Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 NFL Awards and Musings

As the 2012 NFL regular season comes to a close, I thought I would hand out my year end awards and also mention a few other tidbits.  So sit back and enjoy as we hand out my first ever awards!

League MVP: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

This is probably the most difficult award this season as there was some major competition.  Peyton Manning was brilliant and did not seem like he lost a step at all. Tom Brady was his usual excellent self.  However, when you look at their teams, is there a team that relied more heavily on one guy than the Vikings did?  Minnesota pounding AP down people’s throats and because of this, they overachieved and made the playoffs.  The quarterback play of Christian Ponder was inconsistent, at best, so the fact that Peterson put up a 2,000 yard season with defenses focused solely on him is amazing.  We also can’t forget that he was just returning from an ACL injury that would keep normal players out for this entire season.  It is truly mind blowing what he’s done, and made me legitimately reconsider my stance that Barry Sanders is the best running back I’ve ever seen.

Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts

There were some awful coaching jobs, and some excellent ones, but no one deserves this award other than Arians.  As an interim coach, while head coach Chuck Pagano battled Leukemia, Arians led a 2 win team with a rookie quarterback to 11 wins and a playoff berth.  I am blown away by the leadership he’s shown over the season.  Holding a team together as an interim coach is tough enough (looking at you New Orleans), but incorporating a rookie quarterback and leading the worst team in the league to 11 wins is a true reflection of great coaching.

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

The race for this award had to be the most intense I’ve witnessed.  We’re looking at four legitimate candidates; Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.  I went with Luck for a few reasons:

- He led a 2 win team to 11 wins and a playoff berth.

- He broke rookie passing records.

- He didn’t miss any games.

- His supporting cast, outside of Reggie Wayne, is young and inexperienced.

Griffin and Morris essentially cancel each other out of the race, splitting the vote.  Wilson pushed for a close second, but he took over a team that won 7 games the year before.  While he did improve them, he also had a much better cast around him.  A rookie quarterback’s best friend is a running game.  Wilson had Marshawn Lynch.  Luck had a roulette wheel of players behind him, eventually settling on Vick Ballard.  The offense was all Luck, and he showed why he was so highly touted.

Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, Denver Broncos

The race between Miller, Aldon Smith and JJ Watt was tight, but I don’t think anyone meant more to their defense than Miller did.  He has transformed a mediocre Denver defense into a dominant group.  They are following his lead and have become one of the elite groups in the league.  Watt and Smith are important cogs in their defenses, but aren’t the focal point the way Miller is.

Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

We all know my distaste for Peyton Manning.  I’ve been cheering against him for 15 years and it’s been a weird feeling seeing him in Denver.  That said, I’ve been amazed to watch him come back from 4 neck surgeries and missing an entire season, to playing at the level he has this year.  The first few games were a bit choppy, but he clearly righted the ship after their early season bye week and has been spectacular ever since.  I don’t think even John Elway thought he’d get such an immediate return on the investment.  The Broncos went from a playoff team that people weren’t sure about, to a team that everyone in the league fears.  That’s clearly on Manning’s presence and the continued emergence of their young talent.  His leadership and skills can never be questioned and from a fan standpoint, there’s just something great about having him back in the league.  Not having Manning vs Brady last year made us feel lost.  We’ve had that match up once already, and could be heading to a collision in the AFC Championship game.

The reason I did not consider Adrian Peterson for this award is the fact that he didn’t miss any time due to his injury last season, which by the way, is a medical miracle.


Just a few musings to end the season…

- I realized why I love sports yesterday.  I was watching Chuck Pagano run on to the sidelines in Indianapolis yesterday and, while it was an awesome football story, it was also a reminder why sports is so great.  We witnessed a man who embodied inspiration, perseverance and the joy of the human spirit.  Sure he inspired his team and fans, but we may never know how impactful his story could be to someone struggling through something similar.  When we’re at our lowest points, sometime you just need someone or something to push you in a positive direction.  Watching Pagano return to the job he loved, cancer free and full of energy, was a glorious moment.  Sports provides us so many of these moments and inspirations.  Sometimes it is something obvious like this story, and sometimes it’s something you have to look deeper into.  Regardless, it’s one of the joys of sports.

- I feel bad for Tony Romo.  No matter what, he will never get the respect he deserves.  The analysts will tear him apart and never mention that his top receiver had one hand and limped off the field early.  They won’t mention that his second receiving option was gimpy and hardly moving.  They won’t mention the lack of a consistent running game.  They also won’t mention how awful the defense has played.  It all goes back to him because quarterbacks get too much praise and too much blame.  If I were Romo, I would seriously consider a move out West to Arizona.  Larry Fitzgerald would love a real quarterback again.

- There’s a good buzz around Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for head coaching gigs that will be opening up.  With the reports that Tim Tebow will end up in Jacksonville, I would call McCoy first thing to come in as coach.  He had success with him at quarterback and could be the shot in the arm Jacksonville needs.

- I was annoyed by a poll on ESPN regarding Adrian Peterson’s season.  They asked if the bigger story is Minnesota in the playoffs or AP coming up 9 yards shy of the all-time record.  This is the complete antithesis of what I love in sports.  The fantasy football stats mindset is obnoxiously prevalent.  I hate to be the only one who keeps saying it, but team accomplishments trump individual ones every time.  For example, Drew Brees threw for 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns this season, so the current mindset is that he had a great season.  Well guess what he threw 19 interceptions, fumbled 5 times and lead his team to a 7-9 record.  You can take all the stats in the world.  The only one that matters is wins, and that is a team stat.

- There are quite a few firings right now and how Rex Ryan still has a job is unreal.  The thing that is surprising me, though, is how upset people are that Lovie Smith was fired in Chicago.  If you start 7-1 and miss the playoffs, something is wrong.  I don’t want to hear the injuries excuse.  Everyone in the league has injuries.  Deal with it.  He didn’t coach his team up.  He didn’t make adjustments when they needed to.  Jay Cutler (who everyone knows I am not a fan of) has been running for his life since coming to Chicago and they have yet to address the offensive line.  There comes a time when it’s time to move on.  Since making the Super Bowl, the Bears have only been to the playoffs once.  That is one appearance in six years.

