Imperfectly Nice

Archive for the tag “Cancer sucks”

Regrets

Carrie: Are we EVER going to see each other again?

Me: No. No we, apparently, are not. 😦

This was a conversation I had on Facebook with Carrie last summer. I was wrong when I said this. We did see each other again. On her death bed. And again at the funeral home. I dropped everything including work and my family to go to her side. Of course I did. There was no question that I wouldn’t. So why then? Why not before? Why not all of the other times we tried to get together and some stupid, little thing kept it from happening? Why wasn’t it as urgent then? It should have been.

I always loved the fact that Carrie and I had one of those rare friendships that allowed us pick up right where we left off. We could go days or weeks or months without speaking and still go on as if no time had passed. I used to think that was one of the beautiful things about our friendship. Now, I realize that was just a horrible reason not to try harder. Because she would always be there, and our friendship would always be there. We would always love each other and there would be a million more chances to see her, to hear her sing. I hate it when I am wrong. Really, really hate it.

I have memories. And I will hold them dear. I wish there were more. I wish there were memories of our kids playing. I wish so much that I had a memory of Vaught sitting in her lap while she sang to him. But there isn’t. There’s just the wish. And Vaught sitting in my lap while I sing. Y’all, I can’t sing. He will know her through her music. I will make sure of that. But it won’t be the same.

If there is someone in your life that precious, someone who you have a friendship with that can pass the tests of time and distance and life, don’t let the time and distance be excuses. I remember not going to see Carrie sing in Laurel because she was singing on Thursday night and I had work on Friday. I don’t even think I had a meeting or a deadline, just work. I had the vacation time. I didn’t use it. It was a work day and you go to work on work days. I gave up an opportunity for a night I would never forget for one insignificant day of work that I will never remember. Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken. I promise you, Carrie, that I will try to stop seeing the rules and the little hiccups along life’s path as things that will deter me from doing what is truly important. I know we tend to have a huge wake-up call that changes us and then we slowly but surely slide back into our comfortable molds. When I feel myself start to slide, I will listen to your music. Your voice will remind me that today, there are friendships to nurture and people to love and life to live. There are memories to be made.

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The post I never wanted to write

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It has been almost one month since Carrie died. I have wanted to post things, but I find myself unable to do it. I know this post needs to come first before I can move on to talk about anything else, but I just haven’t been ready until now. But before I can write anything else that is real, and honest, I have to write this.

Tonight, Carrie’s best friend, Sam, sent a message to a few of us who loved her best, and we just got to say things to each other that we can’t really share with anyone else. Mind you, I have met exactly one of these women, ever, at the funeral, and we spoke for mere minutes. She was comforting and calming and just very earth mama, you know? I, on the other hand, was an awkward mess. Because I just am. The point is, that through our shared grief, we have bonded, me and these women I don’t really know, but I am thankful for them. And now, I can face this post.

I was planning to visit Carrie on a Monday. The Thursday before, I was making arrangements, figuring out who would drop off and pick up my son and doing all of those little logistical things that needed to be done. I was writing about Carrie. The news that her cancer was terminal had come shortly before, so I was making it my mission to write memories down for her girls. I went to bed around two, and my phone rang at 3:30. It was Carrie’s husband, telling me that if I waited until Monday, I would probably be too late. He told me he would buy me a plane ticket or put gas in my car, but to come, just come. This man, who was facing all he was, offering to help me. I pulled out of my driveway as the sun was rising to make the four hour drive to Carrie. I prayed a lot. Mostly for Carrie and her family, but I asked for strength for myself a lot, too. When I was just minutes from her house, I made a quick stop and I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can face this.” And that small, still voice said, “YOU are facing this? No, my love. Carrie is. You don’t have to face anything. You get the privilege of being one of those people she wanted to see, so honor that.” It was like walking through a muddy creek bottom, but my feet took me back to my car and the rest of the way to her house.

Carrie is an only child, but her extended family is large, and they were all there for her. All of them beautiful, and crying gracefully into tissues with no visible streaks of mascara or puffy noses. (I am reminiscent of Claire Danes when I cry, so I was in awe.) You could feel the love in that family and in that house. They were so very gracious to allow me to be there, during a very private time, and I will always remember how gentle they were with me, in a time where they need comfort themselves.

