Dear Jimmy.

We did it.

We managed to bring the boys together for a weekend centered on celebrating our friendships with one another. And despite the fact you weren’t physically there, your spirit was more than present.

Back in January as Brandon and I prepared our trip to DC for the 2013 Inauguration, we knew a visit to Arlington would be in order. It had been not even three full months since we had your service there, and at that time we committed to seeing you at least once a year.

As we stood over your place of rest, wishing they’d completed the headstone, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed once again with the reality you’re gone, overwhelmed with the reality of your friendship to my husband, overwhelmed by the light you provided in our lives in days past and present.

It was in this moment I longed for the days you’d call with news you’d be headed to Tennessee. Word would always spread like wildfire that the infamous Jimmy would be landing in Nashville. Not much gets these boys truly giddy, but you did every single time.

The excitement around your visits and the memories you helped to create are something I’ve committed myself to maintaining in the years to come. And with that, it’s as though you gave me the shove I needed to pull off the greatest surprise party ever.

One week after visiting you in Arlington, I texted James with the idea of a weekend in Gatlinburg. We were far enough out that people likely didn’t have plans and it was a place Brandon has been babbling about for years. James got a feel from the guys and it seemed everyone thought our weekend getaway was a good idea.

It’s become increasingly difficult to keep in touch as we’re each living out such different seasons of life. You were always the glue holding it together, forcing their hand to come together. Because who could say no to Jimmy? No one; that’s who. Thankfully, almost everyone was able to join us.

August 1 rolled around and I felt that sense of joy just as you always instilled in the boys. And as the messages from them began to roll in, I could feel their excitement for our weekend together.

Brandon and I pulled up the steep mountain driveway only to plateau to the view of his best friends gathered around the porch awaiting our arrival. My heart literally burst in this moment.

Within minutes, the boys left the girls to our own devices. I watched as they each scurried down the steps, checking out the cabin and all of its amenities. I could hear them whispering, laughing and scheming plans for the weekend.

The giddiness you always brought them was upon us. And in that hour, my goal was accomplished. After eight months of planning, secret emails, texts, Pay Pal payments and prayer, Brandon’s birthday weekend was underway.

That night, Kate and Zach each give a little birthday toast to Brandon. They reflected not just on his friendship, but of each of the friendships around us. Hearing them speak, I was so thankful for the encouragement to make this weekend happen. And while I wanted so badly to make my own toast, I would’ve likely ended up a blubbering mess of tears, so I withheld.

Each time I heard your name mentioned over the weekend, my heart smiled. You may for all technical purposes be gone, but you are very much still living within the hearts of these boys. Over the course of the weekend, people continued to thank me for putting the weekend together. Humbly, I nodded knowing that the thanks truly belongs to you.

Thank you for being Brandon’s friend. Thank you for sharing your light with him and the rest of these boys for so long. Thank you for continuing to shine through our actions every day.

All our love.