Note: Junior safety Devin Studstill lost his mother, Sheena, in April 2017. He recently sat down to pen this letter to thank her for the profound impact she has had on his life.
Dear Best Friend,
Lord knows how much we miss you. There are so many things we did, although we didn’t have much, and whatever we lacked in funds we doubled in love and fun memories. I remember watching SpongeBob as a family together, enjoying the summers at Inner City Youth and staying up late at night just to dance and act like fools. Your laughter was contagious, and your love for people would fill hearts wherever you went.
You instilled so many lessons in David and me. I remember we used to fight a lot, you sat me down and explained to me that I am his big brother. You expressed how he looked up to me and wanted to be just like me. You were the first one to clearly get through my head the importance of family; you told me that we were all we have. I am forever my brother’s keeper because of you.
As a child, you made me aware of the power of options. One of the worst feelings is when I am helpless and have no options to work around my problems. You showed me how life is full of options and how invaluable it is to do well in school and be a man of character so that I can do anything that I want to do in this world. I thank you for that. I thank you for telling me the importance of challenging myself and holding myself up to my own personal standard: EXCELLENCE. You were constantly on me about cleaning my room, my bathroom and the kitchen. You even went as far as teaching me how to cook. You did not want to raise a weak man. I love you for that. At the time, I hated doing these tedious tasks and we would often butt heads about it. Even when you were annoyed at me everything you said had truth and value and was said in my best interest. But looking back on it, I am so far ahead of my peers because of the little things you had me do every day. Now, they are habits that I start each day with. I remember you. You’re such a big part of David and me!
My teenage years were a time of transition. I was arrogant and naive; a very bad combination. The very qualities you instilled in me such as organization, cleanliness, gratitude and excellence were all on display those years. The benefits from those qualities were tremendous for a high school boy. As a result, I had colleges blowing up my phone, I had unanimous respect from my peers, but I let these benefits get to my head and felt a sense of self-accomplishment. I did not honor the woman that bestowed all of these qualities in me through love. I was doing well and always had a lot of pride. When we were struggling to make the rent, I took it upon myself to find a way to fix things. Little did I know, the true hardship that you were going through… until now.
You were so strong for supporting two growing boys. You never made an excuse for our circumstance and never blamed it on anyone else. I know you were frustrated, and, believe me, people wish they could have helped you more than they did.
I was angry at our environment. I was angry at our living situation. I was frustrated with the problems at home. I pictured us in the suburb somewhere and was angry when I could do nothing to get my way. I want to apologize for taking out my anger and frustration on you. You loved me through it all and I thank you so much for it. I love you so much!
I went far away from home for college to get away from it all. My first semester at Notre Dame was a challenge. The people were different, and I did not have my family close by to support me. I immediately wanted to pack up and go right back home. I missed you. I missed talking to you. I needed your laughter and advice, but I was consumed by my pride and did not call. I struggled to adjust to the college life, but my process was much smoother when we talked. When we would get off the phone, I would be filled with motivation: you reminded me of my “why” for attending Notre Dame. I always wanted to make you proud and take care of you and the whole Studstill clan.
The next couple of semesters were the hardest for me, but I persevered through it all. We grew so close over this time. We talked at least twice a week and texted almost every day. Things were looking up for the both of us. I remember my winter break, I took care of you the whole break. It felt so good to be there for you, the way you had been there for me my whole life. I remember after dinner you told me something that I will never forget and hold dear for the rest of my life. You said, “Mommy is proud of you, and I love the man you are becoming.” It was so fulfilling to hear these words. You often told me you were proud of me and David, but this time it felt different. I could actually feel the work you had done in my life. I had finally felt deserving of this compliment because for once I could actually feel change in my life. A life that made you the priority. I will never forget that feeling I had after that kiss on my forehead.
I didn’t tell you everything I should have while you were alive. I have felt so much remorse and so much regret. I feel like your death is my fault in some way, shape or form. I sit here and think about all the time I had you in my life and I wasted it with fighting and resentment during my teenage years. I am so saddened that David was not even out of high school at the time of your passing. He wasn’t even offered the opportunity to receive your guidance and reassurance during this trying period in his life.
I want to step up and be a leader and be the person you were for me to him, but it’s just so hard and I feel so uncomfortable. I remember going to that doctor’s office with you. I remember being skeptical when he told me about the surgery. I wanted to know the ins and outs. My deepest fear was in the back of my head. I was worried for your safety. I’m upset at myself for not waking up and calling you before your surgery. I was always getting updates after the fact. I was upset at the way I found out. I called David. And he was just crying, Mom. Just crying. My little brother had to be the one to tell me my mother passed. Everyone around here knew before me and I was supposed to be your protector. I’m the one supposed to be taking care of you. I felt like as soon as things were looking up for us — the house, my status on the field — I was struck down. Mom, I’m sorry for all the fights we had, and my stubbornness. I deeply regret not talking to you. Now, I have all these questions, all these concerns that I know you would have the perfect answer for. I really truly hope you can forgive me.
I want this letter to symbolize the end of my grieving over your death. After this day, I will not sulk about you leaving us. I will think of the times we had with nothing but love. Both the good and the bad. I will be able to look back on this and say, “Wow, all of this happened for a reason.” I love you, Mom. I know you would want me to walk around with my head high like the king you raised me to be. I promise you that I will become the man you wanted me to be. I will do everything I do with everything I have. You always hated when I didn’t give it my all, just to be average. You always knew that when I put my all into something my fire would shine so bright. I will let my fire burn. I will give my everything for what I believe in. As long as I walk this earth, I will carry your spirit with me and we light it on fire, Ma! I love you so much.
With everlasting love,
Your big man