Happy Birthday Alisa!

This has been a hard pill to swallow. 

Ever since the funeral I have felt like maybe it was all a bad dream. I have to consistently remind myself of the reality that she is gone. Not gone forever, but for a long while. I know what I feel  can't be remotely close to the gaping hole Taylor, sweet little Emmeline, and my dear Hardy 5 are feeling every day, but I still feel it. In fact thousands of people feel it. Alisa Hardy-Orton was an incredible person with a zest for life and love of god that was awesome to behold. The ripple effect of her life is still sending out waves of goodness, and will continue to do so forever. 

By the time the services started there was standing room only in the back. Alisa was beloved by thousands.

By the time the services started there was standing room only in the back. Alisa was beloved by thousands.

We all grew up together, the Hardy sisters, my brother and sister; we were all family. Even though we moved away from Reno, we still visited like cousins multiple times a year. All 5 of us girls slept in the same queen bed, every time, without fail. It became a tradition, even as we got a little too big to fit comfortably. Alisa was the oldest and always led the way. She lead the way for many though, all through her life she was a leader, a teacher, an example of goodness, of courage, of "Hardiness". 

favorite photos for the memory book

favorite photos for the memory book

Since her tragic death on August 5th of this year, I have held everyone dear to me a little closer and prayed harder than I ever have in my life. Alisa was 8 months pregnant with her second little girl Ellis when she was killed in a head on car collision. She was on her way to the airport to pick up a friend. As was mentioned at her funeral, she was serving others until the very end. It's just so shocking to hear circumstances such as these. I was literally stunned when I heard the news. It wasn't possible. It couldn't happen, it SHOULDN'T happen. Not EVER. 

But it did. 

Like all those who loved Alisa, I poured over pictures and felt a sting of bittersweet emotion in every old photograph of her. Every memory resurfaced and became changed somehow and made golden. I cried when I couldn't find a picture of us together at my wedding. I can't believe it had been so long since I had seen her. I truly felt the impact of the photos I had taken of Taylor and Alisa's wedding day back in 2012. I was so thrilled that she wanted me to shoot her wedding. I took special care to make sure I did the very best I possibly could. She was like my big sister, and I wanted her to love her photos and be proud of me. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to hear her praise my work.

She championed my photography and made me feel like I could do anything, at a time when I was filled with self doubt and uncertainty. 

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Alisa knew how to have fun. When the Hardys and the Neals got together, you could bet we would all be peeing our pants at some point over something. As Alisa called it one New Years, we were always bound to have a "bangin' party" when we got together. I have so many happy memories with my Hardy 5. One of my favorite memories of Alisa in particular happened one winter when Reno had gotten a TON of snow. The snow plow had made a huge snow mountain at the end of the cul de sac. We had been playing on that snow mountain all day, and after the sun went down, we were still out there with nothing but the moonlight and one street lamp to see by.

Now, the most honorable Judge Hardy has never been one for strict modesty and (at least back in the day) could be found "mooning" those around him quite frequently. This habit was not common in the Neal family, but on that moonlit winter night, from the top of the snow mountain, Alisa again led the way and taught us all how to throw a little caution to the wind and expose our bare bottoms to the freezing air. My older sister Allison and I were shocked at first, but quickly realized how hilarious it was, and soon followed suit. We rolled around in the snow laughing our heads off and mooning each other with reckless abandon.  

It hurts to think someone so beloved and good could be taken from this world so prematurely. The pain and grief of such a loss is truly unbearable. As with all unbearable things however, it brings me comfort to know that Jesus Christ bore this exact pain that we all feel at the loss of such a radiant and beautiful person like Alisa. He died so that we could all live again. He conquered death so we could know the joy of eternal families. I know that families are forever. Alisa was sealed to her sweetheart in the temple of god for eternity. Her sweet daughters are thereby sealed to her as well. I am so beyond grateful to know that if my time comes just as quickly and suddenly as my sweet friend and big sister Alisa, that my family will be stuck with me forever no matter what. This is the way god intended it to be. Family is so sacred and important. There is NOTHING more important than family and the love and joy found therein. I learned, saw, and felt so many tender and precious things at Alisa's funeral, and I know I am not the only one. 

Like I said before, her life was a drop in a pond whose ripples will keep extending outward and onward forever. Eternity means without end. Although death feels so final, it is anything but that. It is a mere right of passage that we all must pass through on our eternal journey.

My parents making their way towards the grave site.

My parents making their way towards the grave site.

I'm glad someone was hired to photograph the funeral, because as much as I wanted to take photographs in a way that would be helpful and meaningful, it was a little too overwhelming. Photographers, don't try to photograph a friend's funeral. It's too much. I could only take a few photos before my hands started shaking.

I'm glad someone was hired to photograph the funeral, because as much as I wanted to take photographs in a way that would be helpful and meaningful, it was a little too overwhelming. Photographers, don't try to photograph a friend's funeral. It's too much. I could only take a few photos before my hands started shaking.

I love you Alisa. Happy golden birthday! You would have been 28 today and just as beautiful and lovely as ever. My own little baby's due date is tomorrow and I can't help but think about you and little Ellis constantly. Wish me luck my sweet friend. I can only hope that I will be as wonderful a mother as you were.

As strange and wrong as it feels, life somehow keeps moving forward. It's already been three weeks since you've left us. Somedays it feels like a mere second has passed, other days it feels like an eternity. Losing you will never get "easier", it will always hurt, things will never be quite the same.

Thank you for being a role model, an example, and a cheerleader to me and every one of your hundreds of best friends. You made everyone around you feel loved, even against their own will. You were unapologetically happy and positive. Your constant expression of testimony and love of god brightened my outlook in my very darkest moments. Thank you for living your life in a way that uplifted everyone who ever knew you. No one could accuse you of wasting your time here on earth, no one. When I see you again, I fully expect it to be a seriously bangin' party.

all my love,

Susannah

#LIVELIKEALISA

If you'd like to donate to support the Hardy and Orton families please visit this link: https://www.gofundme.com/2jwcgwec