Family, Friends, Personal

We all need a Shelia!

I had a sweet experience last week visiting my mom’s friend and neighbor, Shelia, who was my mom’s walking partner for over 30 years.

Mom and Shelia

Now, I’ve had some good walking partners but never one with that kind of consistency or longevity.

Thirty years of walks five days a week is remarkable — especially with someone who is not just your walking companion but your confident, counselor, and cherished friend.

My mom and Shelia covered a lot of territory over the years — in actual miles and in ideas, words, and heartfelt sharing

I visited Shelia to gather some of her memories of my mom, knowing she would have a unique perspective on her as a long-time friend.

Shelia invited me into her living room and as we settled in for a good visit, I turned on a voice recorder and started asking her questions. I wanted to know everything — what was Mom like as a friend? What were her priorities in life? What funny experiences did you have together? What would you say were her strengths? How did she get through her many trials?

I wanted to know as much as I could in the time we had together.

Not only did I learn some good stories about my mom, I felt like without even trying, Shelia welcomed me into the warm, intimate space of their unique friendship.

I actually felt sad to leave because I didn’t want the sweetness of that experience to end. I’ve always known Shelia to be wise, spiritual, creative, and smart, and I’ve appreciated her role in my mom’s and my family’s life. But while sitting with her in her living room, I felt some of what my mom must have felt to have her as a friend, and the word that kept coming to my mind was “lucky.”

My mom was one lucky woman to have had a friend like Shelia, and Shelia was lucky to have had a friend like my mom.

While I might not have a Shelia that lives around the corner that I can walk and talk face-to-face with every day, I have many other friends that have walked the miles with me.

I walked for years with my friend, Laura, in Virginia. After we both moved, we were sad that our walking ritual had to end. We too covered a lot of territory — not just on the paths and streets of Northern Virginia but in each other’s lives.

When she and her husband were called to serve a three-year mission for our church, I went to hear them speak before they left. As I approached Laura to tell her goodbye and wish her well on her mission, her husband stopped me and said, “If I were you, I’d just walk out that door, go to your car and leave.”

What he meant was that he knew it was about to get ugly, and I should just cut my losses and leave before Laura and I broke down in messy tears. We survived the three years, and now we are surviving the thousands of miles between us, but the fiber of the friendship is still there, and it gives me a little taste of what it might have been like for my mom and Shelia with their long history as walking partners.

Every morning, at 5:45, they met at the corner and canvassed the town, and as they walked, they talked about everything on their minds and in their hearts.

As Shelia told me her memories of Mom, I realized she knew everything about our family. There were no secrets between them. She knew every heartbreak and every triumph in my mother’s life – down to the oft-repeated detail that I was my mother’s hardest child to raise.

I told Shelia I couldn’t understand why my mother thought I was so difficult to raise. Shelia kindly said, “Well, with children like you, sometimes mothers want to say, ‘Hey, I’m the mother here!”

How could this child be difficult to raise? I mean, really…

Oh, so that’s what she meant…

She said my mom was more than a friend to her. “Sandra was a friend, neighbor, sister, mother, and therapist all in one.”

Not only did they share all their secrets and help each other through their challenges, they had some interesting encounters, like the morning Shelia was attacked by a white owl or when they were almost charged by a deer, or when my mom had some choice words to say at and about barking and unleashed dogs on their walking routes.

She reminded me of my mother’s obsession with neatness. She didn’t like anything to be out of place – her house, her yard, even her hair. She had a short, pixie cut and had to rush to her hair dresser Helen as soon as she felt the slightest bit of growth changing her neatly coiffed style.

Mom hated litter of all kinds. It just made her blood boil. Shelia said as they walked, Mom picked up all the stray bits of trash she saw along the way, and again, probably used some colorful words to describe the despicable people that would dare leave their garbage on her beautiful streets.

She felt a special kind of ownership of Main Street after working on Main at several places over the years — 224 clothing store, Town & Country home decor store, The Book Mark, and the Chamber of Commerce.

