Five More Minutes: In Loving Memory of Jody Marie Sanford

We’ve all got that one friend, or even multiple friends, that we feel are immortal. The kind of friends that have been with us through all heartbreak and the joys of life. The highs, lows, and everything included in this rollercoaster ride called life.

I’ve got several friends of that variety, but the one that’s been with me the longest is now at the Right Hand of God.

In fact, eight years ago today, she was called to her eternal home by God. On February 2, 2014, the one that I still consider to be the sister that I never had took her last breath and began that Heavenly journey that she has been on for eight years.

I can only imagine what she has seen over the last eight years in Heaven. I was so blessed to have been able to share 16 years of my life, her entire life, with her.

Although the time we shared together was far too short, we shared a lifetime worth of memories that I’m forever grateful for. Happy memories, sad memories, and everything in between.

By now, you’re probably thinking we had a perfect friendship. But believe me, there were multiple times in those 16 years that we got on each other’s last nerve.

But we never left each other’s side. She got on my nerves some, but I know that I got on her nerves far more than she got on mine.

How do I know that I got on her nerves? Well, if you knew Jody, you know about that side-eyed straight-faced look she’d give. Every time she gave me that look I’d playfully say “What is it Jody? What’s wrong?”

All while continuing to do what got on her nerves, not because I enjoyed getting the side-eyed, straight-faced treatment, but because I knew that it would only be a matter of seconds before she busted out laughing saying “You’re so stupid. You know that gets on my last nerve.” To which I’d pause and say “Yeah, I know. You want me to do it again?” And she’d playfully say, “No, you idiot.”

I’m forever grateful for the lifetime worth of memories that the two of us shared. From the trips to Mardi Gras in Mobile, to spending the summers at the city baseball fields, and everything in between.

On February 2, 2014, I was in the back of the house on the computer at about 4:30 p.m., when mom came running into the room and headed for her closet.

I wondered what she was doing so I asked “What are you doing?” She replied hurriedly “It’s Jody!” I was so confused at this point.

What has she done now? Was it something great, was she in trouble? What was going on? I was completely lost as to what was happening. The next minute my brother comes into the room and takes my phone.

After about two hours, the house phone rings and it’s mom. I pick it up, completely unprepared for what was about to be said on the other end. “Hello?” I said expecting just a normal answer to what was occurring.

I could hear people crying on the other end. Mom replied “Jody’s gone.” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. It had to be a prank right?? This just wasn’t possible. I slowly hung the phone up after mom said that she’d be home in a little while.

February 5, 2014 rolls around, the day of the visitation, or viewing as some people refer to it and by this time I had already accepted the role as pallbearer. A role that I wasn’t too sure about taking on, but I knew that she wouldn’t want it any other way.

After all, I’d been with her for her whole life, why not carry her one last time? I wasn’t sure about taking on this responsibility, but I would be doing it the next day at the funeral.

But now, it was time to face my worst nightmare. I entered Thelma Baptist Church, which is about a mile from my house, through the back side door, where I was met by her entire family.

I didn’t know if I had the strength to face what I was going to have to face whether I wanted or not, so her mom and dad escorted me to the sanctuary where the casket was located and her brother and sister walked behind me.

I entered the sanctuary and made a right turn. There it was. There she was. My best friend’s lifeless body laying in a casket. I broke down. I walked up to the casket, leaned down and whispered “You’re safe with me.”

I got there early and sat about mid-ways down the isle. Before long what seemed like a thousand people were showing up in droves to pay their final earthly respects to not only my best friend, but also my very first friend.

The next morning, the funeral was supposed to start at 9 a.m., so I got there around 8 a.m, went inside the sanctuary, sat right in front of the casket and prayed for the strength to get through the day. I can confidently say that I had never heard of an entire school shutting down for a funeral, that is until this one of course.

Afterwards, I looked up and point to the sky and was met with hundreds of hugs from mutual friends that the two of us share. During the funeral the preacher said “Sixteen years…too short some might say, but if it’s a life that was lived and loved, was it really too short?” Those words will always stick close to my heart

That girl loved life. She loved her family and friends, but most importantly, she loved God. She loved hard. You never left her company with the question of “Does Jody love me?” Because she was going to make sure you knew the answer to that question. But if you messed up, or she didn’t like what you did, or how you did it, she was going to give you an earful about it.

She also was a fighter. She fought for those she loved and in turn those of us whom she loved are left here to defend her name and to keep her memory alive.

She stood up for what and who she believed in and you never had to question her loyalty. It was evident as soon as you met her.

As the funeral ended, the funeral director asked the congregation to rise and prepared the casket to be carried out. I stood up, pulled my sunglasses down, even though it was a cloudy day, took a deep breath and grabbed the casket with my right arm.

Once we were out of the church, we loaded the casket into the back of the hearse and I leaned down saying in between tears “This isn’t the end.”

Afterwards I was met with more hugs and words of encouragement to get me through this rough time. At the graveside, I lifted my sunglasses and wiped my eyes with a tissue. Then I was met by more mutual friends that needed a shoulder to cry on, but little did they know, I needed that shoulder to cry on also.

Tell your family and friends you love them, you never know when you’ll see them for the last time. I’d give the world to be able to spend five more minutes with my best friend. Rest In Peace, angel. You are loved and missed more than you will ever know.

Happy eight years, angel. I love you and I’ll see you again one day soon. Until we pick up where we left off, do me a favor and give Heaven some hell.

