Life, Loss and The Legacy We Leave Behind
Three weeks ago today, I got the call that our friend Rehugh was gone. If you've ever received a call like this before, you know it is temporarily paralyzing. The world stops for a moment and you have to remind yourself to breathe but you don't really want to because it hurts to know you are alive and breathing and someone you love is suddenly not.
He lived in St. John, many of us no longer do so I had to make several difficult phone calls to friends who loved him very much and I knew I was going to temporarily paralyze them and that hurt too. I also knew my pain was only a fraction of what those closest to him were experiencing—his family, longtime girlfriend, best friends who were with him every day—and wanting so desperately to ease the pain of those you love brings on another different kind of overwhelming sadness.
Rehugh had a way of making everyone feel included, like you were a part of the island. If you were with Rehugh, you belonged and you were definitely going to have a good time, he'd make sure of it. He took me and countless others under his wing when I moved to St. John when I was 22 years old and it makes me smile to look back on that time because his wing span was so wide. He looked out for everyone, especially the "Woody's Girls", a group of young women including myself who worked at the favorite bar on island. And just trust me when I say: we were wild and reckless and needed to be looked out for.
Whenever I had friends or family visiting and had to work a shift at the bar, he'd happily volunteer to take them around town. He'd fix your car window, walk you home if you were drunk, call you a water taxi if you missed the last ferry, listen to you cry about your breakup and come behind the bar and change the song to get a dance party going.
boat trip at the Willy T in 2009
The first time my parents came to visit, Rehugh could sense their unease at my decision to move to an island thousands of miles away where I didn't really know anyone (also watching me drink Jagermeister straight out of the bottle on a boat trip probably didn't help). He bought them a round of drinks every time he saw them and reassured them over and over again not to worry because he would look out for me. My parents adored him and it made them feel better knowing he had my back.
He was incredibly kind to Brendan when I brought him down to visit St. John as my boyfriend for the first time four years ago. Bringing a significant other down to the island for the first time is like bringing them to meet your crazy family. It comes from a place of love but they can be brutal and will definitely vet/haze your boyfriend or girlfriend just to see what they're made of. First trip breakups happened all the time so you have to have a really solid relationship or it will probably be over by the end of the week.
Rehugh made it a point to befriend Brendan during that first trip. He was the one who sat down and bought him a drink whenever he was sitting by himself because I left him (again) to go hug and catch up with another one of my "best friends" (I have about 30 down there). He was incredibly intuitive that way—he could sense if you were uncomfortable and always made you feel like you had a friend.
No doubt there are a hundred people who could each tell you twenty stories just like this. It was all the little things he did that made him larger than life.
We've lost three young, magnificent island friends in the last six years. When you lose one of the good ones, it shakes you to your core. After my friend Kristi died, I changed. During her life celebration we talked about was how she was unapologetically herself, chased after her dreams and wasn't afraid to reinvent herself. Ever since then, I've tried to be more like her every day.
On Saturday, the streets of Cruz Bay were filled with hundreds of people wearing Dallas Cowboys jerseys (he was their biggest fan) celebrating Rehugh's life; crying, laughing, sharing stories, dancing, toasting, singing. Honoring a man who impacted every single person he crossed paths with. We talked about how he connected, included and looked out for everyone, how he made you feel special and had the biggest heart of anyone you've ever met.
Hundreds of people gathering outside of the packed church for Rehugh's service
Getting ready to lay Rehugh to rest on the flatbed of the truck he famously drove, surrounded by his family and best friends.
I can't stop thinking about the legacy he left behind. He connected, loved hard and was a friend to all. The hundreds of people who mourned his loss didn't care about his career or his material wealth or any of the other seemingly significant ways we measure the success of our lives when we're living. It's a cliché but it's true: in the end, all that matters is how much he loved and how he made us feel.
There comes a point where you have to ask yourself: what do I want to do with my life? And I'm not talking about how you earn a living, I'm talking about the impact you make on this world and the legacy you leave behind. You don't need to be famous or a CEO or high ranking government official or own multiple vacation homes or have 100K followers on Instagram to be successful. When it's all over, they won't be talking about these things. They'll be sharing stories about the times you made them laugh, how you listened to their struggles, how you were there for them when it mattered, how you helped them through the tough times, how much you loved their parents and children and friends, how they felt so special and loved when they were around you. They won't remember how you were successful on paper, they'll remember how you made them feel.
Rehugh always made me feel happy, safe and loved. That's what I will always remember and that's why it hurts that he's gone.
Life is short, my friends. This is it. You don't need to get anywhere or gain anything or be anyone other than who you are to build your legacy. I saw firsthand this week that being yourself and loving and accepting everyone around you can change the world. I now know this to be true: in the end, how much you love is all that really matters.
Sending you love—