- The “player safety” thing is getting out of hand.  They are handing out fines and suspensions for hits that aren’t illegal.  Ed Reed was fined $55,000 for a clean hit on Victor Cruz.  He hit him with his shoulder to the shoulder/chest area.  Where else is he supposed to hit him?  You want him to go low and destroy the knees of Cruz?  It’s getting ridiculous.  I hate to break it to you, but football is violent in nature.  It is impossible to remove the violence from the sport.  It’s crazy to see the NFL fine guys…but then use the hits on a highlight package.  Gotta love hypocrisy!

- While speaking of the league office, I have to say that I am tired of the Saints fans whining about Goodell “screwing them over”.  Your team ran a program that is not league approved and could have injured players.  Stop playing the victim card.  Sit and enjoy your *Super Bowl* win.  Those asterisks look good on you.

- The Eagles quickly became the joke of the league.  They removed Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook only to remove any chance of winning.  I’ve been saying it since he was at Virginia Tech and I’ll say it again, if Michael Vick is your quarterback, you will never win a Super Bowl.  I’ve said it since he was in Oakland, Nnamdi Asomugha is more hype than skill.  He’s Dre Bly 2.0.

- The Detroit Lions proved to be the fluke team I expected them to be.  Last season they were the “Fortunate Bounce” team, which is that one team each season that wins games in spite of themselves.  This season they came back to reality.  Calvin Johnson had a great season, but really how great was it.  I want to throw something at you.  Would you rather have Calvin Johnson’s record season or Jerry Rice’s previous record season?

Calvin Johnson: 122 receptions, 1,964 yards, 5 TD’s, 4-12 team record

Jerry Rice: 122 receptions, 1,848 yards, 15 TD’s, 11-5 team record

Yet again, you have to look at this as a team game and not get so hung up on individual stats.  I’d rather be in the playoffs on an 11-5 team than have a record breaking season on a 4-12 team.  Congrats.  You broke a record, but did you really help your team win?

Enjoy the playoffs!!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Losing Jason: Part VII

On October 31st, 2010, my best friend Jason Ryan Schippers a.k.a. Fish passed away due to surgery complications. It’s been difficult to come to terms with this, but on the 2nd anniversary of the events, I wanted to let my thoughts and emotions out via this blog. Each posting will coincide with an occurrence from that date two years ago. This is not going to be easy to write, post or read. This is my view and emotions from this. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but telling this story is something I feel compelled to do.

Part VII: Where I Am Right Now

The journey has not concluded, nor will it ever. Sometimes terrible things have to happen in your life so that you can learn and find the good within yourself. We’ll never truly know why Jason had to leave us. It’s nearly impossible to accept it and move forward. The thing is we have to move forward. Life has not stopped. The great thing is that his memory and legacy live on. He inspires, not inspired past tense, but continues to inspire. He gave each person he touched, whether for a moment, a decade or a lifetime, something to learn from. Jason knew how to treat people and how to inspire the best from them. He brought a bit of joy and warmth to those he encountered. The world lost a truly unique and one of a kind person, but by accepting what he taught us, his legacy can continue. His legacy in my mind is to always be the best you can, not just in what you do but how you treat others.

I’ve changed in major ways and some silly ways, too. I have a new appreciation for comic books and the characters within. Their symbolism is pretty powerful. I love watching Marshall get so excited playing with his Superman and Batman figures. I love immersing myself in the imagination and fun of these, but I also love the psychology of these characters. It’s a completely 180 from what I used to be. One thing I know for sure, if I raise my son to be at least half as good of a person as Jason, I’ll be extremely proud.

Throughout this entire process I’ve learned quite a few things about myself, and honestly, quite a bit I didn’t like. I’m not the most likable person around, honestly, a good amount of the time. I’m loud, brash, opinionated and not always considerate of others. At the same time I am very compassionate, loyal and genuinely care about people in my life. It takes a special type of person to care about me. I learned that I needed to channel the positive aspects of myself far better than I had been. The problem with being as passionate as I am is that it can come across negatively. I’m too passionate at times, but I guess there are worse things to be, right?

Every relationship with Jason was unique. He made you feel special and important, whether you were a close friend or simply an acquaintance. In my case, he believed in me and made me better than I truly ever thought I was. I became a better person, husband and father simply by spending the time I did with him. He taught me that you can be who you are, let others be who they are and just love them for who they are. We’re not made from a cookie cutter. Our uniqueness makes us special. He taught me to treat people right, like they matter because everyone does.

I learned that I know the right path and what I should be doing to live a good life, but I somehow lost my way. My directions became skewed but I now know how to stay in the right direction. I hope I continue to follow the right way and not get detoured again. I do feel the guidance of an angel on my shoulder, though. I am confident he’ll continue guiding me on the right path.

Angie and Jason
I also learned that I am absolutely blessed with some of the best friends a guy like me could ever hope for. So many people seemed to pop up right when I needed them. The support has been overwhelming and to feel that love is humbling. I have a newfound appreciation for the people in my life. The lesson from Jason and my rift that I take away is that it’s okay to disagree with friends, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are still the same person I choose to have in my life. One disagreement doesn’t need to ruin a lifelong friendship. We disagree because we all see the world from different angles. There’s no such thing as the correct angle; what works for me in my life may not be the best thing for you. As friends and family all we really need to do is be there for each other. No one knows how low I was. There comes a time, though, when you have to pick yourself up and rise; rise to be better than you were before. I had to learn from the pain to become a better person, husband and father. It’s truly a special thing to be able to see someone fall, only to help them up and also see them succeed. Love and friendship can conquer all. The support I received pulled me up and I can never thank those who helped me enough.

One journey ends, but another has begun. For me, not only do I learn from the mistakes I’ve made but I’ve learned from the good he’s given me. Why did Jason care, support and love me so much? I may never know but I will continue to look for that positive, that good…that “Fish” within me. If we all learn from and pass along the things we learned from him, this world would be a far better place. Keep his love and legacy going. We all know he would do the same for us…and then some.


As we complete this part of the journey, I wanted to take a minute to thank those who have been so supportive and loving during the past few years. There were times where I would have shattered but you all kept me together. This list may be long, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention you all by name. I may miss someone as my thoughts have been scattered at times, but I appreciate all of you more than words can say.

