There are few people you meet in life who instantly change the way you feel about yourself and the way you see the world. Luckily for me, I met two of those people by age 23: Catherine Miller (Barthelme) and Derek Lichtfuss (my now husband).
Let me set the scene: Catherine and I were sorority sisters at the College of Charleston from 2007-2010. Catherine was a year older than me in school, although I’m two days older than her in age (something I never let her forget). We instantly clicked. She became one of those friends that I thought I had known my entire life within one day of meeting. As many people know, your college friends become your family. They are your home away from home. The ones you learn big life lessons from when your parents aren’t answering their phones or the ones you rely on when you over-draft your checking account (cough). Catherine became so much more than a friend or sorority sister; she was like the sister I never had.
On May 3, 2010, I received a text message from Catherine’s cousin asking that I “hug her for me.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Charleston where Catherine was – just four days out from her graduation. I was in Columbus, Ohio, my hometown, for a few days before heading back to Charleston for graduation celebrations. I instantly picked up the phone and called Catherine, hands shaking, heart in my throat. Thoughts were racing through my mind – What happened to her? Was she in a car accident? Did she break up with her boyfriend? Are her parents okay? I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for that phone call. I never imagined what the outcome would be. Even now, years later, it all feels surreal. Even though I never had the honor of meeting Yeardley, the pain and devastation in Catherine’s voice would resonate with anyone who has ever witnessed the sorrow of another person – especially someone whom they consider a sister.
When One Love was formed, it was a true honor to support the cause and spread the word of the incredible work the foundation was doing. In 2010, Catherine sent me a blue One Love bracelet that is still around my wrist today. When I moved to Denver in 2011 for my first job out of college, I never imagined that blue bracelet would lead me to my husband.
The company had an open floor plan, so no one had any private space or cubicle walls – not even a single enclosed office! In this type of environment, you certainly get to know everyone’s business. I mean – ALL of it. The company had a lot of turnover, something like 50% in the first three months. This meant a lot of new faces came and went. No one lasted long, so I didn’t feel the need to befriend anyone right off the bat. Since I mostly kept to myself, you can imagine my annoyance when one of these new faces came up to my desk, and asked me about my One Love bracelet. “How do you know about the One Love Foundation?” he said. (Side note: Looking back, his question should have immediately struck me as out of the ordinary because the foundation was still very young, but I was really focused on my work so didn’t feel like bothering with small talk. But I digress…) “My best friend from college was best friends with Yeardley,” I responded. Eager to know more, he asked “Oh, who’s your best friend from college?” “Catherine Barthelme,” I said. “Oh, I know Catherine! I grew up with her. I’m from Baltimore.” SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECH. Someone in DENVER knew my friend from BALTIMORE!? My friend from college in SOUTH CAROLINA!? What. Are. The. Chances?
As any curious female would, I instantly picked up the phone and called Catherine, “Tell me everything you know about Derek Lichtfuss.” As it turns out, Catherine knew Derek because he attended and graduated from St. Paul’s School for Boys in 2006, so they had a lot of mutual friends. She only had incredible things to say about him, which was such a relief! Derek and I became friends quickly, and continued to connect many more dots with various mutual friends. When you’re hundreds of miles away from home, any connection to home or people you love is so comforting.
As things in our relationship progressed, I found myself asking him questions about his relationship with all of Catherine’s friends I knew in Baltimore. It was obvious that talking about Yeardley was still an open wound for him, something I understood and respected. In time, Derek opened up to me and told me that the weekend before she passed, he was in Charlottesville for his school’s lacrosse game against the University of Virginia. During that weekend, he spent quality time with Yeardley – to have had that time with her is something he views as a blessing in disguise.
Derek is the type of person who will support you in whatever endeavor you choose in life. He is always patient and kind. He lives humbly and he honors the people he loves above all else. He never raises his voice and he never loses his cool (except over Ravens football, but I feel like that’s a fair exception). He embodies the characteristics of a partner every human would be blessed to have.
Fast-forward almost five years, Derek and I are now married and living in Columbus, Ohio. We have a great life here with supportive family and cherished friends only a phone call or plane ride away. On May 21, 2016, we made the commitment to honor, love and respect each other for the rest of our lives.
To know our relationship started over a rubber bracelet, a symbol for a cause we both supported without knowing each other, truly blows my mind.
Although our relationship is not always perfect and disagreements happen—Hello, you-do-have-to-steam-your-shirt-before-a-family-dinner and No, you-can’t-wear-the-Ravens-shirt-instead—those things are miniscule when you truly, deeply, love your partner. Speaking to your partner with dignity and trusting them implicitly to honor you in your absence is true love. I never worry if Derek is being honest with me because I know he loves me and would never betray me. I never feel that I am less than worthy because he is constantly reminding me that I am not just worthy – I am deserving. A true, devoted, supportive, respectful and loving person and partner will always do these things. And it goes both ways!
To know our relationship started over a rubber bracelet, a symbol for a cause we both supported without knowing each other, truly blows my mind. Today, we make it our mission to actively spread awareness about the One Love Foundation and to honor Yeardley’s life in the communities where we have lived; Denver and Columbus. It is truly a privilege to be able to play a small part in ending relationship violence through running half marathons or telling our love story. The foundation has grown exponentially in the last six years and there is no doubt it will continue to impact thousands, if not millions, of lives for years to come.
The One Love Foundation has changed our lives – forever.