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Monday, October 3, 2011

The Journey of My Friend

This past weekend has been filled with sadness for me, as I mourn the death of a friend. His wife and I have known each other since I was in my late teens. I walked into a salon to get my haircut one day and have been going there ever since. It was a simpler place back then, now it is a premier salon. It is considered one of the finest in the area and has had national and international attention too. So my going there seems kinda strange, after all, if you know me, I am not the high maintenance type. My nails are often very short and their being clean is impressive enough for me, much less manicured and polished. I'm not a clothes hog or even know or care what the latest fashion is. I'm sure some people at the salon I go to scoff at me as I walk by, I really just don't look like I belong. My make up is not always applied when I go there and my hair is often just brushed, not styled. The people who work there are always beautiful and really well put together. I usually feel inadequate, but then there is my friend, who loves me and doesn't care if I'm put together or not. She has worked there since she was very young and is now a "senior or master" stylist. She is a talented hair stylist, I often send my friends to her and everyone is always impressed with what she does. Sadly, on me, her talent is mostly wasted. I am simple and like my hair to be easy and generally long. I barely change styles and she knows me well enough to not even bother asking if I want something new. My time with her is a time to catch up on each other's lives, chatting about our kids and our husbands. Often we try to work in going out afterwards, because the time she is doing my hair is never enough. I have planned my cuts as her last appointment of her day for years. Whenever possible that is, so we can go catch a bite to eat or a drink together when she finishes. Our relationship has been this, much of the twenty plus years we have known each other. As we added marriages and kids we needed simple, easy ways to stay connected. Before marriages, we spent more time out together. There was a group, mostly of stylists and me who used to go out. I even shared an apartment with one of them at one point. I was not even of age to go to some places, but somehow this was never an issue. Walking in with all these beautiful women, they never questioned my age. We danced at clubs, ate at restaurants, had parties at each others apartments. Then I met Mark, I all but stopped hanging with my single friends at the bars anyway. After all, the main purpose was to meet men back then and I was perfectly happy with the one I had found. My relationships with girlfriends changed, as they do when someone marries. I was the first of the women to marry and as they all still looked for their soul mates, I pulled away from the group. During those early years of my marriage, some of them would come see Mark at the bars he played at. He was in a local "bar band" back then, so often this was the time I would see my single friends. Soon, one by one, they each found boyfriends some of which would become husbands. My closest friend in this group found what would be her husband and the two of them would occasionally join me at Mark's gigs. Mark's band was fun, so my friends came out to support him and be with me. Then another shift happened after I had my first baby and Mark quit the band. I realized I had friendships that needed to be nurtured more. I started trying to figure out times and ways to see friends. The girlfriend who still styled my hair I saw for haircuts but that was never enough, so we started planning times out after cuts. I loved hearing stories about her husband to be and her dream wedding coming up. With her wedding fast approaching, I attended her shower with my newborn son in tow. I was breaking the rules, asking her sister if it was ok, as I was nursing so often. She agreed but I could tell it was with hesitation. When I walked into the shower, I knew right away I should have left my son home. He was an easy baby and was perfect but there was a tension, like I had crossed a line I should not have. My friend was fine, always making me feel loved, even in a group I knew only a few of. Her sister may have just wanted the party to be about her sister's marriage and my bringing a new baby took away some of that attention? Years later I still have some regret, I wish her sister and I had connected better and have felt like I made a bad impression on her that has never healed completely. The wedding came and it was our first night with a baby sitter. My oldest sister took Beau for the wedding, Mark and I excited to get out as a couple alone. It was a beautiful wedding, much more traditional and formal than ours had been. They were married on New Years eve, ringing in their marriage with the fireworks our city put on at midnight. But Mark and I had never been away from our son and we were  anxious to see him, so we quietly snuck away from the celebration. That was 1995, our friendship has had many twists and turns since then. I had two more children, both girls, one with many special needs. She had two boys. After her first son was born, she worked shifts that made it possible for her family or her husband to care for him. Then at some point, she and I discussed my husband and I caring for their son a couple days a week. My husband and I ran in home daycare, so having our friends kids in our care was common. We loved helping friends, knowing their precious children were safe in our care. It would give her son some socialization with other children. It also took some of the pressure off family members who had been juggling much and allowed her husband to deal with a complicated schedule, that  included a long work commute. The other plus was that it gave Mark and I more time to see both her and her husband. She dropped off their son on her way to work and her husband picked  up at the end of the day. Her husband and I would stand in the driveway talking. We would discuss their son, the day and life in general, the struggles and the joys. I enjoyed getting to know him better during this time, as much of my relationship had been just with his wife. Up until the time we started taking care of their son, I didn't really know her husband well personally. The things I knew were through her stories about him. Uniquely though, she did know Mark pretty well, as over the years he had been going to her for haircuts also.  