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  • I remember the morning of April 15th, 2013.

  • I woke up a morning unlike any other.

  • In that wonderful state between awake and asleep,

  • I heard the familiar sounds of the milk being pulled from the fridge door

  • and the sound of the coffee being poured into the French press.

  • And I lay there in my sort of awake, sort of slumber,

  • and I think to myself,

  • "Yes! My cats have finally learned how to make me coffee!"

  • "Yes!" (Laughter)

  • I am so happy about this discovery,

  • so happy in fact that I opened my eyes

  • and standing before me is even a happier discovery:

  • a tall, very handsome man that is familiar yet unrecognizable.

  • And he has two coffee mugs in his hand, and he says, "Babe, I made you coffee."

  • And it all comes flooding back to me.

  • Christmas alone. Thanksgiving alone.

  • Valentine's Day alone.

  • My husband had been gone in Afghanistan, and he was home now.

  • So we cuddled on the couch with our coffees,

  • and we turned on the television

  • just in time to see the elite runners cross the finish line,

  • and just in time to hear the words,

  • "Lelisa Desisa has just won the 2013 Boston Marathon.

  • It is his first Boston marathon."

  • And I thought, "Of course, why not win the first one you try?"

  • Why? What? I'm going to, right? Certainly.

  • And I turned to my husband and I said, "You know,

  • we should really do something with our day."

  • We're still in our pajamas and this guy's done 26.2.

  • So we got up, got dressed, and we went to lunch.

  • And he looked at me, and he said, "Do you remember?"

  • "Babe, do you remember?"

  • And I said, "Remember what?"

  • And he said, "This is the same table, this is the same restaurant

  • where we had our last meal before I left for Afghanistan.

  • Where we talked about what it would be like if I didn't come back.

  • Where we talked about what it would be like if I lost a limb.

  • Where we talked about what it would be like

  • if I were injured in any, any way at all."

  • We ordered a couple of cocktails, which I will be later very glad I ordered.

  • And we cheered, and we started to make plans

  • the way only a military family can make plans when your loved one is home safe.

  • And he looked at me, and he said, "Let's go watch the marathon."

  • And I said, "Let's do it. Let's do it. Absolutely."

  • We crossed onto Boylston Street and "Bam!", we heard a loud bang,

  • and next thing we knew, we were on the sidewalk.

  • I was looking down at a waterfall of blood

  • that used to be my left foot.

  • My husband covered in shrapnel.

  • And I thought two things.

  • Number one: there is not a single man on this planet

  • that I would rather be lying next to, in this moment.

  • And two: this is it.

  • And just when we started to say the things

  • that only married people can say in a time like this,

  • Boston's bravest came and swooped me up and took me to the nearest hospital.

  • And there I was;

  • lying there,

  • no longer the bronzed, beautiful, ballroom dancer

  • bedazzled, ready to perform.

  • I was cut up, shredded up, stapled back together,

  • sewn up, glued.

  • No plastics saw me, let me tell you.

  • I lost four inches of hair. I looked like a troll doll.

  • I was covered in other people's fabric, other people's blood.

  • And it was a mess.

  • And I had visitors.

  • I had visitors with mouths, and those mouths had opinions.

  • And I learned something:

  • that people say a lot of things when they don't know what to say.

  • And we were told, at an early age,

  • that when people say things when they don't know what to say

  • and when people say things to make you feel better,

  • it comes from a place of love.

  • And I got confused; I thought,

  • this nurse that's telling me, "You better get it together.

  • You better get it together because your family needs you.

  • It has already been four days. Get over it.

  • Your family needs you. It is on you to make them feel better."

  • Or every other person that looked right at me and said,

  • "I would have come sooner, but I had no idea what to say,"

  • which is a shining billboard

  • for those of us that are suffering that says,

  • "You are so awkward to be around I can't even be in the same room with you,"

  • which turns me into the person that needs to make you feel better.

  • And turns anyone lying in a hospital bed to make them feel better.

  • So I start to plead, "Friend no, I'm OK, I'm OK, I'm going to be fine.

  • I'm going to dance again. I'm going to do all of these things,"

  • even if I don't believe it because I feel so badly

  • that I am that awkward, and that mangled, and that messed up.

  • We are taught at an early age that when people say things and do things

  • it comes from a place of love in a time of trauma,

  • yet, I am here on this stage to argue differently.

  • I think it comes from a place deeper than love.

  • I think it comes from a place of fear.

  • Fear of the truth.

  • We spend our entire car ride,

  • after we get that call,

  • weaving together

  • the perfect amount of sentences that will make the pain go away.

  • But our fear of the truth

  • is that no matter how many sentences we weave together,

  • nothing will make the pain go away.

  • I've heard it all. My leg never grew back.

  • Fear of this awful truth can make us say some pretty awful things.

  • In panic mode, when you see your friend mangled,

  • or someone, who shall remain nameless looks at you and says,

  • "Well at least you still have a pretty face."

  • I immediately respond with, "Well since we're on the subject,

  • my brain and my ass are just as stunning, thank you."

  • (Laughter)

  • "Thank you for noticing that I have a pretty face.

  • And that's all I got left in my life. Appreciate that."

  • Or a doctor who stops you, who is not my own, make that clear,

  • lays a hand on my shoulder at the wheelchair,

  • as I'm wheeling through the room and says to me,

  • "I need to tell you something."

