She’s being followed by a moonshadow

“I’m dying.”

That’s what my dear friend Lynn said when she called me on the last Monday in February. She had just returned home from a visit with her oncologist who had given her the shattering news that her already grim prognosis of three to four months to live had abruptly changed to weeks and that she was being released into hospice care. Her doctor was on point – she died exactly three weeks later, two days before her 68th birthday. What happened in those 21 days in between was one of the most transcendent experiences of my life. Lynn took me to the thin place between this life and the next one and I hope I never get over it.

This is the story of how I got there.

Lynn, Joy and Kathy (Lynn’s wife) on our wedding day in May of 2014.

I became friends with Lynn through marriage – she and my wife Joy were best friends for almost 25 years, so, when I got Joy, I also got Lynn – a way better gift than monogrammed towels. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the spring of 2017 and underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy. She lost her hair and felt like shit. The past six years, she was on the fickle rollercoaster of good scans/bad scans and endured several more rounds of chemo. Fuck cancer. But cancer doesn’t get to steal Lynn’s story – I just needed to give you some context.

Lynn’s Facebook post after she got the dire news in January. She always was a straightshooter.

In January, Lynn’s oncologist told her that her tumors were aggressively growing – even while being blasted by chemo – and Lynn had only a few months to live. I picked her up from her appointment that day and she delivered the news to me straight – no chaser. That was Lynn’s style. I felt like I was in a movie – a bad one – as I grasped for something remotely lucid to utter. I’m sure my knuckles were white on the steering wheel when I heard her say, “I’ve started planning my funeral.” I know that my voice cracked when I replied, “Make it a damn good one.” She nodded her head slowly and said, “Yep. I deserve that.” And she got one on par with Queen Elizabeth, but more or that later.

Kathy and Lynn in happier times -ringing the bell after Lynn’s first round of chemo was completed on the day after Christmas in 2017.

We always assumed that Lynn would eventually die from her cancer and it was a faint undercurrent to our time together, but she kept making plans and we were on board for them. In the last year or so, her bad days far outnumbered her good ones and this past Christmas, Joy wondered out loud if it might be Lynn’s last. I didn’t have to say anything as my dear wife read my dark face. But that’s the thing about hope – it’s the last one to leave the party – and we made the most of our holiday time with her. Looking back on it now, fate was kind to us. Lynn and her wife Kathy spent several hours with us on Christmas Eve when their power went out during a wicked cold snap. Lynn sat bundled up in her puffy coat by the fireplace in our living room for three hours – talking, laughing and drinking hot chocolate. Thank you, Duke Energy.

Christmas seemed so far way when Lynn called Joy on a Saturday morning in mid-February and said she needed to go to the ER – her pain had reached an unbearable level. Kathy couldn’t take her because she had been up all night with a stomach virus. Can you say piling on? Joy was with Lynn for several hours until she was admitted. Tests and scans revealed that the gruesome pain was being caused by the tumors obstructing her kidneys. A few days later in the hospital, Lynn and Kathy were faced with a Sophie’s Choice – either die in a few days from kidney failure or have a nephrostomy – a surgical procedure to make an opening from the outside of the body to drain the urine into tubing attached to a bag. The doctors said this procedure would give Lynn a few more months.

I think Lynn had already made peace with dying, but she had some things she wanted to take care of before she checked out, so she opted for the surgery and returned home a few days later with her “pee purses” – her words – in tow. Lynn had a penchant for accessories and we were grateful, as always, for her indomitable sense of humor. She needed that in spades a few days later when her oncologist delivered the death knell – even with the nephrostomy, her time on earth was down to weeks, not months.

That’s when she called me and we boarded the L-Train to Parts Unknown. It was a group tour with our tribe – Lynn, our tour director, Kathy, our friends Lori and Sue, and our other Lynn. One of the many gifts of being gay, at least in my experience, is creating your own family. This unit doesn’t always preclude your biological family, but this is the family that doesn’t vote against you in every election, the family that loves you unconditionally, the family that knows and loves you for who you are – regardless of pronouns. And I know you don’t have to be gay to have this kind of family, but I do think that my people have perfected the concept. After all, we’ve had centuries of practice.

Lynn and me back in the day when we robbed banks together.