As she would say, it “irritates me right to death when they don’t take care of Main Street.” So, when Shelia and Mom walked on Main, Mom felt compelled to pull weeds, and deadhead flowers, and even leave reminders to water the plants!

She didn’t like seeing a dead plant through the window of one of the stores, so she made up a sign that said, “Please water your indoor plant.” Then, she taped it on the store door.

She told Shelia she was going to bring a little shovel and some gardening tools to clean things up along their walk. Shelia said, “I drew the line there, and said, ‘Sandra, we’re NOT doing that.” Shelia was so glad when Mom finally dropped that idea.

She did, however, make up awards for beautiful yards, and leave them on the porches of homes along their travels. She never missed a beautiful garden, a pretty porch, or a well-trimmed lawn! Even when I went home to visit, she would take me on a walk and make herself right at home showing me someone else’s yard.

I thoroughly enjoyed being wrapped in the warmth of Mom and Shelia’s lifelong friendship, and could only imagine what it must have been like for the two of them to see each other daily and “solve the world’s problems,” as my mom always said.

I called my daughter, Annie when I got home, and told her about my experience. She said, “Mom, we need a Shelia!”

As we talked, we realized we have wonderful friends, but our Shelias look different. Our friends are not always living next door or across the street — especially for 30-year stretches. And, our communications are different — more texting, or communicating through social media instead of walking together five times a week.

But, we sure envy and admire the Shelia-Sandra 30-year friendship ideal!

When my mom died, Shelia came to her viewing with a flower arrangement inside of a walking shoe. That said it all. It was a simple, beautiful symbol that captured a friendship that covered a lot of miles and a lot of life experiences.

A perfect symbol of a friendship that covered a lot of miles

Jane Fonda said, “Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years… It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.” 

Shelia and my mom were the starch in each other’s spines, and isn’t that a treasured gift?

Who are the friends in your life that put the starch in your spine?

My visit with Shelia reminded me of the friends who have been and still are my “starch.” They may not fit the Sandra-Shelia standard of meeting at the corner at 5:45 ever day for 30 years but they surely have walked the miles with me.

I was reminded of some of my starch-like friends last week — one that talked to me from across the country about the challenges of parenting adult children, and then getting together with a group of cherished friends I met during my freshman year at college. We are all still walking the miles with each other.

So, thank you Shelia for welcoming me into the sacred space of your friendship with my mom, reminding me of her fun personality, strengths, and wisdom; and for reminding me of the value of friends.

Oh, and for teaching me why I was so difficult to raise, I think I get it now…

Change, Friends, Personal

Funeral for a Friend

Yesterday, I was telling Doug about how I spent my day — at a funeral for a friend, Kay Banks Robbins, and then at a luncheon with some of my childhood friends. He said, “That sounds like a blog.”

Thanks for the idea, Doug.

Kay Robbins Banks

Kay was one of the funniest people I ever knew. She was a quiet presence in the room, but with one comment, she had us all in giggle fits. We laughed and cried our way through her beautiful funeral.

There’s something about childhood friends you just can’t replace.

Lisa Whelchel

I remembered Kay performing a hilarious parody of Olympic sportscasters when we were about 12 years old. She was a one-woman comedy act using the funniest voices and accents to announce events like the shot put and synchronized swimming.

The stories of her pranks are legendary. As her sister said, “she was usually close to the center of every prank.” For example, it was so thoughtful of her to place visual aids in the high school library books, like a piece of bologna in the “B” section of the dictionary. 

As we sat reminiscing at lunch at a restaurant on Main Street of our hometown, I thought of a quote from one of my favorite writers.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.”

Joan didion

You can’t go to a funeral for an old friend or have lunch with friends you’ve known since elementary or middle school and not think about the person you used to be. Even if you want to forget, they will remind you!

While we told stories about our great friend, Kay, we pulled up old photos that triggered some great memories.

One of the photos I found recently was the one below of our high school Booster Activity Club.

The Booster Activity Club. I’m the third from the right on the middle row

Can you picture this lovely group of formally dressed teenagers wanting to be in this club so much that they would endure a 1970s high school version of hazing?