  • "I heard your interview this morning,

  • and I heard you say you wanted to dance again

  • and I am hear to tell you I've been here, I've been here for years.

  • I'm here to tell you you shouldn't have hope.

  • I have never seen an amputee dancer in all of my years.

  • It's not going to happen, you're chances are one in a million."

  • And I raised my finger in the air,

  • and I told him if my chances are one in a million I will be that one,

  • - mixed with other words -

  • and then I turned around

  • (Laughter)

  • and I wheeled the other direction bawling my eyes out,

  • only hoping that my words were true.

  • And if you think that's the worse it's not.

  • I remember it used to be a friend of mine who came to me, yeah that's why,

  • who came to me and said,

  • "You know? I'm starting my own business and garbage costs are so awful.

  • They're just awful. And they're so expensive.

  • I know that they cut off

  • the rest of your leg and a lot of other body parts at this hospital.

  • Do you know how much it costs to cut off the rest of your leg?"

  • Ladies and gentlemen, words are powerful.

  • Sticks and stones will obliterate my bones but words will stay with me forever,

  • especially in vulnerable times

  • that your friends and family will go through,

  • not necessarily in my same situation,

  • but you will get that call

  • when your mother, brother, friend, lover is going through the unimaginable.

  • So I'm here to give you the guidebook

  • because we will all get that call as much as we don't want to.

  • Number one, the most important: take the temperature of the room.

  • Are they throwing things? Give them something to throw.

  • Are they laughing at the television when you think they should be crying?

  • Laugh with them.

  • Are they just sitting in silence? Be in silence with them.

  • Emotions run high.

  • It is important to know the stages of emotions

  • when one is facing tragedy,

  • especially before you end up in that hospital room.

  • Don't tell them what you just googled 5 minutes before you walked out the door,

  • or what your religion says about their condition.

  • Be present with them. Be their friend.

  • I remember one rainy Sunday afternoon

  • when my husband and I were going through

  • countless brochures, and handouts, and flash dance sweatshirts

  • sent to me by every single dance studio in the country

  • - which I still wear, thank you -

  • - should have worn one today maybe -

  • and we were going through all these things

  • and I came across two brochures,

  • two brochures I hope that nobody in the room has to deal with.

  • One was what to do after a terrorist attack.

  • The other was how to cope with limb loss.

  • And I looked at my husband and I said,

  • "Where did we get these? I don't remember getting these?"

  • And he said, "Well, the FBI brought the terrorist attack one,

  • and a peer visiting group brought the "How to cope with limb loss".

  • You threw through it behind your shoulder,

  • said, 'I don't know why they brought that. I'm not an amputee.'"

  • That, ladies and gentlemen, is proof

  • that you will not except help until you are ready for it.

  • That day I was ready. He was ready. I was bawling. He was bawling.

  • - Sorry to call you out babe -

  • We were bawling together, and I thumbed through this thing

  • - after throwing the terrorist attack one behind my shoulder

  • because "No thanks. I'll be there one day." -

  • and I go through this and I say to myself, oh, my gosh!

  • Adam, look, look! Look at this brochure. This can help people help us.

  • It's the stages of grieving after limb loss,

  • which is no different than the stages of grieving;

  • from grieving from a loss of a job, loss of a loved one, loss of a friendship.

  • Shock and denial. Anger. Depression.

  • Pleading. More anger. More depression.

  • It's not pretty, but it's there. And acceptance, and helping others.

  • Helping others? I wanted to get to that point.

  • I was way over here, but even seeing this chart made me feel better.

  • I told Adam we have to tell people.

  • We have to tell people about this because this makes a difference.

  • This is what will help people help people.

  • I'll tell you some examples that worked,

  • some examples that I've learned after being invited into hospital rooms

  • since my tragedy and families' hopes that I would help.

  • I'll never forget a friend who said, after a phone call,

  • "Hey. I saw you missed your favorite dance show last week.

  • It's on rerun tonight. I'm bringing pizza. What do you want on it?"

  • Simple. Straight forward. Awesome.

  • "Cheese, cheese, and more cheese, please.

  • Hospital food stinks. Please, bring it on.

  • Pack two. I'll put one in a fridge somewhere."

  • Number two.

  • I'll never forget

  • that someone had dropped off a cup of Starbucks.

  • My perfectly ordered cup of Starbucks every single morning before I woke up.

  • And perhaps this was the most profound because I never knew who did it.

  • And that's my point today.

  • Is that it's not about us going to visit our friends.

  • It's about our friends, and it's about our loved ones.

  • They went out of their way to find out what that cup of coffee was

  • and they made it.

  • They made that trip to Starbucks, and they ordered that for me.

  • They knew my creature comfort.

  • Does your friend or loved one have a dirty pair of old socks

  • with the holes sticking out that you always make fun of?

  • That's there comfort. Bring that to them.

  • Print out a photo on Facebook, of their cats, or their family,

  • or their dogs, or their cats.

  • And bring it to them. Have that be their comfort.

  • You don't have to show up. You don't have to say anything.

  • It's not about us. It's not about us being the hero. We won't be and that's OK.

  • I am here today to relieve you of the burden,

  • no no, to relieve you of the stress;

  • to give you the permission to show up, shut up, and not say a single word.

  • Just be there, hold their hand, and if you must say something

  • say the words that my husband says to me,

  • "Babe. I do not understand,

  • but it is so important to me to tell you how desperately I want to.

  • Thank you for your time.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

I remember the morning of April 15th, 2013.