Rachel and Marshall Wahl - Your love and positivity got me through when I didn’t think I could.

Angie and Jon Von Glan, Marla and Ralph Schippers – Thank you for accepting me into your lives, despite my faults. Your love means the world to me and I feel Jason every moment we are together.

Carl Nelson, Jeff Daye, Jamel Jefferson (and family), Dusty Dickey, Nick Anderson, Rick Glowacki, Kraig Kirkpatrick, Mike Swaim, Jason Bell, Marc VonAhnen, James Riley, Heather Jones, Bobbi Rissman, Brandi Smith, Erika Napoletano, Josh Puyear, Neil Bode, Amy Hughes, Kate Westercamp, Hadassah Holl – You all listened or e-mailed me at some point and I appreciate the ear and support.

To those that aren’t named, don’t think you’re forgotten. I appreciate it.

Last, but never least and always remembered, thank you Jason Ryan Schippers. In a world of acquaintances, you were a friend to all who met you. To me, you were more than that. You truly were my brother. You inspire me to be better than I am and I will forever cherish you and the memories we shared. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you often, but those thoughts are finally about our good times. They far outnumbered the bad. I said it before and I’ll say it again, save me a ringside seat in heaven. Just make sure a smirk and massive hug are ready before we sit down. I love you, bro.

Previous Entries: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V / Part VI / Part VII

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Losing Jason: Part VI

On October 31st, 2010, my best friend Jason Ryan Schippers a.k.a. Fish passed away due to surgery complications. It’s been difficult to come to terms with this, but on the 2nd anniversary of the events, I wanted to let my thoughts and emotions out via this blog. Each posting will coincide with an occurrence from that date two years ago. This is not going to be easy to write, post or read. This is my view and emotions from this. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but telling this story is something I feel compelled to do.


Part VI: The Months After

The months immediately after Jason’s passing, visitation and funeral were very difficult to deal with. I spent a good deal of time feeling guilty every time I laughed or smiled. I rejected positive things, other than Rachel and Marshall, because I didn’t feel worthy of them. It was really my lowest point because I had such a hard time accepting that he was gone and that I didn’t get the chance to let him know I cared.

There were times that I felt he was still with me, though. A few short months after he passed, there was a job opening at work. It was a position I had previously held and excelled at, but left for a few reasons. Let’s just say those reasons were no longer present and the position would be good for me again. During the time I was in that spot previously, Jason was always so supportive. He loved my job, selling video games, and was always talking to me about it. When I left the position, he was my backbone and helped me deal with what caused me to initially leave. So when the spot opened up, I was sitting at my desk thinking that I was ready to return. Something internal was holding me back, though. Mostly I was nervous that the group wouldn’t want me back since I left before. I don’t want to be thought of as unreliable or shrink under pressure. None of that caused me to leave, but very few knew my real reasons so who knows what the thoughts were. I needed a push in the right direction. As I sat at my desk contemplating what to do, I got a sign from Jason. My headphones were on and as I was asking myself what I wanted to do, the song that was Jason’s ringtone for years popped on…Triple H’s theme song from the WWE, The Game. It was the sign, the moment I knew I had to take this job. I had to excel at it. He gave me the push I needed. I promised him, that day, that I would take the job and be the best. Every day I work to be the best, not only for me and my family, but for him. If I ever win sales rep of the year, it’ll be an emotional moment.

Angie and I just having some fun
During this time, there was one person who I did talk to, and really made me feel welcome, and that was his sister Angie. Angie was always like a little sister to me. From the moment we met, we just clicked in that way. Heck, the first time we met Jason brought her over to my house for a party. She decided to go shot for shot with us, which did not end well at all! Luckily Rachel helped a great deal in taking care of her that night.  Her and I e-mailed, texted and got together on a few occasions to talk. We went over to her house a few days after everything had calmed down to talk. During that time, she found some pictures for me and also let me use his laptop to find any memories of him and I that I needed to keep. The most important thing she told me during this time was that the e-mail I sent her right after his surgery, she had read to Jason. While it wasn’t a big e-mail or filled with overwhelming love, it was a simple “Tell him we care” type of thing. The fact that he knew in his heart that I was thinking about him, made me feel a touch better. I was having a hard time living with the fact that he left this world without truly knowing I cared. To know that he heard I reached out, and he knew because of Angie deciding to read him that, meant the world to me. I can never thank her enough for that.

Carl, Angie and I at Uno Night
I also started to get to know some people that Jason had gotten to know during that year we weren’t in contact. If there is one thing I learned, it was that Jason was always open to everyone but the people he spent the most time with were always wonderful people. I wish I had gotten to know them with Jason because collectively, especially Neil, they would have been a great group to be part of. I was lucky to be invited and welcomed to a few events they coordinated, but especially Uno night at the High Life Lounge. It was just a fun group of people getting together, playing Uno and throwing back a few beverages. The first Uno night was really in honor of Jason and I had to be there. In addition to the usual group, Jason’s parents were going to be there. I was excited to see them again, but I was also very nervous. I still felt like I owed them an apology for how things between Jason and I broke down. When I arrived that night, they were already there.  I walked over and exchanged hugs and the usual pleasantries, but I didn’t know how to bring up the subject. I still didn’t want to burden them with my issues, nor did I know what they would want to talk about. I never wanted to be the guy who brought everyone’s spirits down (even though I did on a few occasions over the last two years). Instead of stepping up and talking to them about it, I kind of blended in to the group.

The sad thing was that because of my inability to express myself and all the internal turmoil I had, I unintentionally pushed them away. Marla e-mailed me and wondered if I even wanted to keep contact with them. I felt awful that I even made her think that, but completely understood why. The good thing to come of it was that her and I began to talk via e-mail about a few things. It helped clear up why I had seemingly withdrawn myself at that time. We’ve moved past it pretty well. We’ve been able to go out to dinner on a couple of occasions, we went to Hangover 2 together, talked a little bit and I think set a good foundation for being in each other’s lives for a long time. Marla even shared with me something that was very difficult to see, but knowing she trusts me enough to share them with me was overwhelming. What did she share? Well, she showed me pictures of Jason in the hospital during that final week. It was personal, powerful and something I painfully treasure. They also made me one of the first to see the sketch of his headstone. When it was finally placed, Angie let me know so I could go see it. I had been there a few times prior to that, but it was nice to go and actually connect with something that represented him so well.