Lynn had one sibling, a sister, who we shall refer to as Cruella for simplicity’s sake, and they were estranged for some time before Lynn’s death. But Lynn’s other family, her heart family, was huge – in fact, about 40 folks formed the processional (Lynn’s idea) behind Kathy at her memorial service. I didn’t know all of my other family members, but I do know that we were all damn proud to be in that number.

When Joy finished work on that woeful Monday night, we went to Lynn’s house, not knowing what to expect. And there she was in her recliner in her sunroom looking like she was ready to host book group. She had a beatific look on her face as she announced, “I’ve decided that I want to die on the same day as Jimmy Carter, so we can hold hands and jump together.” We didn’t see that coming (understatement). And that was pretty much every day until she died – one astonishing conversation after another. Oh, and President Carter, she’s waiting for you.

There were joyful surprises along the way, too. Kathy’s niece Dani and her wife Cat flew in from Iowa the very next day to spend time with Lynn and help with 101 things. I had never met them but was immediately smitten when I picked them up at the airport. They are in their late 30’s – lovely, bright and brimming with possibilities. I soon nicknamed them “the kittens” because they were so cute, sweet, and far removed from sickness and death. We all just wanted to pet them. They stayed for ten days with the promise to return for Lynn’s memorial service. And they did.

The Kittens – Cat (yes, her real name) and Dani in front of Lynn’s favorite tree.

Lynn continued to lean into her death, giving us the glorious gift of celebrating her life while she was still with us. And boy, did we. The first Saturday in March, we held a surprise drive-by parade for Lynn. We had originally scheduled it for two weeks later – right before her birthday – but we were keenly aware that time was not on our side. We weren’t sure how many folks would be able to come on such short notice so we were gobsmacked when about 40 enthusiastic friends turned out with festive decorations and signs. There were even leprechauns! It was an unusually warm day for early March and a camp chair at the edge of her yard served as Lynn’s review stand.

No one was going to rain on Lynn Parsley’s parade.

Everyone blew their horns and cheered – Kathy had prepared the neighbors on their cul-de-sac for the shenanigans. Each car stopped when it reached Lynn and everyone got out and hugged her. Most of them cried, but Lynn never did. She held their hands as they stooped down to her level and she looked into their eyes, and said things like, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Later that evening, Kathy told us that Lynn had been reflecting on the day and said, “I’m already in heaven.”

Our tribe has a monthly supper club, only we call it Cabana Night. That was my idea because the first one actually took place in a cabana. It’s the highlight of every month and Lori and Sue host and give everyone an assignment. And there’s always a theme. Always. Sometimes, there are even costumes. We’ve had almost 60 by now and we knew we had to give Lynn a final one. Lori and Sue had been out of town for a week when I informed them that they would be hosting a dinner party on the evening after the parade. I’m just that kind of friend. I broke the news to them on the phone while driving and by the time I got to their house – about a 15-minute drive – Sue had already selected a theme – Campfire Girls – and the e-vites went out within the hour. Never doubt what a few committed lesbians can accomplish on short notice. I think Margaret Mead said that.

We didn’t have s’mores, but we went through three boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

See: Eating your feelings.

Parade day had been a lot for all of us – most especially Lynn. She was feeling nauseous from her pain meds when she arrived for dinner and sat in Kathy’s car for a long time with her eyes closed. None of us dared to say it out loud, but I’m fairly certain we were all thinking the same thing –  what an idyllic way that would be for Lynn to depart this earthly life after such a glorious day. She rallied and made it inside to the couch where she stayed for the duration. We took turns sitting with her during dinner and when it was my shift, she asked me if I would give the eulogy at her memorial service. Gulp. I told her it would be the honor of my life.

My dear wife had been terrified that Lynn was going to ask her to do it because she knew she would never have the composure to get through it. Lynn laughed when Joy confessed her fear and assured her that she would never put her best friend through that. A visibly relieved Joy told Lynn she thought she might ask Jack, her male best friend, and Lynn laughed again and said, “Are you kidding? He cries more than you.” I’ll tell you this – you may not choose Joy or Jack to give your eulogy, but you couldn’t make finer selections for best friends. Lynn knew that and I like to think she knew that I could deliver the eulogy she deserved.

Lynn in her happy place – smack dab in the middle of her tribe.
Photo: Back row – left to right: Lori, Joy, Kathy, Lynn and Sue. Front row – Cat, Dani and our other Lynn. Big head: Me.

