Last week, the world lost two remarkable women. Both impacted me greatly: one was a colleague and friend, the other, I never met. Grieving is hard. Being as I write to help myself process, I hope you’ll indulge me in reading my processing. I’ll try to honor these women with my words.
My friend Stacy was my “room buddy” this past year at school. I needed a spot for my desk, and the first grade classrooms had a corner for me to tuck into. I had admired Stacy since I began working with her. She was effortlessly put together. It was not only her stylish and classic wardrobe (though she certainly had wonderful style), but also the fact that she was the embodiment of grace under pressure. It was a common running joke: when we, her co-workers, weren’t sure what to do in a given situation, we would all look to Stacy. That school year, Stacy and I grew closer, sharing stories over our morning coffee and emails, covering for one another when we needed to duck out of the room, and exchanging silent glances when one of our students said something hilarious.
This winter Stacy distinguished herself as one of those special friends to make a true impact on my life. A breast cancer survivor herself, she walked with me through those scary early days, when I was told to get more scans and tests and when a diagnosis was still on its way. Her text to me the night after my biopsy brought me so much comfort. “Thinking about you Christina and wishing you to have a peaceful sleep tonight. Then some answers soon and moving on the road to recovery!” She sent me another when I announced my diagnosis to my colleagues, telling me how brave I was to tell everyone.
Writing about her in the past tense is hard. It’s unfair.
I once heard someone describe grief as “love with no where to go.” I loved being Stacy’s friend and I loved her for her selflessness in offering support when I needed it most. Now, what am I to do with that love? It makes such little sense to me that my friend is gone. I think about the students she had yet to teach, the husband she loved so dearly, and the son they had only begun to raise. The only logical answer I have in response is to share that love she so freely gave, that love that’s stuck right now as grief.
I hope to someday be someone’s Stacy. I want to be there for all folks that need it, but especially other patients. I will to reach out to that person and remind her how brave she is, even when it’s not yet apparent to her or when she doesn’t feel it. I’m ready to cheer her successes with emojis in text messages and be there for the moments when she feels less than herself. I will pour hope into her when she has nothing left to run on. If I’m lucky, I’ll be half the friend Stacy was to me.
The reading at Stacy’s service included the line, “At night, her lamp is undimmed.” Her light is still shining, bright as ever. It’s just my job now to reflect it.
The day Stacy passed, I received an email around lunchtime entitled “A grandma grateful for your gratitude.” It was written by a 95-year-old woman, Shirley, with the assistance of her aid.
Shirley found my old blog, Project Thankful Heart, as well as other gratitude blogs, and wanted to correspond with the writers. She tried to send me an email before, but it bounced back, given that I had de-activated the account a while ago. She was persistent and wanted to make sure the email found me, so her aide suggested various combinations until they found the proper account. Lo and behold, it worked.
Shirley’s shared, “I’m aiming to be more grateful for my life so I’ve been doing my researching for gratitude to feel inspired by others and I came across all of your wonderful ‘blogs’ (as I’m told they’re called). My oh my, what each of you have managed to do as young women astounds me, and how each of have managed to write, oh my heart… Thank you for filling this great grandma’s heart with so much wonder and love.”
And this was just a third of the email.
Naturally, I was in tears by the end and had to respond. I told Shirley how grateful I was for her email and how touched I was by her words. I shared with her the miracle of the email finding me, told her about my new blog, and let her know that I was, in fact, grateful for her.
She responded, “I’m sure your life has changed in a way that you never thought possible- but fear not! I saw you are a theatre person as well (you can always trust a theatre person from my experiences, you can trust me on that 🙂 ) and if there’s any musical that will get you through this I believe it would be my favorite of all time- “The Sound of Music”. I see a lot of Maria von Trapp in you and as she herself’d say, “I have confidence”. I have all the confidence in the world in you, dearest Christina. The deepest of blessings and prayers, Shirley”.
I meant to reply to her and let her know how I played Maria once, that it was my first leading role and how I imagine that, were we the same age in the same class at school, we’d get in trouble with the teacher for talking too much. But the week, with its sadness and its events, got away from me until three days later, when I received an email from her aide letting me know Shirley had passed. The aide signed off, “I don’t know much but if Shirley taught me anything its to not let another moment go by without telling someone how I think and feel. Thank you and her for giving Shirley a great last few days- I know she was so grateful.”
Last week was filled with tears. Reading this email was no exception.
Shirley asked that donations to a local theatre company be made in lieu of flowers. I made sure to follow her careful instructions. I’ve been reminding people that I love them more frequently.
And I think she’d be tickled to see her own words on a real-life blog.
We are not guaranteed an amount of time on Earth – but we are challenged to do great things with the time we are given.
Shirley had nearly a century with which to make an impact, and make an impact she did, even up until her final days when she was writing emails to the bloggers she admired. Stacy was here for too short a time, but built a legacy of joy, of gentleness, of compassion, and love.
A colleague at Stacy’s memorial shared many beautiful words. I don’t remember them verbatim, but the sentiment is this: That feeling that we all felt, there in the room together, was love. She challenged us to allow it to transform us.
This past year has shown me how challenges can shape a person’s life in the blink of an eye. Last week was one of the hardest I’ve had in a long, long time. If you’re feeling a bit battered, you’re in good company, friend.
Let’s sit with our grief, our challenges, our fear. Let’s make space for one another to cry until it feels ok to laugh again.
You don’t need to have cancer or to know someone who does to be in a hard place. As Anne Frank put it, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Let’s keep telling the people around us how we feel about them. Let’s be there for one another when it’s most needed. Let’s see how this love transforms us.