Normally, when my blog goes silent, it is because I do not have anything that I feel the need to share. This time, though, is different and definitely not normal, whatever that is. No, the silence comes from having too much to express and not enough adequate words to convey everything that is on my mind and in my heart.
At first, I thought that I would not write about this, but almost as soon as that ill-conceived notion entered my head, it made a swift exit. How could I not write about this, when I cannot write about anything else? Or anyone else to be more exact. I have to write this particular post, but I have struggled mightily with how to do so. The fact that I am writing this now is not an indicator at all that I have found the right words, as I still haven’t. Since I doubt I ever will, I decided to just start writing. So, here we go.
The end of my junior year in high school also signified the end of a sweet friend’s life. A month after Michael graduated from high school and had his whole life ahead of him, his life ended suddenly one late afternoon, when he was in a boating accident. Even though the 31st anniversary of his death recently passed, I remember that time so vividly.
I was babysitting in my neighborhood, when I saw a familiar car pull up in front of the house. It belonged to my friend, Michelle, and I immediately felt a smile cross my face in anticipation of her visit. As I watched her make the short walk from the driveway to the front door, the strained look on her face dissolved the smile on mine. I did not know what had happened, but something was wrong. I had no way of knowing just how wrong that something was. Then, Michelle told me. Michael had died.
A few days later, I found myself in the passenger seat of that same car, as Michelle and I drove to the funeral home to pay our respects to our friend. When we pulled into the parking lot, neither one of us hurried to get out of the car, as our grief was paralyzing. I remember saying to her that I did not know if I could get through the visitation, as my sadness felt like it was crushing me. Michelle responded, “Just hold my hand, and don’t let go.” So, I did.
Fast forward to June 30, 2016, as I sat by myself in the parking lot of another funeral home in a different state, paralyzed by grief, and thinking that I would not be able to get through the visitation. That memory of another visitation 31 years earlier entered my mind, yet again, and I wished more than anything that Michelle was there to hold my hand. She wasn’t, though, as she was the one I was there to visit.
I am truly at a loss for how to tell you about my beautiful, funny, loving, generous, strong, and every other positive superlative friend, for anything that I say will fall woefully short, and I don’t want to fail her now. I also know that nothing I say could ever possibly come close to capturing her essence and spirit like the eulogies her son and oldest daughter shared at her funeral, and I don’t want to let her family and friends down with what I share. I also feel both protective of, and loyal to, the memories I have of her, and it feels like an invasion of privacy to put them on public display. So, I feel completely inadequate to write anything about Michelle, but to not do so and to write about anything else would be disingenuous.
I met Michelle the summer before our freshman year of high school, when she accompanied a grade school classmate of mine on a youth group trip to an amusement park. I liked her straight away, as there was nothing not to like. She was this cute blonde haired girl with a warm, inviting personality, and she simply lit up the room. We became fast friends, and the rest, as they say, is history. I made a dear friend for life, and I often think back to that time and marvel at how life has unfolded for both of us.
We went to high school together, and later, we were roommates our first year of college. After graduating college, we both returned to Kentucky, but later, she moved back to Ohio, which is my second “home”. We may have been separated by distance, but for the past 34 years, she has had a special place in my life. She always will, because love never dies.
So often, when someone dies, they immediately are exulted to sainthood status, even if they were not a good person in life. Michelle’s death did not promote her to that status, how she lived her life did. I have not one bad memory of her. Not one. There are very few people I can say that about, living or dead. I promised her children that I would share some of my memories of their amazing mom with them when they are ready to hear them, but here are a few memories and thoughts that I would like to share now.
Michelle is the person who makes me laugh, sometimes unintentionally so, until I feel like I cannot catch my breath, and her smile and laugh are absolutely contagious. You cannot be in a bad mood in her presence, and if you are, she will change that quickly, whether you like it or not! Everyone loves her, and if someone doesn’t, they are not someone I want or need to know.
She is the person who completely understood why I hyperventilated and threw up when Christian Laettner’s last second shot defeated our beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats, which is something we never got over. We still hate Laettner. She is the person who said, when I took my daughters to Rupp Arena for the first time last year for a UK game, “That’s just good parenting, Kristi Jo!” and meant it. We bleed blue, UK blue, that is.
She is the person who makes me believe in true love, for she married her college sweetheart, and despite all of the curve balls thrown at them, they knocked them out of the park and created a good life together. I have never known him without her, and from the moment they met, he has adored and loved her. She is the person who has taught me what it means to be a fiercely loyal and devoted friend, mother, and family member. Trust me, she is as kind-hearted as they come, but heaven help you, if you do something to hurt someone she loves!