She was only able to eat a deviled egg that night, but she smiled a lot. We all did, especially when we toasted her. We had decided prior to dinner that every toast that evening would be the same – Lynn Parsley Forever! And we were ridiculously pleased with ourselves when we added the Wakanda hand signal and crossed our arms over our chests each time we raised our glasses. That toast may be the only one we ever need.

Lynn Parsley Forever!
We gave Lynn the Wonder Woman accessories before her surgery in June of 2017.
I think she liked them.

Kathy and Lynn’s sunroom was busier than a Trailways bus station during Lynn’s last few weeks. She had visitors day and night – friends from third grade, sorority sisters, half of Ardmore – the beautiful neighborhood she lived in for 25 years. Kathy was the traffic cop and would gently try and steer folks out who were staying too long. Only one snag – Kathy is Norwegian, she’s terminally polite and gracious, and bouncer is just not a good fit for her. Keep in mind that Lynn was in great pain – in spite of heavy-duty narcotics – during a lot of this time. She somehow managed in-person goodbyes to her book club, her movie group and her not so small small group which she led for several years. Once again, she left most of them sobbing while she kept smiling.

Lynn selected this photo for her obituary. She was a very witty girl.

There were some lighthearted moments, too. Lynn was a bit of hoarder – not in a nasty way – she just had a lot of stuff and she was determined to give away a lot of it before she died. She was the Imelda Marcos of Skechers shoes – she had over 50 pairs. She liked matching her shoes to her outfit. I mean, who doesn’t? We wore the same size and she was delighted to give me first dibs. One problem – I am married to a minimalist and we live in a small condo with limited closet space. And honestly, I’ve never felt a need for pink shoes. I took a few pairs, but I know I’ll never fill her shoes.

The more smiles change, the more they stay the same. I’d know that sweet one anywhere.

And there was that magical Friday night when the universe conspired to give us one last perfect evening. Lori and Sue had dropped by for a brief visit with Lynn but found her sleeping, so they didn’t stay. Lynn was not at all happy that she had not been awakened to see them. “I’m not dead yet,” she barked to Kathy and the Kittens. Kathy called Lori and Sue – who had just arrived home – and sheepishly asked them to come back. And, of course, they did. Meanwhile, Joy and I had gone out for a bite to eat for the first time in weeks and as we were finishing dinner, we got a text from Lynn, which simply said, “Come over if you want to.” We practically ran to our car. And when we walked into the sunroom, there was Lynn holding court in her recliner – not looking at all like someone who was going to die in 10 days. Her pain was stable and she looked like, well, Lynn. And then she directed Kathy to open a special bottle of prosecco – her favorite – that was in the fridge. The party was on and we felt like a giddy pack of unchaperoned 8th graders.

Time stood still that Friday night – or at least we weren’t aware of it. Lynn didn’t feel sick and we didn’t feel sad. Cancer was just an astrological sign and not a serial killer. We were all kittens that night – playful in the moment – no aches, pains, or worries. It was our Make a Wish dream come true and Lynn’s sunroom was our Disneyworld. I took a photo of Lynn that night that I have looked at almost every day since she died. It reminds me to be present in the moment. We all stayed late that night and when I got home, I texted Lynn and thanked her for showing us that sacred and mysterious space between life and death. She texted back, “It’s been a great ride.” I didn’t want the night to be over, but when I finally drifted off to sleep, I knew I was still smiling.

Some people just know how to live.

We texted a lot during those last few weeks and it will be a very long time before I delete those messages. One of the best nights was “watching” the Oscars with her. My wife usually makes it through the first award and heads to bed, so it was so fun to share snarky comments with Lynn throughout the show. She had some good ones, like “Brendan Fraser looks like a young Rodney Dangerfield” and “Is Tilda Swinton a ghost?” but the one below literally made me laugh out loud.

Milk Duds will forever make me smile.
(Lynn’s texts are in the grey background.)

All of us who have had extensive dental work join Lynn in that prayer.

When Lynn had accomplished most of the things on her to do list – financial and legal matters that would make things easier on Kathy – she decided to have her nephrostomy reversed, knowing that would expedite her death. The tubes coming out of her back were terribly uncomfortable and her pain was getting harder to manage. She was ready. Unfortunately, our healthcare system was not and it took a lot of phone calls and navigation to get the greenlight to proceed. Finally, on Wednesday, March 15th, Lynn had the procedure to remove the tubes. I texted her that morning to tell her I was thinking of her. What she texted back has become a mantra for me in the days since her death.

