that the world has lost someone whose struggle built a foundation of hope for thousands of people also struggling,” said Jesse Heffernan, Iris Place Peer Run Respite Director. “Amy’s vision and passion for Project Semicolon was in equal proportion to her pain, and for whatever reason, that eternal shifting never ceased long enough. The gifts she gave me as a friend and person in recovery will live on forever.”
It has been said that hope can be found right between faith and love. I believe this to be true. It is there that we can continue on, sharing time with those we care about, remembering those we have lost, and raise the good memories that are so dear to us. We can remember the times we laughed, the times we got excited, the times we got angry, the times we dreamed, and even the times we cried. It is in those moments that we experience life together.
You see, Amy and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye and there was a period of time that our friendship completely fell apart. During that time, I could have never imagined I’d be sitting here writing about her death, as we always want to believe we have more time. As heart wrenching as this is, it does bring me great joy that we were recently able to set aside our differences, let go of our resentments, and begin to make amends. About a week before her passing, Amy and I were text messaging.
Scrolling back on these final messages pains my heart greatly but also brings me joy. As you can see, she was loving, caring, and excited about life. I remember inviting Amy to speak on stage with me that day. We were in a casino of all places, speaking to over 1,000 youth from various tribal communities here in Wisconsin. It was great to see everyone working together to make a difference. We stood up and spoke out that day with strong compassionate voices. For Amy, I am sure it helped to inspire her to speak out even louder than she ever had before. I smile now, as I remember her even standing in the back and on the side of the stage taking photos. She was such a talented photographer. Man…..what blast we had that day.
The last time I saw Amy was a few weeks before she passed. We met at Seth’s Coffee in Little Chute. We shared stories and conversed about life over cups of coffee. We talked about normal things, really. It was great to see a smile on her face. It was great to be sitting there just talking as two friends. We didn’t talk much about business, which was rare for us, but more about the good things we were experiencing. As always, she asked how my children were doing. She even brought a few jars of pickles for my son because she knew he loved them. That’s something I realized over the past few days. She always was giving her friends little gifts. It was her own little way to show appreciation. In return, on the day of her funeral, I slipped my favorite Rise Together bracelet off and placed it by her hands as she lay in her casket. It was the parting gift that helped me to start finding closure. It was the gift we now can share forever. Thank you, Amy, for all that you have done and, more importantly, for the person you were.
As much as she will be missed, she will never be forgotten. I believe that we all can find some comfort in this. Whether you knew Amy personally or you recently have lost a loved one of your own, you can still help bring a voice to the voiceless. You can share these types of memories with the people and the world around you. In doing so, we can all find a way to smile even during the most difficult times.
“Everyone who knew Amy saw her passion and dedication to helping others cope with their struggles in life. She always wore her heart on her sleeve, which is never easy,” said Jeff Strommen, Executive Director of the Brown County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “Her passing is truly a loss felt in our community and across the world. If Amy were here right now, she would want me to tell you that your story isn't over. Stay strong; love endlessly.”
My hope here is to help you understand who Amy was as a person, even outside of the project. We all know that we can’t change the past but what we can do is learn from it, grow from it, and cherish it. I want you to continue walking with me in her memory and sharing her story with those around you; especially with those struggling. We must not give up. We must push forward and carry the power of love with us.
It is in these times that we can search for a greater understanding of mental illness and addiction. It is in these times that we can search for stronger preventative measures. It is in these times we can find allies, supporters, peers, friends, and family to join us in these efforts to eliminate the stigma around mental health and addiction. It is in these times we can band arms together, support one another, unite, and rise together to save lives.
I cannot fully understand what Amy’s family must be going through at this time but what I do know is that we can call out to them with our support, our prayers, and our condolences. Amy was more than her mission. She was a beautiful soul that will live on in our memories forever.
For everyone out there, keep the stories going. Share your own. Find your purpose like Amy found hers. Serve others in your own unique way. By doing so, I promise you this world will be a greater place to live than we may have ever seen before.
Much love always,
President of Rise Together
If you’re struggling, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.