She is the person who always, and I mean always, sees the good in others and in situations, even when it does not seem like any good exists. She does so, not in a Pollyanna kind of way, but rather, in a way that makes you a believer in yourself and in others. Through every challenge we have faced in our respective lives, she has been there for me, offering love and support. There’s no judgment or conditions, just true friendship.
Michelle is also the person whom, second only to my daughters, I dreaded sharing the news that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer last October the most. I did not want to tell her, because her own four-year battle with breast cancer was entering its last stage, and I did not want to burden her with my news. I had not planned on telling her until after I met with the surgeon, but a few days prior to that consultation, I received a text from Michelle before the sun came up. She was at the Houston airport, making what had become an all too familiar commute between her home in Ohio and MD Anderson in Texas, and she decided to check in while waiting to board her flight.
I had not told Michelle anything about what was happening with me here in Kentucky, but almost instinctively, she seemed to know that something was amiss. With a deep breath, I told her that I had not lied to her since we were 14 years old and that I didn’t think that this was the time to start now, and I shared the news no-one wants to say or hear. Immediately, the texts and calls filled with reassurances, advice, and, again, unconditional love began. They never stopped, even as her own battle wound down.
I repeatedly told her not to worry about me and to just focus on taking good care of herself, but she didn’t listen. In the midst of a fight that I cannot even begin to imagine, she set out to make sure that I was okay. Her concern for me is humbling and overwhelming, and I can never thank her enough. She is what we call good people, and she comes from good people. This was evident when I was at the funeral home, and her husband, her mother, her two sisters, and her brother all asked me how I was doing and told me that they were praying for me and thinking of me. I was there to offer them comfort, yet the first words out of their mouths were to comfort me. They have no idea what that meant to me, but I hope that they will now.
You see, from the moment I was thrust into what I refer to as this stupid club, I have felt a tremendous sense of guilt and anguish that my journey has been so much easier than Michelle’s journey. It pains me to no end when someone I love is hurting, and I feared that my prognosis only made hers harder to bear. I also worried that my presence at her funeral would be a painful reminder of how unfair this stupid club is and, perhaps, some people may have even wished that Michelle and I could have traded places. She never has made me feel that way, and her family and our friends did not, either. To all of them, I am grateful beyond measure.
I am also so very thankful for the gift that Michelle gave me last fall. One day, out of the blue, she commented, “We’ve been friends for a long time, and sometimes, friends just need to say things to each other. But this is not good-bye.” She proceeded to share with me some of the greatest compliments I ever could receive, memories we had shared, and her love for me, and I was able to do the same with her. When we had said all we needed to share with one another, she reiterated that this was not good-bye. For the first time ever, I knew that she had just lied to me, but I understood. While there is still so much I want to say to her and do with her, I find solace in the fact that there is nothing left unsaid between us. What a precious gift.
Everything that has transpired recently still feels very surreal. As you may have noticed, I speak of Michelle in the present tense, because while her body is gone, she is still here. I feel her. Earlier today, I took a drive down River Road, and I thought back to our younger days, when we made that drive together countless times, usually when we were supposed to be somewhere else. As thoughts of her filled my head, I noticed hydrangeas on the side of the road, which are her favorite flower. At that very moment, The Doors’ song, Hello, I Love You, was on the radio. I smiled as I recalled us discovering The Doors together and listening to their cassette, which I still have actually, during drives like the one I took today. She most definitely is still here, and she always will be.
Michelle’s husband announced her death with the words, We won. Cancer did not win, for she has lived her life fully and joyfully. She once marveled how we ever got into this stupid club saying, “We were never even in a sorority, and we don’t even like pink!” Neither one of us ever wanted to be in this club, and neither one of us wanted there to be only one survivor. So, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to learn and put into action the words that adorned her funeral Mass program, The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
Because we love Michelle and are loved by her, we all won, too. Mickey, thank you for loving me unconditionally, and thank you for always being my friend and having my back. I will never forget you, not for one moment. You mean the world to me, and I love you big time, Sweet Girl!!!
I always close my posts, with the tagline, That’s another story . . . I cannot do that this time, though, for this is not just another story. It’s a sliver of a long story about my friendship with one of the most incredible people ever, and I hope I did her proud by sharing it.
Categories: Just One Thing Each Day