She made us believe it.

Lynn returned home that morning for the beginning of the end. She had originally planned to enter our local hospice as her death drew near – she didn’t want Kathy to have to live with the memory of her dying in their home. Kathy thought she would be okay either way, but “I think that’s what Lynn would have wanted” was a phrase she spoke softly time and again in those last days – when Lynn was no longer conscious. It was such a sweet affirmation of their commitment to each other.

Her pain was increasing each day as her body was shutting down and under the supervision of her hospice in-home team, she was taking more drugs more frequently. The upside was no pain, the downside was fewer periods of clarity. Joy had arranged for a few days off from her work – thinking she would be giving Kathy a break at hospice during Lynn’s last days. We went to her house on a Thursday evening and could see that her descent was beginning. She had a hard time keeping her eyes open and her speech was weak and slurred. Our conversation was spotty when Joy, her voice cracking, asked Lynn if she could see into the next world. Lynn’s eyes grew wide open as she replied, “Oh, I’ve been seeing into it for a while now.” Joy asked her what it looked like. We both leaned in close to Lynn’s face as she answered, “The path is lit up waves.”

The moonglade as seen from Lynn’s condo balcony. “The path is lit up waves.”

Joy and I needed something stronger than prosecco after that revelation. I loved Lynn’s imagery and it seemed almost poetic for her. Her favorite place on earth was her beach condo in Garden City, SC. Her condo is on the fifth floor of a high rise and features a huge balcony that practically hangs over the ocean. You feel like you are on the deck of a grand cruise ship when you are standing on it. Many times, when we were there with her, we would marvel at the moonglade over the ocean and in the weeks since her death, it has comforted me to think of her on that familiar path.

That was the last conversation we had with Lynn. The next morning, Kathy was having difficulty getting Lynn adjusted in her recliner – Lynn was in a stupor from her medication and unable to help her. Lori and Sue happened to drop by at just the right time and it was starkly apparent that this was not a drill – Kathy needed help. Sue was calling me on her phone when Joy arrived at Lynn’s house. The next four days were like that – we were all on the same page, seamlessly working together with one purpose – keep Lynn as comfortable as possible as she made her exit. We never discussed who would spend the night – we all did – or who would do what – we just did it.

This crew is true blue and we were so grateful for all the friends who dropped off food and hugs.

Our vigil became a sacred sleepover of sorts and took on an almost tribal ritual feel. A hospital bed was delivered and placed in the middle of the sunroom – her favorite room in the house. And Lynn remained in that bed with us surrounding her until she died. Her priest came and administered the Last Rites and we all laid hands on her. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Death wants to make sure you’re paying attention.

Time management is an important skill for caregivers.

At night, we slept in increments of 55 minutes. Lynn could no longer swallow her pain meds, so we had to give them to her by dropper every hour. Kathy was the head nurse and Joy was her assistant. We became as proficient as a NASCAR pit crew. One of us would gently hold her head up and another would massage her throat to help the medicine go down. Kathy would set her phone alarm for an hour and the rest of us – sleeping on assorted couches, would pop up to help when it went off. Funny aside – Lynn was a world class napper and strongly believed that every room should have a couch – just in case she felt the need – the need for sleep. She was right – and we played musical couches each night.

The second night, I slept on the couch in the sunroom next to Lynn’s hospital bed. My head was just a few feet from hers and her deep labored breathing was the only sound in the entire house. It felt like being in the passenger seat when I was a kid – long before car seats – curious about where my dad might be taking me. Only this time Lynn was driving and I wondered what she might be thinking as I stared into the living room where Lori was sleeping. There is something deeply comforting about sleeping under the same roof with people you dearly love. I didn’t really sleep, but I floated in that space with no fear – just an overwhelming peace that wherever Lynn was going, she would be okay.

My view from the passenger seat. Lynn kept steering us out of the dark.

Early Sunday morning, Lynn began the death rattle – that eerie gurgling sound from the back of the throat that usually signals that death is very near. Or not. After a few hours during which we hung on her every breath, she returned to the deep breathing she had been doing the past few days. She wasn’t leaving just yet. The hospice nurse came that morning and encouraged us to talk to Lynn and tell her that it was okay to go. We all smiled knowingly and we told the nurse that Lynn had been telling us it was okay for her to go for weeks. We decided that Lynn was enjoying being the absolute center of our attention too much to leave just yet.