His family has always been so good to me, for reasons I’ll never know, and it is amazing they want to keep me in their lives. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I still remember the last time I saw Jason alive. We were out for an annual birthday party get together at an Iowa Energy basketball and he was there with another group. He performed a contest on court during halftime and looked to be having a blast. We weren’t talking at the time, but made brief eye contact. I still remember that moment and it was a look of wanting to get things back on track, but I was still stubborn. Every year we have that event I think of him. I will never forget 2 months after Jason’s passing, we were carpooling down to the arena and I was talking to my friend Nick. Nick had briefly worked with Jason and for some reason, had his name tag. He ran across it earlier in the week and brought it with to give to me. He said, “I thought you would appreciate this.” I don’t know why it meant so much, but it was something I absolutely cherished.

I have done and like to do things in his honor now. Every year now I donate to the United Way and make sure my full donation goes to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Iowa. I want to make sure that something Jason supported so enthusiastically continues getting support. I used to spend every Wrestlemania with friends, but now it just doesn’t seem right. It’s a part of me that is missing so I’ve started buying them alone and watching. I also went forward with getting two tattoos in his honor.

The first is a koi fish dragon on my ribs (location decided because I wanted to go through the most physical pain I could think of) with the words “Count to five” transcribed. I had to get a fish, for obvious reasons, and the koi was ideal. It has a deep meaning of friendship and love in the Japanese culture and it fit too perfectly. The words were something Jason had tattooed, but also had a deeper meaning for him. He was a massive fan of the TV show Lost, of which I have still yet to see. Based on the meaning given in the show, it’s a belief that you can really get through anything. From the show, here is the explanation:

Well, fear's sort of an odd thing. When I was in residency my first solo procedure was a spinal surgery on a sixteen year old kid, a girl. And at the end, after thirteen hours, I was closing her up and I, I accidentally ripped her dural sac, shredded the base of the spine where all the nerves come together, membrane as thin as tissue. And so it ripped open and the nerves just spilled out of her like angel hair pasta, spinal fluid flowing out of her and I... and the terror was just so crazy. So real. And I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I'd let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its thing, but only for five seconds, that's all I was going to give it. So I started to count: one, two, three, four, five. Then it was gone. I went back to work, sewed her up and she was fine.

It’s quite powerful and also helped guide me towards a third tattoo, which comes from my religious beliefs; Philippians 4:13 (translation is slightly different depending on the version, but all means the same):

            I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

To me, they both held very powerful statements and ones that help push me in good days and bad.

If you’ve read my previous post regarding Batman, you’ll understand the second one a little bit. I’ve always been a huge fan of Batman. I definitely don’t profess to know about the lore, but I was always captured with the dark character that seemingly carried the weight of his parents’ death on his shoulders. When Jason passed, I placed a lot of it on my shoulders. I obsessively played the “What if” game. What if he had never left to go to Colorado? What if I wouldn’t have been such a jerk to him? If I had done things differently, would he have left? I even wondered that if he were here and going through medical issues, could friends of mine in the medical field have saved his life? It’s such an unfair thing to do to myself, but also to anyone who would have been affected by any change. Had he been here and friends of mine were helping treat him, how would I have reacted had he passed away in their care? It would be horribly unfair to place that burden and/or blame on them.

So I decided that I needed to represent Jason and also the burden that I have/had into one piece. Given his love of comics, heading to Heaven in a Superman shirt and the association I felt with Batman, it became fitting to work them in together. It’s a piece that I am extremely proud of, not only for what it represents but also for tying us together in a way that he would be proud of.

Life moves on whether you want it to or not. I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to go back, fix things and see if I could have helped. It was impossible to do, though. As the months progressed I realized I needed to, not only remember him and the lessons from my mistake, but also move forward in a way that he would be proud of. Hopefully he’s looking down upon me and seeing some of those changes.


Previous Entries: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V / Part VI / Part VII

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Losing Jason: Part V

On October 31st, 2010, my best friend Jason Ryan Schippers a.k.a. Fish passed away due to surgery complications. It’s been difficult to come to terms with this, but on the 2nd anniversary of the events, I wanted to let my thoughts and emotions out via this blog. Each posting will coincide with an occurrence from that date two years ago. This is not going to be easy to write, post or read. This is my view and emotions from this. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but telling this story is something I feel compelled to do.

Part V: The Funeral

I didn’t sleep well the night before the funeral. I just couldn’t stop my mind from racing. In the years before Rachel and Marshall, the easiest thing I could think of to stop my racing mind was to drink in excess. It was never something I considered a problem, but knew that self-medicating with alcohol was not a good decision for me, especially now. I was very focused on being a good husband and father, while also trying to become a better overall person. Alcohol induced sleep is the last thing that I needed to do so I just laid there. I kept playing our rift in my mind, never really understanding my actions. In addition to that I kept thinking about the most trivial of things, like what I should wear to the funeral. That’s not a joke. I was desperately trying to think of something to wear that was respectful but could also pay homage to Jason. I decided on my Superman cuff-links and tie featuring The Rock. It was corny, but fitting for us.

There was also a song that kept repeating my head, Hurt by Johnny Cash. There were a few lines that just kept going over and over in my mind;

What have I become,
My sweetest friend,
Everyone I know,
Goes away in the end,

And you could have it all,
My empire of dirt,
I will let you down,
I will make you hurt,

Heather and Bobbi, good friends from work, came over to babysit Marshall while Rachel and I went. As soon as they arrived, we jumped in the car to head over. I was worried driving over that we wouldn’t get a seat as the number of people that attended the visitation was overwhelming. When we arrived, the place was packed. We were able to get two seats together in the next to last row. My good friend Marc was already there, the next aisle over. We exchanged a look and a nod but nothing more. I think a lot of people weren’t sure what to say to me during this. They knew how close Jason and I had been, but they also knew we hadn’t been talking at all. It was just strange all around.