She was a great "haircut therapist" at times, giving Mark advice on a disagreement we had had or just chatting about our lives. Mark loved her also and knew her almost as well as I did. Contrarily, I only had stories to go on about her home life. The stories were usually funny, he was a guy I knew I would like, but life was busy and we didn't try hard to get together as couples. It was easier to have the guys stay home with the kids, so she and I could get out. Her stories about her husband portrayed him as having a quick wit and a great wry sense of humor. Her laughter as she told me about her family is one of my fondest memories. I developed the same love of him, as we connected during the time we had their son in our care. He and I were similar in our sarcasm and humor, he cracked me up with his subtlety. Keeping a straight face, but saying something totally hilarious, my friendship with him was as easy as it had been with his wife all those years. It was obvious they were good for each other. Knowing him mostly through her eyes first, but then learning his depth of kindness as we stood in the driveway discussing life. Both of them were huge supporters of us, knowing our struggles with Teale, they showed their care in many ways. Their were countless times she helped Mark and I with just the right words or looking at things with a different angle. I knew they prayed for us and I appreciated their unending care and compassion. As we fought for four years to get Teale into the private school she is finally in, their support was amazing. Both of them looking for connections to help us. Both of them praying and believing what we wanted was truly the best choice for Teale. Having people just trust in you gives you power to continue the fight, they gave us that. About a year ago though, the tables turned, my life had always been the complicated one of the two of us. Teale often had medical struggles but her issues would suddenly pale greatly. With what at first was thought to be a stroke, was later diagnosed as ALS. My friend's sweet, funny, caring, loving, compassionate, witty husband, the father of her two young boys and her best friend had the unthinkable. He was just 45 when diagnosed, the disease progressed quickly and this past Friday, his fight with ALS ended. The times I have met with my friend over this past year have been treasured beyond any others. She has taught me so very much with her strength, courage and wisdom. She has been an amazing wife and mother, but also a roll model for all. Amazingly during this most difficult time in their life, they both continued to pray for us. It would have been totally understandable if they had kept all their prayers for themselves. But even in their despair, they were both confident and encouraging that it was finally "Teale's time." This past spring, as the disease had taken much from my friend, he sent me affirmations that we were going to win this time. We were finally going to get our daughter into the beautiful, safe, loving school we wanted. His prayers it seemed, were directly connected to God and with his encouragement, I also dared to believe. He  would give me a "like" on Facebook or a note saying he was praying for Teale. Somehow telling me "we had this one" and "this was her year" the power of positive thought being something both of them, Mark and I shared. When we finally got word that Teale was accepted into The School of the Holy Childhood and our school district was also giving their blessing, Mark and I were overcome with joy. I immediately contacted friends and family, letting everyone who had believed in us, know the news. I can't deny though, that one of my most favorite "texts" was to my friend and her husband. By last spring, his progression was horribly fast, the disease was taking him from us much quicker than expected. Not wanting to put added pressure or stress on my friend, I had not pushed myself into her life.  I let her know I was here, but my gift was "stepping back." Reminding her of my love and great admiration, but knowing this journey was for those who were the very closest to them. Texting her was not intrusive, she didn't have to talk to me, she didn't even have to respond, so often a text just saying "I love you" was all I did. Letting her know what she needed the most, that there is always love. When I told her we had finally won the battle, her response was exactly what I expected "I knew this was her year!" After Teale started at the new school and came home talking about friends for the first time in many years, I shared this with her in a text also. I knew she would understand that their encouragement had been much appreciated and I was giving them some of the credit for this "win." I needed her husband to know his prayers had been heard and he had given us a gift I could never repay. The word spread quickly last week that his passing was close. Not knowing how close it was, I was compelled by something outside of me and sent a text to my friend. It wasn't my usual text, not "I love you" or a "XOXOX' not a "<3" like she so often sent me. My message was "I'm sending angels to surround you." And with that, I said a prayer to God to go comfort my friend and her husband. He left us sometime that same morning, whether it was before or after my text, I may never know. I do know my heart aches because he is no longer here on earth with his wife and their boys. I know I have barely thought of anything else since I got the news on Friday. I also know the lessons I learned because of him will last me a lifetime. My favorites being ~ Pray for others, even when you need the prayers for yourself. ~Keep the faith and trust in Gods plan. My daughter may never understand that he was part of the bigger picture in her life, but then again maybe she will? Sometime in the beginning of his diagnosis, out of the blue Teale asked me about him. She really never knew him well, as she was quite young when their son was in our care. But somehow, one day she had him on her mind and expressed this well. It was concern, that he was sick, but she had not been in my presence to over hear anything.  I texted my friend the strange comment my severely developmentally delayed daughter had said, I knew she would understand. Her response was classic her "She's connected baby!" I guess that says it all, we are all connected, we just need to listen with our hearts and sometimes those who are the least likely to teach us this, do. Rest in peace my friend, the journey is done here, but your memory lives on and will never be lost....XOXO

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