We were all a bit delirious from sleep deprivation, which can only explain why Joy and I sat down on the couch beside Lynn’s bed and decided to start singing hymns. You might be thinking that was a really lovely thing to do, but you’ve never heard my wife and me sing. It’s not pretty. We know how awful we are and we giggled and declared that if our dreadful crooning didn’t take Lynn out, nothing would. Mercifully, we ran out of hymns and everyone joined us in the sunroom and we began playing a two-hour mashup of Lynn’s Top 100 on our phones. Lynn loved music – all types – and we covered every genre – including songs from marching bands – she played the French horn in her high school band. We played everything from 25 or 6 to 4 to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and wait for it – Midnight at the Oasis. Lynn’s bucket list trip was Morocco – her planned trip in 2020 was scratched by COVID and she deeply regretted never getting there. We really belted out that one for her and at one point – just for a nanosecond, Lynn seemed to bob her head with the music – absolutely true story and I have fairly reliable witnesses.

DJ Joy in da House!

Send your camel to bed…

A hospice nurse – Nurse Cindy, our favorite – came on Monday morning and after taking Lynn’s vitals, told us that Lynn would probably go soon. Or not. Hospice nurses are awesome, but they’re not the betting type. Nurse Cindy told us what a good job we were doing caring for Lynn – and yes, I’m sure she tells everyone that, but it was a lovely lift to our weary souls that morning. Our other Lynn arrived with goodies and fresh energy and Lori and Sue went home to shower and change. When they returned, Joy and I left to do the same. And, of course, that’s when Lynn took her last breaths. Kathy was napping and Sue shouted at Lori to go wake her – STAT. A few minutes later, Lynn was gone. Death is like that – it keeps you waiting and then it makes an Irish exit.

Sunrise from the sunroom on the day Lynn died.

Lori had called me to tell us to hurry back, but we were too late. I was worried that Joy would be heartbroken that she was not with Lynn at the very end. Here’s the thing about my wife – she is the most grownup person I have ever known. I mean it. She is just so annoyingly mature. I told her I was so sorry we didn’t make it back in time and she said, through her tears, “It’s okay. I’m just so glad Lynn is finally out of pain.” See what I mean? Later, after she had spent some time alone with Lynn by her bed – holding her hand and stroking her hair softly – Joy told me that she thought Lynn had died while she was gone to make it easier on her. I love that thought and I want to be like Joy when I grow up.

We all left Kathy with Lynn in the sunroom while we did the things you have to do when someone dies. I called hospice to let them know and they told me that Nurse Cindy would be over shortly. Someone had the idea of cracking open a bottle of prosecco to toast Lynn off. And wouldn’t you know it, just as Sue was popping the cork and Joy was holding the flutes, in walks Nurse Cindy. She seemed a bit startled. I guess not everyone celebrates the end of a loved one’s life so festively. Well, Lynn Parsley wasn’t everyone, and she would have loved every minute of it. Joy even asked Nurse Cindy if she wanted a little sip. That’s my wife – ever gracious. Nurse Cindy politely declined and began all the paperwork she needed to do before the folks from the funeral home arrived. She was so tender with Lynn, even tearing up a few times. When it came time for her to leave, she said she hoped she had such a devoted group around her when it was her time. I think she really meant it. And then we all hugged her – genuine hugs of gratitude. I told her that I hoped I would never see her again – at least not on the job – and she laughed.

Then two very dapper men from the funeral home came to take Lynn away. They, too, were so very sensitive and kind. We followed them to the door and stood at the top of the steps as they prepared to place Lynn’s body in their Dodge van. What the hell? Lynn was a car fanatic – buying a new one every few years. She had a couple of Jags and sports cars and really nice rides over the years. A Dodge van would not have been her style at all, but I guess death has a sense of humor. And then one of the men slid the van door open and we saw that there was another body inside. Joy, who is usually the most reserved in our tribe blurted out cheerfully, “Oh, look! Lynn has a roommate.” I thought I might fall down the steps from laughing so hard and then Kathy sweetly said, “Lynn would love that.” That was our Lynnie – making new friends wherever she went.