I don’t remember much about the ceremony itself. I had tears streaming down my face, my head in my hands and just a complete feeling of loss. When the ceremony completed, everyone got up to walk past the casket to see Jason for the final time. His family was in a separate room right off the front for privacy, but I could slightly see them back there from my spot in line. As I made my way towards Jason, I was washed over with the pain I experienced seeing him the night before. I didn’t collapse, but felt completely weak in the knees and wanted to fall. Without thinking, I unhooked one of my Superman cufflinks and held it tightly in my hand. As I got up next to him, I quickly placed it in the casket with him. I truly felt that part of me was lost that day and this symbolized it. I wanted to make sure I was with him so he wasn’t moving on alone. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but I just needed that part of me with him. I immediately ran over to the private room and hugged Angie. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be in there, but I just wanted to show my love to them.

We walked out into the lobby and stood, hugging and trying to make sense of the unexplainable. After a few minutes the area had cleared out to leave the family alone with Jason while they closed the casket. We went out to our car and waited to follow them to the cemetery. It all seemed so surreal. This guy, so full of life and love, was no longer with us. How can this be? I just kept wondering that. It didn’t make any sense, and still doesn’t to this day. Sometimes in life things aren’t meant to be understood, I guess.

I watched Jason’s family get into the limousine that carried them to the cemetery and prepared to follow. We followed and parked, exiting the car to meet friends and head to Jason’s final resting place. Rachel and I stood a few feet from his family under the tent on this cold day. Standing next to me was Jason’s “son” from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization. He was the grandson of the man who presided over the funeral, but looked lost amongst it all. I stood next to him and just put a hand on his shoulder for a second to let him know it was okay to feel whatever he was feeling. He looked sad and confused but glanced up at me with a small smile. I think he was just giving me a nod of appreciation for a gesture so small, but may have meant something to him. He left once the proceedings have completed.

Before leaving people made their way to Jason’s family, who were seated right in front of the casket, to give their condolences one more time. We slowly worked our way over and prepared to, well I didn’t know what. Regardless of what I said, it wasn’t going to help. My hug wasn’t going to help. There’s not enough strength in the world to be given to a family who lost an angel way too soon. The strangest and most powerful thing happened to me, though, when I got up to Marla. I walked up to his Mom, gave her a hug and she immediately said to me, “Jason loved you.” It was such a simple statement, but such a huge moment. Here we are, standing in front of her son who passed away, and she was comforting me! I should be comforting her, but she wanted me to know that he loved me. Despite everything that happened and was said, he never stopped caring just like I didn’t. It’s a moment I treasure so dearly and hold very close to my heart.

We went downtown after the funeral to hang out briefly at a reception. I was able to talk to Angie a little bit and get things heading in the right direction with me and his family. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose touch. So many times in situation like this, the family gets lost by the friends of the person who passed. I didn’t want to be a side note, a brief cameo in their lives. I had lost him but wanted to make sure I was still welcomed in their lives. So often when someone passes on, their family is consoled my friends but then people disappear. I didn’t want to be that guy. They mean well and do care, but I wanted them to know I cared about them too. They were going to have some tough times ahead and I wanted them to know they could reach out to me, like Jason used to. We said goodbye and went to Tasty Tacos for lunch with Carl and Jamel.

Once Rachel and Marshall went to bed that night, I just sat on the floor looking at old pictures of Jason and I. We had so many. He was a huge part of my life. I watched my wedding video because it was the only thing I had with him in it. I relived memories in my mind and wondered how could I let that all go astray. As you’ll learn, though, I did a lot of “What Ifs” over the next few months.

Nothing seemed right about that day, that week. Jason had left us and now we have to move on without him? It just didn’t seem real. So many of us had fallen and it just seemed so tough to rise.

Previous Entries: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V / Part VI / Part VII

Monday, November 5, 2012

Losing Jason: Part IV

On October 31st, 2010, my best friend Jason Ryan Schippers a.k.a. Fish passed away due to surgery complications. It’s been difficult to come to terms with this, but on the 2nd anniversary of the events, I wanted to let my thoughts and emotions out via this blog. Each posting will coincide with an occurrence from that date two years ago. This is not going to be easy to write, post or read. This is my view and emotions from this. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but telling this story is something I feel compelled to do.


Part IV: The Visitation

I worked a half day on Friday, November 5th. I knew that I needed to try and mentally prepare for what I was about to see and face later that evening. I drove home listening to music that no one could imagine speaking to me, Taylor Swift. That was probably the first laugh you’ve had reading this series, but honestly, that album had songs that spoke to me while I was suffering. Between her and Stone Sour, I had a soundtrack of sorts leading me through certain situations. (Coincidentally both Stone Sour and Taylor Swift released albums last week.) Believe me; it’s better than listening to the Murderdolls, which I had been doing non-stop for about two weeks prior. Let’s move on.

I got home and started pacing around my house. I was alone with music playing softly in the background. I didn’t know what to expect. I was about to face a litany of things that I wasn’t sure I could. I was going to confront one of my biggest fears…death. I would have to face Jason’s family, who knew how close we had once been but I treated their son poorly for the last year. I have a ton of love and respect for his parents, Marla and Ralph, and I was worried my presence would be an unwelcome distraction in a situation that was already bad enough. I was also going to stare my biggest regret in the face, and know I could do nothing to fix it. I didn’t know how I would react, physically and emotionally.

Jamel, Jason and I
Rachel, Marshall and I headed to the funeral home a little after 4:30 that day. I don’t recall saying much on the way but my pulse was racing as we inched closer. When we parked the car and got out, the first people I saw in the parking lot were Jamel’s parents. It was good to see them and they were happy to meet Marshall. We all walked in together and got into, what had already developed into a huge line. I was blown away by how many people were already there, and would continue to be as more and more arrived. Being in line with a one year old can be a challenge, which only complicates the anxiety that was building up in me. There was a fountain in the lobby area with fish (I noticed that immediately) swimming in.  As Marshall noticed this, he ran over to look in.  As I followed, I glanced in to the room that was in the distance to see Jason in his casket. I almost ran. I was overcome momentarily by sadness, fear, anxiety and guilt. I turned to Rachel and said, “He’s in there.” I don’t think she, nor anyone else around me, noticed how tumultuous I was inside but I felt like I was about to explode. I handed Marshall off to Rachel and excused myself to the restroom. I just needed a minute to compose myself. It took a little bit but I took some time to breathe, splash water on my face and get composed as best I could. I still had not cried throughout this entire week, fighting it off at every turn but I didn’t know how much longer it would last. When I returned, I noticed some people smiling a bit as they were leaving. Wondering internally about their smile, I looked over to see my son pushing the handicap button on the door to open for people leaving. While so much pain and sorrow was in the air, for just a moment, people were captured by this little boy helping them out. He didn’t realize what he was doing, he’s just having fun and being polite opening a door, but he gave people a moment to smile and exhale. I could not have been more proud of him at that moment.