Michael was there, coordinating and DOING things, all of the things. So kind, so thoughtful. Carrie’s mom and dad were there, keeping watch and care over her, protecting her and loving her. And there she was. Carrie. We talked. I held her hand. We got to remember silly things, and say big things and tell each other we loved each other, which is, after all, the biggest thing there is to say to anyone, ever. I will consider that day one of the biggest blessings of my life for the rest of my life, no matter how long or short it may be. To see that kind of strength and grace, to know she wanted me there when she had such precious little time …

She died the next day. I spoke at her funeral the next week. I was in what I like to call my politician’s wife’s dress, feeling stiff and wrong, my dad by my side. He held my hand, and I will forever be glad he was there, lending me strength. See, he loved Carrie, too. I got through my speech by meeting his eyes, and seeing her family there, knowing that, again, the hard part wasn’t mine.

As the family stood to leave, Carrie’s oldest daughter turned and, for a moment, when I saw her, all of the breath was sucked out of my lungs. Because it was her. It was my friend, just as she was when I met her. She might have been walking down the hall to meet me after school. The moment passed quickly – I don’t think my dad even realized I paused – but for just one minute, I saw that little girl who I spent so much of my childhood with, right there in front of me. 

I have had moments since that have given me that breathless feeling. My grief can catch me unaware sometimes, like the day I was in the ice cream shop with my son, and the song, “When I get Where I’m Going” came on the radio. As a rule, I am not a country music fan, but I do make an exception for Brad Paisley, so I knew the song. The line about matching his granddaddy step for step always makes me cry because I pray for that opportunity one day, too, but I was not prepared for what would happen as I sat on a sticky white couch with my cup of mango sorbet. The effect was almost immediate. I sat there with tears silently rolling down my face, hoping my son wouldn’t notice and be alarmed. Other days, it is there with me, always tugging at the edges of my brain. It is persistent, my inner voice whispering, “Carrie, Carrie, Carrie,” to me all day long. And, sometimes, it is little things that affect me, when they shouldn’t. Carrie is still the first person listed on my “favorites” list on Facebook, and there are days it pains me to see her face popping up, a constant reminder of the loss. But the day I thought she had, somehow, been taken off of that list, I panicked that I wouldn’t see her face in that familiar spot several times a day. I frantically tried to MAKE IT COME BACK, until it did, just a funny little Facebook glitch. 

Sometimes I think if I could just explain to someone, they would realize a mistake has been made and correct it. Because this just isn’t logical, can’t everyone see that? Carrie was supposed to be a grandmother – the kind who sneaks you extra Christmas cookies and has a great lap for sitting in when you want her to read a book or want a quiet place for comfort. She was supposed to celebrate milestone anniversaries with Michael and dance so hard at her daughters’ weddings, that she, oh, I don’t know, blew out a knee, just like she did at the homecoming dance our junior year of high school. She was supposed to sit with me and make me laugh so hard I cried, and tell me truths that only dear friends can tell you. She was supposed to do so much more. She was supposed to teach her girls to do so much and be so much. 

Of course, as a Southern woman, a million lines from “Steel Magnolias” have been running through my mind through all of this. I had to stop myself from telling people I didn’t know how their insides were holding up, but their hair looked fantastic. I actually did offer, many times to “fix something that freezes beautifully.” I also keep thinking of Annelle’s speech about how Shelby wanted to take care of people, but her little body just wouldn’t let her so she became an angel. It rings true. But so does Sally Field’s next line, “Well, I want her here.” Selfish, I know, but there it is.

A dear friend of mine and Carrie’s said, after her death, that we are all broken now, but she is healed, and that seems like a pretty fair trade. He is right. He is so right. Many people don’t get to experience a person who lives and loves quite like Carrie did. How very blessed I am that I got to call her my friend.

“Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.”

– William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude-  (Yep. Totally got this from the beginning of “Deathly Hallows.”)

Carrie

We can do it

Carrie as Rosie the Riveter last Halloween.
Because we CAN do it!

“She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.”

I have written and deleted hundreds of words to try and make this post perfect, and I have decided it’s just not going to get there. I am used to stumbling and failing in speech, but not so much on paper. I can always find the words to write, but words are failing me now. So, I have decided to publish this anyway. I am going to say things wrong, and I am going to struggle to find the words I need, but at this point, saying something is much more important to me than getting it exactly right.

