A Tribute to our Co-Founder, Anne Marie Ames

My heart is shattered into a million pieces.

How could I have let this happen?

I wish I would have loved her better.

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

photo credit: Shoot Photo Inc.

photo credit: Shoot Photo Inc.

 

Those were the first thoughts and feelings that rushed over me like a wildfire after it happened. I found out about Anne Marie’s passing through a call from Michelle, one of her closest friends and neighbors.

How we all wish we could have said goodbye.

Within minutes, Michelle was at my doorstep where Ben and I had been holding each other in shock.

Anne Marie was one of my best friends for the past four years. As some of you know, we met at a jewelry party hosted by Kiran, where the running joke after that night was that Anne Marie and I had fallen in love talking for two hours in a corner where no one could interrupt us.

It was the truth.

I had found a partner to pursue my dream with, and the rest is history. I even took her with me to get a “brave” tattoo about a month after our first show.

I loved her smile, her passion for mental health and making a difference in the world, and most of all, I loved her heart.

For me, losing Anne Marie was devastating, for all of us. But this doesn’t mean life shouldn’t move on.

Anne Marie and I always agreed on how I was the big-picture-dreamer and she was the behind-the-scenes, voice-of-reason Co-Founder. When she first stepped back from the organization in 2015 to pursue a new job, I didn’t know how I’d be able to move on.

Anne Marie was so humble. She had the kindest heart. She worked hard to provide for her family, taking pride in decorating the home, and she focused on her hobbies of furniture restoration and jewelry making as the boys grew up. I was in awe of the beautiful family she and Steve had created. I met the boys when they were 10, 14, and 16, but we never really connected since they probably thought it “wasn’t cool” to hang out with their mom’s friend. They better be careful though, I may try to recruit them into the family business. 

Anne Marie battled depression and anxiety until she couldn’t anymore.

It is my belief that Anne Marie died of a broken heart, but we don’t have the final verdict yet. The fact is, we don’t need it. It doesn’t matter. What matters at this moment is right in front of us. Let’s learn from this story to honor the mission of This Is My Brave: Storytelling Saves Lives.

As some of you know, I’m currently in the hospital. I’m here because in planning Anne Marie’s Celebration of Life, I became manic, even though we had a prevention plan in action. But it’s okay. I know Anne Marie is listening and she’s with us here today. It’s my belief that when a loved one dies, their spirit lives on within us. Whenever we hear a song or remember a particular memory, we’ll smile and know she’s watching over us.

Here in the hospital, I’ve been working on grieving and healing. It’s a slow process, a journey. One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, says you need to sit with the pain. Pain is not a hot potato. Rather, it’s a traveling professor who visits each of us at different times in our lives. It’s our job to sit with the pain. This is the reason I got my fourth tattoo: the word “hope,” which stands for Hold On, Pain Ends.

We have art therapy here. The other day, our assignment was to paint ourselves as a tree in this moment in time. This was ironic to me because Anne Marie has a Tree of Life tattoo with the word “brave” under it. My watercolor painting was of a palm tree with a thick brown trunk with bright green leaves and coconuts hanging down under the palm leaves. In my painting, the roots are visible - a horizontal line divides the middle of the paper and on the bottom half you can see the roots. Here in the hospital, I feel safe and cared for, surrounded by people who are all just like me - human.

Some of us are talking to ourselves. Some of us have visible scars on our arms from self-harm or suicide attempts. Some of us were simply too fragile to handle what was going on in the real world, so we were brought here.

The right side of my painting represents the outside world, while the left side represents the hospital or whatever safe place we’re able to build for ourselves. The two worlds are connected by a rainbow because love is the answer right now.

I’m forever grateful to Anne Marie for taking a risk with me back in the fall of 2013. Without Anne Marie, This Is My Brave wouldn’t exist. I’ll be grieving the loss of my friend forever. And I’m privileged to continue the work of This Is My Brave to honor her legacy.

photo credit: Shoot Photo Inc.

photo credit: Shoot Photo Inc.

I’ll leave you with this:

"In the midst of life, we are in death." - Episcopalian gravesite saying

Rest in peace, dear friend. I love you. You are deeply missed.

*****

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to a You Caring account for the family (https://www.youcaring.com/theamesfamily-913825) setup to help with expenses for the boys (education, etc.) by some of the many fantastic friends and neighbors who loved Anne Marie so much.

Updated, 10/10/17 {World Mental Health Day} with this Dedication to Anne Marie, written by Jennifer Marshall and read by our Boston Producer Elizabeth Driscoll at This Is My Brave's Boston show:

In 2013, I met the woman who would help launch This Is My Brave into existence. Her name was Anne Marie Ames and she would quickly become one of my best friends. Together, and with the support of volunteers and donors, we created a unique platform for individuals to share their true, personal stories of overcoming mental illness. In May of 2014 we held our very first show featuring 13 brave storytellers which sold out and blew everyone away, including the two of us. I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment we shared from having exceeded both our expectations. We couldn’t wait to see what was next for This Is My Brave.

In 2015, Anne Marie and I set out to expand This Is My Brave to bring the experience and our mission into new communities. About two and a half years ago, we held our first show in Boston at the Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain. I’m thrilled that we’ve finally returned to this wonderful city, and I know in my heart that Anne Marie is with us here today in spirit and love.

Anne Marie had a deep passion for raising awareness for the mental health issues that so many of us face yet have difficulty talking about. This Is My Brave wouldn’t be where we are today if Anne Marie wouldn’t have joined me in tackling what at times feels like the impossible challenge of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. And yet, we’re doing it. One person, and one story at a time. As Anne Marie said in our original promotional video for our first show, “This show is like we’re putting a pebble into the lake, and it’ll allow more people to hear the stories.”

I’m glad you’re here to witness the sharing of these incredible stories. And I’m so grateful to have had the four short years I had with Anne Marie. She changed my life, and the lives of many individuals who got to know her. I miss her more than words can express, but find a little comfort knowing Anne Marie’s legacy will be kept alive as people continue to come forward to share their stories, honoring her memory through This Is My Brave.