Marshall was an angel for me
during everything
As we reached the front of line, my emotions were racing. There was a table with a guestbook, adorned with a classic picture of Jason taken by Rachel. I now have an 8 x 10 of this framed in our house. At the front of the line greeting people before entering the room was Angie and her husband Jon. I was so amazed at how well she was keeping herself together, maybe just numb from hearing the same things over and over or maybe just not allowing everything to fully sink in. I don’t know, but it was amazing. That is, until I walked up there. The moment she saw me, we dove right in to a massive hug while she cried. I withheld tears because I wanted her to be weak, for just a minute, and let out some of what was held in. Seeing her sad, Marshall started to cry to which she smiled a bit and gave him a big hug. We talked briefly before moving into the room where Marla and Ralph were waiting to greet everyone. The room had about 10 rows of chairs that a few small groups had congregated to sharing stories. Next to Ralph was a television scrolling through pictures as music played in the background. Marla could not have been more welcoming to me, which was a worry of mine. I think that despite all Jason and I had been through, she knew the core and root of our friendship. It was pure, genuine and so filled with love that this minor blip would not be the lasting legacy of us. She told me how he always spoke in such regard of me and how he always considered me a friend/brother. It didn’t hit me like it would later, but she was comforting me. Her comfort would also come the next day, which I’ll delve into later, but is one of the most amazing moments I can recall from this entire time. We stood and chatted with them both, introducing Marshall and trying to put on a strong exterior, all while the pain was around us. It was awkward with Marla and Ralph at first, for me. I believed in my heart that I should have been there for him and I wasn’t. I had abandoned him at a time of his life where he probably needed me. I know he had great people around him, but our bond was tight. It was the type of bond where nothing was off limits. I wanted to talk to them, but just never knew what words to say. I almost didn’t feel worthy of the love and support they gave to me. Read that again; the love and support they gave to me. It was just so much for me to take in. We still haven’t talked in depth about everything. I just didn’t know how to say anything. I also didn’t want to burden them with the weight from my shoulders. They were going through enough and I desperately didn’t want to add to it. I know they knew I cared and would do anything to help. It’s just that nothing I can do will ever take away their pain. They deserve to have him here; we all do.

After a few brief minutes with them it was time to give our respects to Jason. I was almost frozen in fear. I am terrified of death, and truth be told, Jason was only the second body I had ever seen. That was the least of my fears, though. I was about to confront the mistakes I had made over the past year, all while reliving the great moments we shared over the years. Rachel held Marshall so I could walk up to Jason alone. I had the eulogy/letter tucked in my pocket, clutching it in my hand as I approached. I started to shake uncontrollably, losing feeling in my legs and almost collapsed right in front of him. I completely broke down the closer I got. Every tear that I had held in up to that point started rushing out of me and, right before collapsing to the ground Jamel’s Mom ran in to hold me up. I don’t know how she got there so fast, maybe she saw me start breaking with every step I inched closer, but she completely held me as I shattered in a rush of emotion I had never felt. I ended up mailing her a thank you card a week after. She held me up in my weakest moment and I could not have been more appreciative of that.

Up to that point I just didn’t believe it.  I hadn’t seen him in a year or so. In my mind, he was still in Denver and we just hadn’t talked. He wasn’t really gone. When I saw him lying there, Superman t-shirt and Green Lantern ring on, it all hit me. I would never have the chance to not only make up, but to have any more amazing memories. Marshall would never get the pleasure of knowing Jason, and vice versa. It was just too much at that moment.

After a few moments being held together, I finally regained my strength and stood on my own power. Rachel gave me Marshall while she paid her respects. I will never forget the next few moments I shared with my son. As I held my little buddy, as I call him, he was looking over at Jason. He was only a touch over one so he had no idea what was going on. In an effort to not expose him to this type of sadness at such a young age, we had the following interaction:

            “That’s Jason. He’s sleeping.”
            Marshall, extending his hand and waving said “Night, night.”

It’s a something I couldn’t have anticipated. Marshall, in his infinite sweetness just gave me the most touching yet heartbreaking moment of my life. In a total moment of weakness and vulnerability, Marshall saying something so simple helped me. While I will always have a hard time saying goodbye, that moment symbolized the ending of one level of my friendship with Jason and opened up a new one. I knew, deep inside, that a change was occurring within me. It kicked off a lot of introspection and soul searching, things that I really needed at that time. Together, Jason and Marshall gave me the power to change for the better.

Jason and a great group of guys
I stood outside the room, always within eyesight of Jason, and talked with friends. I got the feeling that the eulogy/letter needed to be given to Jason. I didn’t know the etiquette of putting something in a casket, so I just held on to it alone. Rachel, allowing me to do whatever I felt I needed to do, tended to Marshall. I decided that I needed to find Erika, Jason’s new girlfriend, who I had been e-mailing on Facebook. She had been so warm and helpful during a time of mass sadness and confusion. The moment I introduced myself she gave me a huge hug and we started talking like we had known each other for years. In that brief moment, I could see how great her and Jason were together. We went up to him together while talking about anything that came to mind. She helped me with the letter and then we parted for a bit. Despite my fear of death, I sat at the very front of the funeral home as close to Jason as I could. I just couldn’t pull myself away from him. I wanted to be in his presence, knowing I didn’t want him to be gone.

By this time the visitation had ended and people were just standing around talking. There was a group of friends heading to get some dinner downtown. Rachel decided to take Marshall home so that I could spend time with my friends, which I completely appreciated. She really supported me in every way during this. Believe me, I wasn’t the most open about everything and she probably was confused some days, but never did she lash out. I think she always understood I had a lot of things to deal with. It’s one of the reasons I love her more each day; she knows how to deal with my unpredictable ways and moods and that’s not easy.

