Handprints on My Heart

February 23, 2016


On Monday morning, I woke to the buzzing of my phone and the bright light of a notification. Through blurry vision, I read the words, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and my heart sank through the depth of the mattress. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed in a fuzzy panic, my fears were confirmed. My friend and Miss New Jersey sister, Cara, had passed in the early hours of the morning.

Just the day before, I stood in front of my church with a prayer request for Cara and her family. It wasn’t until that moment that I hadn’t felt confident in her recovery and didn’t have that gut feeling it would only be a matter of time before we were all glitzed up, laughing, and catching up over old memories and new life ventures. With sweaty palms and shaky legs, I was fearful that if I spoke before God and the congregation, the recounting of the few details I knew about her crash and condition would be more than just facts stringed together from different sources to be stored in my mind, but rather, a true reality.


As I expressed to my followers on Facebook, Cara taught me the art of fake eyelashes, pointing me to buy weave glue and then effortlessly applying them(in pageant land, this is a HUGE tip), and also helped me to pump gas for the first time on my own. As I soon learned, being an Arkansas girl in a Jersey world was a breath of fresh air and the secret to not running out of gas in the middle of a balmy New England night. When I first met Cara during our one and only competition year together and learned about her already established presence in the literary community, her intelligence and wit, and effortless charm I thought to myself, “Dang, this girl is giving me a run for my money,”and she sure did. Fast forward a year, that same Cara was placing a crown on my head and gracing me with the opportunity to follow in her dainty footsteps. After she left the crowd roaring with her viral Royals video, as she always did, she whispered in my ear, “Go get em, sista,” and I did.


We went on a mini vacation and drove to Massachusetts together(a six hour drive) after only truly knowing each other in passing. Cara got into my car grinning from ear-to-ear in the wee hours of the morning and McDonald’s breakfast for the two of us(she told me to screw the Miss America diet). She also slipped a Visa Gift Card into my change holder, which I discovered much later at a very desperate time. She was already an angel, I’m tellin’ ya. We were both apprehensive about the long drive, but it didn’t seem so long with her by my side and with the uncontrollable laughter and endless stories. With so much in common from our love of reading, to our devoted passion to working with kids, to our utter boy-crazy obsession(before we both met the ones whom our souls love), a true connection was formed at the onset.


As I fussed about needing a straightener for my hair at an appearance, in true Cara fashion, she told me to get my behind out of the car and stop sweating the small stuff. This stays with me today in my moments of doubt, especially with her passing, that life can be taken from us before we have a chance to blink, and we cannot waste time sitting in the car, or staying stagnant, obsessing over the diminutive details.

During our trip, we were deemed the “Jersey Girls in Jumpsuits,” and after almost running out of gas in the middle of the night in unknown territory, we agreed that even if we got stuck, we at least had the presence of one another. Throughout the rest of that year, Sally, our gem and traveling companion, would accidentally call me ‘Cara’ because of the similarity of our names. Each time, I would simply smirk, knowing that Cara’s friendship and her legacy was with me, even on the darkest days of travel. The sisterhood reigns strong and I will spend my days praising God that I was one of the fortunate to be touched by her heart. As any Miss New Jersey local title holders know, “In the end, we win them all, ’cause we’re all for one, and we’re one for all.” Cara won us all.


As Cara’s selfless story is being reported across the country, my spine still shivers with chills that in her final moments, she made the decision to donate her organs. A young woman, not much older than myself, lit the lives of others with a contagious spark while on earth, and is now continuing to impact those who never had the blessing to meet her. With the outpour of sorrowful sentiments and condolences by my own loved ones, I can’t help but smile knowing that if Cara went out, she was going to go out with sparkle and flair, gracing the pages of news outlets everywhere.


I’ve never been good with loss. I don’t think any of us are.

Although some will never make news coverage, we still mourn them with deep yearnings in our soul for their presence. In the busy day-to-day, we must forgive ourselves for putting off that coffee date and forgetting to send that check-in text simply because we made the most of the time we had. Yesterday brought an overwhelming sense of sadness and an awareness of my inability to allow myself to grieve. I’ve always found it easy to sweep those feelings of heartache under the rug of my room, never to be moved. Not quite thrown away, but always there. Typing through these words enables me to process and reflect on all of the positive amongst the pain. 


We shouldn’t have to lose people in the swiftness of the night, but yet, we do. Sometimes we get so caught up in going through the motions of life that we forget that one touch, one word, one moment can fulfill our purpose in the lives of others. I’ve grown to realize that without pain, we would not be able to experience joy. Without grief and loss, we would not be able to celebrate the gifts from above.


You and I are still on this earth with life filling our lungs because our purpose has not yet been fulfilled. Sometimes God takes people because they are better served as angels to quickly step in the way of our own harm and whisper the sound experience and advice into our conscious to change the trajectory of our lives into something far greater than we could have ever imagined ourselves.


I hope that times of loss catalyze you to grow into the best version of yourself. I hope that it’s an impetus to finally go after those insane dreams that you told yourself were just not quite realistic. I hope that you tell your loved ones how much they mean to you as they’re walking out the door because there is no guarantee they’ll be back.


I hope that you give yourself enough grace to recognize that our time on earth is limited, but our ability to facilitate profound change is eternal.




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© 2017 by Cierra Kaler-Jones