Shelly Bridgewater was 25 years young when she died in 2005 from preeclampsia. Her best friend, Bree Housley, wrote a book about their unlikely friendship and the impact Shelly, "the social butterfly," had on her life. We Hope You Like this Song launches this week and is available in our Marketplace. We talked with Housley about inspiration, Karaoke, and how the Preeclampsia Foundation helped her healing.
What inspired you and your sister to embark on your yearlong tribute to Shelly and then to go on to write We Hope You Like This Song?
I was having a not-so-intellectual conversation with my friends, Ami and Kerry, at a bar shortly after New Year's Day in 2009. We were discussing the ridiculousness of New Year's resolutions and how no one ever sticks to them. This led us to talk about things we could maybe do for a week, but not a whole year. It reminded me a lot of Shelly's way of life. She would do anything on any given day. So on a whim; I decided to try it. I emailed my sister to see if she thought it was stupid...because I was pretty sure it was probably stupid. Courtnee not only liked the idea, she asked if she could join me. We decided to keep track of our "project" via a blog.
As for the book, I always knew I wanted to tell the story of my friendship with Shelly, but it was just too sad. I didn't want to write a sob story about how I lost my best friend. However, once the blog project got going, I found myself opening up about Shelly in ways I never had before. I was basically going through a happy version of therapy. The kind where you don't have to sit face-to-face and talk to a stranger who just keeps repeating "...and how does that make you feel?" The blog project gave me closure.
What experience had the most profound effect on you during your Shelly-inspired year?
Well, there were quite a few "resolutions" that taught me valuable lessons, even if I humiliated myself in the process. Karaoke is a big example of that. I was scared to death to do it, but when I found my inner Shelly and butchered an old Christmas tune in front of a bunch of strangers, it quickly became one of my favorite experiences. I learned that living life out loud (and out of tune) is more rewarding than sitting in the corner humming along. Living the life of an extrovert for a year was rather enlightening. And also terrifying.
You found many creative ways to donate to the Preeclampsia Foundation during your Shelly-inspired year. Which was your favorite and would you recommend others use it?
We made a rule that for every failed resolution, we had to donate $15 to the Preeclampsia Foundation. So even when we failed, we sorta felt like we won. It was easy to donate right from the website, preeclampsia.org. We also invented "Audience Suggestion" weeks. People could suggest a resolution for us to complete at $5 a pop and we'd pick our favorite. It was always fun to see what people wanted us to do. Not sure what we would've learned from walking around with our fly undone all day, but thanks to a suggestion, we considered it.
Now I do the Promise Walk every year in Davenport, Iowa. The walks are held throughout the country, and I definitely suggest people check out the event nearest them. It's a great way to spread awareness and have a little fun. There are also a lot of other local events like Zumba and scrapbooking. My personal favorite is the Trivia Night Shelly's family organizes every year. Mostly because it's in my hometown of Walcott and I like to eat cream-cheese-and-corned-beef-wrapped-pickles with Court, our husbands, and Shelly's sister, Kim.
What did you know about the dangers of preeclampsia prior to Shelly's diagnosis?
I had never even heard the word "preeclampsia" before Shelly told me she'd been diagnosed. It sounded scary to me right off the bat, but Shelly assured me that everything would be okay once they induced labor. Because that's what the doctors told her. When I explained Shelly's situation to my co-workers, they all had a story about preeclampsia. Everyone seemed to know someone who had experienced it, but no one could really tell me what it was. It wasn't until after Shelly's death that I did some research to learn more about the dangers of preeclampsia. This is why I feel it's important to spread awareness about the signs to look for and what we can do to help save the women and babies we love so much.
What is one thing you wish you had told Shelly?
I wish I'd given a speech at Shelly's wedding. I had it written in my head, but it never found its way out. I wanted her to know that she is responsible for making me who I am today. My family also played a crucial role, of course, but they didn't have a choice. They were stuck with me. Shelly and I led very different lives, especially after college. She married a fellow teacher, Brad, and I moved all over the place, dating all kinds of dudes. She called me a 'big city girl' and said she was proud of me during one of our last phone conversations. I believe a lot of my strength to take such risks in life came from the confidence her acceptance gave me. It's funny how much power being best friends with the popular girl in class can give you. She picked me for a reason. And even though I feel crazy insecure sometimes, I know that I possess something that made her choose me all those years ago. And that makes me feel like I can do pretty much anything.
We should all have a few more "I love you, man" conversations in our lives... even if it takes a few martinis to get there.