I went out to dinner with a large group and just enjoyed the company, all of whom were sharing great Jason stories. I didn’t talk much, more enjoying the happiness he brought others but also beating myself up internally. I had a difficult time balancing everything in my head, the good and the bad. I was focusing on the negative far more than the positive at this point. I got a ride from my friend Dickey, who is really similar to me in that we don’t talk about our feelings much. The funny thing is, the more him and I drink, the more we’re open to stuff like that. We’ve had some really deep talks, but after many a drink had been consumed. Guys just aren’t good with feelings and emotions. He dropped me off at home and as he drove away, I went inside and sat on the stairs. I knew that this day was the worst I had ever had in my life. I didn’t know what tomorrow held, but I knew the funeral would be brutal. I walked upstairs and watched Marshall sleep for a time. I needed his positive sweetness at that moment or I would have lost it again.


Previous Entries: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V / Part VI / Part VII

Friday, November 2, 2012

Losing Jason: Part III

On October 31st, 2010, my best friend Jason Ryan Schippers a.k.a. Fish passed away due to surgery complications. It’s been difficult to come to terms with this, but on the 2ndanniversary of the events, I wanted to let my thoughts and emotions out via this blog. Each posting will coincide with an occurrence from that date two years ago. This is not going to be easy to write, post or read. This is my view and emotions from this. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but telling this story is something I feel compelled to do.

Part III: The Tweet-Up

As Tuesday was turning into Wednesday, I still was lost. I didn’t really have an outlet that I could unleash. I didn’t want to share what I was feeling because I didn’t want to burden anyone. Additionally, I had worried that some unjust blame would start getting dished out. I understood the mistakes I had made, but when feeling emotionally unstable, I am the type who would easily lash out. The situation that caused my rift with Jason was because I sided with our friend Jeff on a completely minor issue. The last thing I wanted to do was blame Jeff for my choices. During this time, I knew Jeff was worried I would blame him and lash out. I think he still worries about it to this day, regardless of what I say. I was very cognizant of the fact that I am capable of this, so I was very mindful to not let it get the best of me. It was late, but at least I started learning something about my brief rift with Jason, right?

So I was looking for something, anything to connect with. I stumbled across the following on Facebook:

            Raccoon River Brewing Company
6:00pm until 10:00pm

As many might already know we lost an amazing person this weekend, Jason Schippers. We have caught wind that his friends in Colorado are having a fundraiser on 11/3/10 to help raise money to give to Jason's family.

With Jason being a large part of the twitter community we thought we would use this weeks @dmjuice #dmtweetup to do the same. Please come and enjoy how many of us got to know Jason. With laughs and drinks at a local watering hole. If you would like to, there will be a collection jar to "buy schippers a drink". All of the money collected will go to Jason's family.

Even if you are not on twitter please come and join us. Find out why @schippers enjoyed tweeting, and meet some new friends. If we have learned anything from Jason there is no such thing as "too many friends".

As Jason's friend Rich Mackey said, "Give love. Get love. Leave love behind." Let's help Jason's family, and leave a few bucks in the jar.

I really had no idea what a “Tweet Up” was, but knew I had to be there. If anyone was doing something for Jason, I was going to be there.

Carl and I trying to smile in a tough situation
I got off work early and drove downtown to the bar. I really didn’t know what to expect, nor if I would know anyone there. I went anyway, just wanting to be in his element. I remember walking upstairs and looking around, lost. Someone asked if I was there for the “Tweet Up” and all I knew to say was, “I’m here for Jason.” They smiled and pointed me to where everyone was. I donated some cash to the fundraiser, grabbed a beer and sat back. As expected, I didn’t know anyone who was there. After a few minutes, the woman he interviewed with the day after our Tough Enough marathon, arrived. It was good seeing her and we started to catch up and, of course, talk about Jason. Shortly after, my good friend Carl came in. Carl and I have a long standing friendship. We lived together for a year, and is probably the favorite guy I ever shared a place with. He’s just a genuine person and we both understood what the other was feeling, to a point. Along with him was Brandi, who I had never met but had heard of. She became one of Jason’s great friends after I had faded from the picture. She shared stories with me about how much Jason would still talk about me, and never anything negative. She mentioned how much he loved looking at my Facebook, commenting how happy I looked with Marshall and Rachel. It was very sweet, and yet heartbreaking. He should have seen it in person. I still have a hard time balancing that in my mind. I don’t drop into self-loathing as much as I once did, but during everything that was happening, I beat myself up extremely bad.

As previously mentioned, I had written a eulogy of sorts. I didn’t know what to do with it, but for reasons I don’t know, I just was carrying it with me. I didn’t know if I wanted to share it or keep it to myself. I just didn’t know because it was a eulogy/letter to Jason and he could never hear it. As I sat with Brandi, she somehow became my link to him. Without even thinking about it, I decided to let her and Carl read it. Now, I’ve decided to let you all read what I wrote:

            “Time heals all wounds.”

We’ve all heard that quote many times. I usually believe it to be true. I’ve seen it time and time again. Unfortunately I stand here knowing that I was not given the time to heal a wound…a wound that I so desperately wanted to heal. Jason and I had a falling out. It was the worst mistake I could have made. How could I lose touch with someone I was so close with? Someone who I had considered a dear friend, a close confidant, a partner in crime…a brother. Jason was family to me and I was to him. We said it many, many times to each other. Why did we have a falling out…well, because I kept butting in where I didn’t need to. He came to me, confided in me, trusted me. I judged. I didn’t help. I cast aside. I regret. Jason would never have done that to me. He never judged. He always helped. He drew me closer and never cast me aside. I learned so much from him, yet apparently not how to properly be a friend. He called me his best man. There was only one best man in our friendship…Jason.