I have a sweet, funny friend named Carrie. We have been friends since we were seven. There have been times we have talked almost nonstop every day and times where we didn’t talk for years – not because we didn’t love each other – but because that happens sometimes in life when you move and live and grow and love in different circles. The thing about Carrie and me is, though, that we always find our way back to one another, no matter how long it’s been. And each time I hear her voice, it’s like no time has passed. She is my friend now, just as she was when we were little girls, and I love her dearly.

Last week, Carrie was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I feel the need to share what a remarkable person she is. How often do we take the time to just shout to the universe how truly awesome someone we love is? Not often enough. So … here goes. I hope that somehow, through these words, you will come to know Carrie the way I do, and see her as I do.

I met Carrie when we were seven on the bus that drove us from our elementary school to the high school where our mothers taught, about 100 yards away. She was little and had long, blonde curls and bright blue eyes and wore a navy beret. I thought she was pretty and stylish and I wanted her to be my friend. I don’t remember exactly, but I am guessing she is the one who approached me. Because that’s what she does. She envelops everyone around her into her ball of energy. We were fast friends, and my family’s move a couple of years later didn’t do anything to change that. That just meant high phone bills for our parents and frequent slumber parties when I visited Mississippi each summer.

Six years after we moved away, we moved back. I was devastated to leave our home. I was hurting over leaving my best friend, and I wasn’t handling the move back well at all. Carrie was my salvation. The group of friends I’d had as a kid had fractured. As we got older, they didn’t want to hang out when I came back to town like they had before. We were growing up and moving on to other friends and other things. But not Carrie. I mean, yes, she was growing up and doing new things, but she never stopped having time for me. She never thought I wasn’t as cool as her new friends. We just never outgrew each other.

When I called her to tell her I would be moving back and we would be starting our 10th grade year together, she was so excited, it was the first ray of hope I had felt for a while. The first day of school was totally awkward. Starting back in a place where a lot of people knew me, but weren’t really my friends just did not have me rushing to start the school year. The morning was just as awful as I thought it would be, made even more so by being told I was breaking the school dress code within the first two minutes of being there. (Um … what? These shorts are too short? Hand to God, they were probably no more than four inches above my knee. Seriously. We were staying at my Granny and Granddaddy’s house during the move and Ava Nell would have never allowed me out of the house in something that even bordered on inappropriate. Ava Nell is the reason for the name of this blog. The one with an endless list of things that nice girls don’t do. And nice girls certainly don’t go to school in slutty shorts.) I made a mental note to make an emergency run for culottes after school and spent the rest of the morning dreading lunch, which I did NOT have with Carrie. All I could picture was a sea of faces of people I used to play with, giving me a less than welcoming reception while I struggled to understand why. You know, your basic teenage nightmare.

I spent 30 seconds alone before a slender, dark-haired girl introduced herself and told me Carrie had told her to keep an eye out for me. And just like that, she became my friend, too. I wonder if Carrie even understands how much she did for me that day. She cared for me. She made sure I wasn’t trying to navigate the minefield of sort of new girl status alone. She took someone who was devastated and feeling untethered and threw me a lifeline. I held on to that lifeline dearly for the next three years. Actually, if she’s realized it or not, I’ve never let it go.

Carrie is full of life and light. She has a big personality and her enthusiasm, her silliness and her laughter are contagious. She loves fiercely and completely. When she steps on a stage to sing, she is larger than life. You can’t help but stare, and you can’t help but thank God He gave people talent like that. To me, she is fearless and brave. She is a big reason this blog even exists. I see her putting herself out there in a way that inspires me and makes me want to be fearless too. Or at least to not let the fear stop me from being. She is my friend and my sister and I love her.

She is fighting. I am fighting with her in the only ways I know how – praying, writing, trying to think of silly packages to send to her. I am asking you to fight with her, too. Pray. Even if you don’t know her or will never know her – pray. She has a husband who loves her and two beautiful little girls who need her. She has a mama who worries about her and a daddy who will be strong for her. She has a million cousins who are just as funny as she is and who will all be caring for her, I am sure. She has friends who adore her. She has a lot to fight for. And she will. But her body is tired. It is hurting. She needs our help. Carrie, who has taken care of so many of us, needs us to take care of her now. As Glennon Melton says, “we belong to each other.” We belong to Carrie, and she belongs to us. So, please pray. Let her name ring in God’s ears endlessly. She can’t raise her beautiful voice, so I am asking you to raise yours for her. She belongs to us. 

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