Yes, we pushed pennies down the middle of Main Street with molasses slathered on our noses to help the pennies stay put.

We wore blindfolds and and swallowed what we thought were goldfish. (They turned out to be slimy peaches, but we didn’t know that until after we swallowed.)

And, we did all of this voluntarily.

As I left our day together, I thought of all these funny Main Street memories, and I thought of how much we will miss Kay, how there will forever be a hole in our group of friends.

We will miss her laughter, stories, friendship and fun, but we will never forget her.

We will remember the stories her children shared at her funeral like how she accidentally used cooking spray for mosquito repellant and how she was known as the Mary Poppins of Utah because she created fun and adventure everywhere she went, and she was practically perfect in every way.

We will remember her as one of our lifelong, forever friends.

When they carried Kay’s casket out of the chapel, one of my friend’s reached over and held my hand as our eyes filled with tears.

I thought about all the years that have passed and all the things that have changed in our lives, yet there we were together as if nothing had changed at all.

At the end of our luncheon, a man came up to our table and said, “I don’t know who you are but I can tell you sure have fun together!”

It reminded me of this meme…

Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.

hair
This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Family Friends

After a busy, laughter-filled Thanksgiving week, I sit in a quiet beach house listening to the clock tick, the ceiling fan spin, and the ocean waves rhythmically, consistently roll in over the sand and back out into the water again

2014-05-03 15.52.21And I remember…

Only a few days ago, this house was filled with people busily baking pies, basting turkeys, and tying gold ribbons around napkins for a beautiful holiday table. The house was full of happy people working together to create another memorable Thanksgiving dinner.

Eric, the master pie crust maker
Eric, the master pie crust maker

After dinner, we lounged around the family room and reminisced.

We remembered the Thanksgiving we spent in a cabin in West Virginia when it snowed and we made makeshift sleds and sped down the hills, hiked back up and did it again.

We remembered our friend, Annette who recently died of cancer. We proposed a toast to her and laughed remembering the year we were cleaning up the Thanksgiving dinner dishes in the kitchen and she pointed at some leftover pie and said, “Who made that wretched pecan pie?”

“I did,” I said.

Her face turned fuchsia and she immediately tried to explain that she was talking about a different pie, a store-bought pie that was the wretched one, not my homemade pie, which, of course, was delicious.

Uh huh. That’s why she pointed at my pie.

What else could she do when she called my homemade pie “wretched” right to my face?

Now it’s an annual joke. “Who’s making the wretched pecan pie?”

Actually, I think we dropped pecan pie from our menu after that.

At least I know I never made it again.

And then there’s the driveway pie.

That’s the creamiest, most delicious coconut cream pie you’ll ever eat. And we only have it once a year.

Tragically, one year, while being carried into the house, it was dropped on the driveway – shattering the glass pie pan and splattering the custard all over the driveway.

We were so disappointed that we could only think of one thing to do – get spoons and eat it off the driveway, carefully picking out the shards of glass before ingesting.

I wish I could say I was kidding about that memory, but truly we found ourselves huddled around the splattered pie spooning out as many tastes as we could before giving up because we started spooning up pieces of glass.

We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with this same group of friends for about 30 years.

After dinner Thursday, Doug thanked them for being part of every major event of our lives from our dating years to our marriage years, through the births of both of our daughters and every milestone in between and since.

When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area, my boss said one of his favorite things about living here was that friends became like family.

IMG_4457

He said since most people in the DC area are transplants from someplace else, it’s like we’re all out on a limb together so we take care of each other.

That’s definitely proven to be true for us, particularly with this group of friends we met after first moving here.

We’ve supported each other through the deaths of parents and siblings, through dating relationships and breakups through marriages and parenting, illnesses and job changes and more.

Through it all, we’ve created memories that cement our friendships; and don’t friendships and relationships sustain our lives?

So as I sit here savoring the silence as the sun goes down on my last evening at the beach, I remember the loyal, true friends I’ve been blessed to know, the ones I don’t see often but the ones I know will always be there for me because they always have been.