I met Jason oh so many years ago. I first heard of him, not by name, but by the beloved nickname given to him by our mutual friends…Fish. I was invited over to his apartment one Sunday night to watch a WWF pay per view. I walked in and met a man who would forever change my life. On the surface, we were extremely similar. We shared a love of professional wrestling, video games and our beloved Magic Bullet blender. We joked, laughed, I introduced him to the UFC and we just had a great time. I remember leaving his apartment thinking, “That’s a good dude. I hope we hang out more often.” Little did I know I had been introduced to a person who would be with me through so much.

Over the next year we connected sporadically through wrestling and movies, but the night that changed our bond forever was known to us as “Wedding Crashers Night”. I had tickets to see an advanced showing of the movie Wedding Crashers. I invited Jason and went to the theatre. As we got ready to go into the theatre, Jason spotted a Lazer Rock Girl. He had a sly little smirk on his face. We all know the look. We went and sat down, he smirked to me and said “I’ll be right back.” He came back about 10 minutes later beaming and asked me “Will you be my wing man at Drink tonight? I’m meeting up with the Lazer girl.” I was impressed. We went to Drink that night and I played wingman. I distracted the Lazer girl’s friend for hours while Jason and her talked. At about 4 am we finally got back to his place. I asked if he was going to keep talking to this girl after tonight. He looked at me and said “No. I kissed her and she has weird lips. Thanks for helping out tonight, though.” I don’t know why, but this was just a priceless moment for me.

There are so many great stories I could share. The time he was visiting from Colorado, we went to Carlos O’Kelly’s with his family and friends. I had a special margarita…the Marla. We went to a party at my place, got Angie a little too tipsy and took care of her. The time my wife Rachel and I visited him in Colorado and we end up performing UFC moves on each other. The time he was coming back to Iowa and spent the night before a big job interview at my place. We ended up staying up until 3 in the morning watching old WWF Tough Enough episodes and just talking. In over 3 years, there wasn’t a day you and I went without a text, phone call, e-mail or a get together. There are just so many great times, conversations and memories between me and my brother Jason.

The one thing I miss more than anything is how he would greet me every time we got together. The first thing he did was see my wife and say in a high-pitched tone“RACHEL” and give her a big hug. He would then turn to me with his hand outstretched. We’d slap our hands together and give a hug. The kid could hug, man. He had so much love to give. It was also the look on his face when we got together. He had this little smirk. The smirk said so much, but to me it always said “I’m happy to see you and I love you, brother.” I miss that look. I have pictures of that look…but I want the real thing again. Unfortunately I can’t hug my Fish any more. I miss that more than anything.

There are so many great things we could say about Jason. Honestly, we could go on for hours and hours. Every one of us was touched by him in some way. He was a guy who brought out the best in everyone. He found the best in people and always focused on that. He never looked at your faults or your negatives. He loved every one for who they were. He had so much love to give and it’s evident that he spread that love to as many people as possible.

I just want to say to Jason…Fish, I love you brother. You meant more to me than I could have ever admitted or shown to you. Do me one favor, keep me a ringside seat up in heaven. I’ll be looking for you when I get there. I love you, Fish.

In retrospect, I realize there are not enough words to express what he meant, but at the time this was something that I needed out. It felt good to see their reactions and understand, to a degree, what I was going through.

Jeff, Carl and I at the Tweet Up
There were two huge things that happened to me that night, apart from what I mentioned above. In talking to Brandi, she encouraged me to make more contact with Angie. As we sat there, Brandi and Angie were texting. She started relaying messages back and forth, but then decided it would be best to let us do it on our own. I started texting Angie and started connecting better with her. The second thing that really affected me was two texts from my good friends Rick and Kraig. There were a few guys that casually knew Jason, from UFC and movie get-togethers. I wasn’t able to verbally say what had happened so I sheepishly texted them. While both displaying sorrow about it, they both reached out to see how I was doing. They not only wanted to see how I was, they also knew the story about my rift with Jason, but wanted to reaffirm with me how good of a person and friend I was. Without even saying a word about it, they both talked me up so I wouldn’t just sit around and bash myself. I knew they were friends, and good ones at that, but that moment really made me appreciate them that much more. I’ve never told them how much it meant to me, the words they shared, but they were moments that helped keep me together.

Me and Angie
Later in the evening, we were joined by a few others that were part of our group. Jeff, Jamel and Carl joined me in throwing back a few drinks while sharing great “Fish” stories. By the end of the night, we parted with smiles on our faces from enjoying time together and celebrating the time we shared with Jason. During the drive home, I felt an extreme amount of guilt. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should not be smiling or laughing during this all. I can’t quite put the feeling into words, but it just felt wrong to have any joy during that time. I often masked my pain at home with a smile so that what I was going through wouldn’t affect Rachel, but especially Marshall. I just didn’t think he should have been exposed to something so devastating at such a young age

When we found out that the visitation was Friday night, I just told Rachel what my plan was, not understanding she would want to go as well. I felt awful because I never took her feelings into consideration. We used to spend tons of time with Jason together, most enjoyably our Sunday nights together watching Rock of Love, and I forgot that she could be upset. We had a dispute about Marshall, because she wanted to bring him with to the visitation and I was absolutely against it. Eventually she won out, and in hindsight, it was a great decision.

Jason’s Obituary:

Jason Schippers, 29, of Denver, Colorado passed away on Sunday, October 31, 2010 at Rose Medical Center in Denver of complications following surgery.

Jason was born February 20, 1981 in Des Moines, Iowa the son of Ralph and Marla Schippers. He graduated from Southeast Polk High School in Runnells and attended Central College in Pella, Iowa. He ran Cross Country and Track receiving a varsity letter from Central in Cross Country. Jason was employed as the Marketing Director at Riverton on the Platte Apartment Homes in Sheridan, Colorado. Jason loved comics, movies, music, social networking and living life.

Jason is survived by his parents, Ralph and Marla Schippers of Pleasant Hill, Iowa; a sister Angie (Jon) von Glan of Waukee, Iowa; a grandmother, Sabra Schippers of West Des Moines, Iowa; and his dog Sophia and cat Jacks.

A celebration of Jason's life with friends and family will be Friday, November 5, from 4:30 to 7:30 at Dunn's Funeral Home in Des Moines with funeral services being held Saturday, November 6 at 10:00 a.m. at Dunn's Funeral Home with interment at Glendale Cemetery.

Previous Entries: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV / Part V / Part VI / Part VII