An Open Letter to My Best Friend Who Left This World Way too Soone

We all have that one friend that we do everything with, but few people can say they have a friend that was there with them through the good, bad and indifferent times.

For me, that friend was Jody Sanford, we grew up in diapers together some 22 years ago.

We had a bond that was somewhat similar to Bonnie and Clyde, except we didn’t kill anybody, even though I know that went through our heads on multiple occasions with siblings that drove us crazy, but we never killed anybody.

We stuck by each other’s sides through hell and back. When one of us needed something, we knew that we could just pick up the phone and dial the other’s number and either one of us would be there in a matter of minutes.

I’m almost positive she’s the only reason I did my school work and graduated high school.

Jody was more than my best friend, or my partner-in-crime, she was the sister I never had.

When I was too busy talking in class to do my work, she’d turn around and say “You’d better get busy before I tell Mrs. Ellen.”

She said that quite often, in fact. Most of the time, I would just roll my eyes at her and get busy doing my work and she’d laugh and say “That’s what I thought.”

Through the years, we shared countless memories, like Mobile Mardi Gras, where we saw ‘M&M man’ a man that was dressed in a yellow M&M jacket waiting to catch beads and whatever else they threw his way.

We shared many laughs like the baby monitor incident at Mardi Gras one year, I won’t go into detail, because words just wouldn’t do that baby monitor justice.

We shared serious times too; believe it or not.

I don’t know how she managed to keep me in line as often as she did, I can barely keep myself in line.

But sadly, on February 2, 2014, my best friend, partner-in-crime, the sister that I never had, gained her wings.

I remember that day vividly, perhaps too vividly.

My mom was in the kitchen cooking on the stove and literally dropped everything she was doing ran to the back, where I was on the computer, and grabbed her shoes.

When I asked what she was doing, all she could say “Jody! It’s Jody!” At the time, I didn’t understand why she was running, because the last time I saw Jody, the day before at the ball field, she was fine.

Then, an hour or so later, my brother came and took my cellphone because my parents told him to.

I didn’t understand that either, I wasn’t grounded, I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Then another hour passed, still nothing, about 30 minutes passed and the house phone rang, I picked it up and answered it.

Everybody in the room on the other side of the phone was silently crying.

Mom answered and said “Jody’s gone,” I was speechless. But when I finally processed what had just been said I responded “WHAT?!?” Then mom said “I can’t talk right now, I’ll tell you when I get home.”

When mom returned, she explained to me that God had called Jody home to be with Him.

All I could do was sit in my room and cry for the rest of the night.

Later that week, I was called to the counselor’s office at school, I didn’t understand this either, I didn’t need counseling.

But I didn’t ask questions, I just went to the counselor’s office. I was unaware of what was happening, all I knew was that I had just lost my best friend.

When I entered the office and sat down, her brother, Jeremy was sitting there also. He hadn’t been at school all week, and understandably so.

But I was still confused. Before I knew it, there were six of us sitting in the office with Jeremy and after a while, after shedding several tears, he asked us one by one to serve as pallbearers at her funeral.

He asked me first, because I was the first one on the list. I broke down, unsure of how to feel. After a while all of us went to the baseball locker room. I talked to Jeremy and the head baseball coach about it.

I wasn’t sure I could carry my best friend’s body to its final resting place, but then I realized, I’m not going to be alone.

I didn’t need to do this for myself, I needed to do this for Jody, because she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

So I accepted the offer, hugged him and fell apart. Jeremy then said “Hold your head up brother, she’s not hurting anymore, she’s happy again.”

That night, we went to her visitation, now, keep in mind that I’m not big on visitations or funerals because that’s not the way I want to remember them.

Jody’s mom and dad met me inside the church and escorted me to the chapel, where her body was, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone.

When I reached the chapel, I looked up and saw her colorless body lying there, arms crossed and eyes shut.

I began to cry again, I didn’t understand why this had to happen to her so soon.

The next day was the funeral, we arrived at the church at about 8:30 that morning because my brother and I served as two of the six pallbearers.

We entered the chapel and were met with what seemed like a thousand hugs.

It was 8:30am and the funeral didn’t start until about 11am. But this gave me time to realize that it wasn’t a dream.

Around 10:30, close to 1,000 people came into the chapel, heads hung, tears falling and hugging each other.

Then before I knew it, the funeral director motioned for us to stand, approach the casket and carry the body to the hearse.

When I reached the hearse with the body, and loaded her onto the loading rack in the back, I fell apart again.

I was met with several hugs, the one I remember the most came from somebody that had known both of us ever since middle school when I served as mascot and Jody, a cheerleader.

I tightly gripped her and pulled her in, she laid her head on my chest, looked up at me and said “You are one of the strongest people I know.”

When we reached the cemetery, all six of us, grabbed the casket and placed it on a table and then stood around the casket and table for prayer.

When the prayer concluded, I fell apart and I was once again met by the person that met me in the church parking lot after I loaded the casket into the hearse.

She dried my tears and said “Look at me, she’s happy now,” and hugged me tight and then wiped her tears on my blue blazer.

Dear Jody, thank you for always keeping me in line, laughing with and at me, loving me unconditionally, being my confidant, my shoulder to cry on, my partner-in-crime.

Thank you for forcing me to do my school work, the disagreements, the memories, but most of all, thank you for being the sister that I never had and having my back no matter what.

I promise I will continue to stand up for you as long as I live.

You’re safe with me.

See you on the other side beautiful, I love you.

Your best friend,

Braxton Parmer.