We went back into the house, which felt deafeningly quiet and Sue decided to make dinner reservations for us that evening at one of the best restaurants in town. And so, a few hours later, we sat in a very private nook in a very fine restaurant and told story after story about Lynn and toasted her with almost every sip. Someone had tipped off our server to the circumstances of our celebration and he was wonderful. As we were leaving, he said, “I hope you all enjoyed your evening – and the one not here, too.” Even he knew that Lynn was still with us.

Lynn’s memorial service was held ten days later on the last day in March. There were over 300 people in attendance. I don’t even know 300 people. The service was magnificent – just as Lynn had planned it. The music was gorgeous – the prelude included a piano, viola, and trumpet – and a lyric soprano sang. I think I did okay with my eulogy. My sister, who lives in California, happened to be on the east coast for business and was able to attend and I decided to focus on her when I began to speak. I was about three words in when I saw her beautiful face crumble into a full-on ugly cry and that immediately relaxed me. She’s a tower of strength, that one. I kept it short and sweet and a little bit funny and told a few stories about Lynn that I hoped everyone could relate to.

I shared that Lynn and I had recently reminisced about one of our favorite movies – Starman. There’s a wonderful scene in that film where an alien, played by Jeff Bridges, is sharing his observations about humans with a scientist. The alien says, “You are a strange species. Not like any other. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.” That was Lynn Parsley. And when things went from bad to very worst in the last months of her life, Lynn was the one who made us feel better. She never gave up hope and she never stopped teaching.

I ended my eulogy with this excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem In Backwater Woods:

To live in this world,

you must be able to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your own bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to

let it go,

to let it go.

Lynn knew this and she gently helped us to know it, too. I think of her every day, especially when I run across something clever on social media that makes me laugh and I want to share it with her. I miss laughing with her. And I miss talking about deep things. Not many people like to go there, but Lynn did and we went there often – especially near the end. I read a fascinating article shortly after Lynn’s death (she probably sent it to me) – an excerpt from a book by Mimi Zhu – Be Not Afraid of Love: Lessons on Fear, Intimacy and Connection. Zhu writes that “grief is an ancestor who teaches us to exercise constant and immense gratitude.” She goes on, “To this day, grief has shown me that love does not die at the face of death; it is transformed. When you grieve deeply, you are shown your abounding capacity to love. Love does not die. Love sprouts from the ground we have nourished with our tears.”

That last sentence reads like a prayer to me,

Lynn loved Star Wars and well done sarcasm. I sent this to her in my head.

I had the most amazing dream about Lynn the other night. I was sitting outside at a picnic table with Joy and her on a beautiful day. Lynn was still dead but looked great – not sick at all. She said she had come to tell us that heaven looks like you’re wearing 3-D glasses all the time. How awesome is that? Lynn loved all the Marvel movies, so the heavenly 3-D effect is so on brand for her. She was terribly excited about it all and I kept touching her arm to see what it felt like. Spoiler alert – it felt like an arm. It was such a happy dream that I could hardly wait for it to be morning so I could tell Joy about it.

And now the image I can’t get out of my head, not that I would ever want to, is of Lynn and Jimmy Carter in heaven with their 3-D glasses on – blissfully chewing on Milk Duds – and watching the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie together. Somehow, Lynn knew it all along – every little thing is going to be all right.

Lynn and Kathy will always have Paris – September 2022.

The back of the bulletin for Lynn’s memorial service. Her idea, of course.
“No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers – what a way to go.

Rest well, dear friend. We’ll see you on the other side.

Postscript: In one of our last conversations together, I told Lynn that I would most certainly write about her death. She smiled and paused for a second before saying, “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”

And as of this posting, President Carter is still with us. No hurry, sir, but Lynn has saved you a great seat.

Permanent ink


Fractions have always frightened me a bit. They’re so cold and emotionless – I just don’t trust them.

I can probably trace this irrational fear back to my high school algebra teacher – Miss Sullivan. She must have been around 87 when I took her MANDATORY class. She was 4’ll” in sensible pumps, a wiry whirling dervish of a woman and I have no doubt that she could have easily kicked the football coach’s ass if she needed to. And she was the most intimidating person I had ever met at the fragile age of 14.

She had no patience for students who were not proficient in the way of polynomials and she could hunt us down like a shark in bloody waters. I still take considerable pride in the fact that I never cried in her class. Lord knows, I wanted to. And for the record, unlike baseball, there is crying in algebra.