Friends

Friendship 101

Meet my friend, Trina.

Don’t go stealing her away though.

Just meet her and appreciate her like I do.

I am perhaps the most blessed woman in the world in many ways.

One of them is that I have terrific friends.

Trina is one of them.

How do I love her?

Let me count the ways:

1. She is my flower fairy.

IMG_3860pansy-cool-wave-mix-01

It started when I was labeled with the dreaded “C” word. She came over and planted pansies in my flowerbed so that I could see them every day and be reminded that I could be like the pretty pansies — strong and resilient. They helped me make it through the worst winter of my life.

I love flowers but I’m not much of a gardener. So I rely on Trina to help me. It is a treat to go flower shopping with her because she comes alive in a garden shop or nursery. I mean, really comes alive. Her pulse quickens, She squeals with delight. The array of colors and varieties of flowers and plants are the candy store to the kid in her. You know, the Christmas morning to her inner child.

I’m overwhelmed with all the choices and all the labels about sun, part-sun, shade, annual, perennial, border plant, etc. While shopping for flowers for a big pot on my porch, she says, “Think thrill, spill and fill. That’s all you need to know.”

Okay, so something that is beautiful and thrilling, something that spills over the edge and something that fills up the pot.

Got it.

I mistakenly went without her to get some mums and pansies for fall though.

Mums thrill. Pansies fill. What spills? No time to search for spilling plants so I went with only mums and pansies.

Trina to the rescue.

While visiting her daughter in North Carolina she visited a nursery and discovered — you won’t believe it — spilling pansies.

Yep, in North Carolina they have trailing pansies or “cool wave” pansies.

She was so excited she had to buy some and bring them home. And guess what lucky friend got some of these plentiful pansies?

Not only did she bring some home to me, she planted them. And they are spilling out all over the place in my pot on the porch.

Thrill, spill, fill?

Check.

She even added some spring thrill with some daffodil bulbs to delight me when the mums are gone.

2. She knows how to celebrate.

IMG_3277

Nobody entertains, decorates, crafts or celebrates like Trina.

See a beautiful wreath made of hydrangeas on Pinterest? Call Trina. She’ll get excited to make it, track down the supplies and make it with you.

Hosting a baby shower? Call Trina. She’ll rush over and help you make an enormous diaper cake.

Have a chronic illness? Call Trina and she’ll find a way to make it funny. We once had a party to celebrate diabetes so that we could learn how to entertain using diabetic-friendly food.

Daughter gets elected senior class president? Trina will show up at your house to wait for the results with you. Then, she’ll rush to the store to buy balloons and party supplies with you for an impromptu party in the school parking lot to celebrate.

Hosting a big party? Trina will come early and get to work helping set up.

Trina is so fun and ready to party that when my kids and their friends (including her daughter) once wanted waffles at midnight, they called her to ask her to bring them some. And, she did! (This might put her in the crazy category but that fits too.)

My daughter Sara once said to me, “Mom, why have you been hiding Trina from me?” It wasn’t that I’d hidden her, but Sara had to lose her teenage blinders to discover the gem that is Trina. Now, she says, “It’s not a party without Trina.”

3. Nobody loves to help people more than Trina.

A day is not complete without Trina helping someone. Last week she went to the bakery and found a round loaf of orange bread with a jack-o-lantern face on it. She bought it and said, “I have to give this to just the right person — somebody who really needs something special today.”

This is not an anomaly. This is how she lives.

The motor that makes her run is fueled with the question, “Who needs me today?” She genuinely wants to cheer people up and make them happy.

She takes care of her elderly neighbors, always searching for how she can help them. She takes care of so many people.

And there is not a better mother, grandmother, sister, wife, aunt, cousin, friend in the world than Trina.

When her kids are discouraged, she tells them to forget about their troubles by serving others. And, it works!

Trina is happy when I’m happy; sad when I’m sad; and mad when I’m mad. And she can change the sad and mad with a little silly.

Aren’t you glad to know my friend, Trina?

I’ll share her, but don’t steal her away.

She’s the real deal of a friend that everyone needs.