This is a rambling way of saying that I’ve been thinking about fractions a lot lately. Today marks the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death – a heady milestone for sure. 15 years is a very long time and maybe it was The Ghost of Algebra Teacher Past who made me realize that I have now lived over a ¼ of my life without my mother. Damn. And I thought fractions were emotionless.


Frances Elizabeth Garbee. My mother as a child.

These deathiversaries have always been important to me and I try to observe the big ones in meaningful ways. On the 10th anniversary of Mom’s death, I hosted a high tea at a beautiful hotel for several women who had become mother figures in my life. It was an elegant late afternoon affair – an event my mother would have loved – especially since we transitioned from tea to champagne as evening came.


December 7, 2012. High tea at the O’Henry Hotel.

I shared remembrances of my mother and a few folks read poems as we sat on plump loveseats.  The hotel was decorated for Christmas and we were bathed in the warm holiday lights. It was the perfect celebration that I had envisioned.

A lot has happened in the five years since that evening. I married my dear wife – whose middle name just happens to be the same as my mother’s first name – Frances. A divine coincidence that has pleased me enormously. They have much in common besides a name. My mother was always a lady – graceful and gracious – as is my wife. Although, my wife is much more even-tempered which also pleases me enormously. I’m certain they would have enjoyed sipping champagne with one another.

And there have been some big transitions. I moved 30 miles down I-40 to a new city and I lost a job I dearly loved and along with it some friends that I thought were, well, friends. And I found a new spiritual home – just when I needed it most after the desolation of the 2016 election.

Oh, and I rode on a boat up the Grand Canal in Venice. It is a good thing in life to be dazzled occasionally.


I lament the sights and sites my mother didn’t live to see.

There were highs and lows and all the everyday stuff in between that make up a life. And I missed my parents every single day but I finally learned to co-exist peacefully with grief. It wasn’t an Oprah “a-ha” moment where everything suddenly crystalized. No, it was more like blowing out a candle at the end of the evening. A gentle rush of breath and then the hushed still of the night. I finally stopped wrestling with grief and then it seemed to not be that interested in me. Grief is fickle like that.


Both of my parents died in 2002. This is my favorite photograph of them taken in the early 1960’s.  They look like the movie stars they were to me.

But I still wanted to do something special to mark this milestone. I thought about another gathering of my “mom” figures – there are some new ones in the circle as others have drifted for reasons known and unknown. But I just wasn’t feeling it – besides, this year felt more like tequila than tea.

So the next logical way to celebrate my mother was to get a tattoo. WTF? I thought that might get your attention. When the idea came to me, I smiled my cheeks off. And then one word came to mind – disdain. That’s how my mother would have felt about a tattoo – any tattoo. But she always supported me in whatever path – misguided or not – that I took, so I think she would feign disdain but secretly like my new tattoo.

Yes, I really got a tattoo to honor my mother. And I love it. And I don’t care what anybody else thinks about it. It is a glorious gift to myself.

My mother was a true daughter of the South in all the best ways – well mannered and charming. She could be yelling at me or one of my siblings like a banshee one moment and then answer the phone with a voice so warm it would melt butter. She taught me how to set a formal table, write a timely and engaging thank you note, and never to chew gum in public.

She was also a steel magnolia. A few hours before she died from cancer – a brutal one but I suppose they all are – her oncologist came to her bedside to pay his respects. He looked at her unconscious body and then turned to me and my brother and sister, shook his head reverently and said, “Your mother was tough as nails.”

That was nothing, of course, that I didn’t already know. She was grace under pressure and I can only hope I have a thimble of that fortitude.

So, I knew my tattoo had to be a magnolia blossom. That was Mom’s favorite flower and she would often decorate with them – layers and layers of magnolia leaves at Christmas. When she died, a family friend painted an exquisite watercolor for us – “In Memory of a Steel Magnolia” – and we used the image on thank you cards.

I took one of the cards I had saved into Newport Tattoo when I was in California recently visiting my sister. I showed it to Kareem, a tattoo artist and the shop owner, and he gave me his thoughts on the size and positioning and I made an appointment for a few days later.

If you ever want to feel older and squarer than you are – go to a tattoo shop. It’s a little hard on your ego but everyone treated me very kindly considering I was the oldest one in the shop by at least 20 years. Okay, 25.


Newport Tattoo, Newport Beach, CA. It’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone.

I really didn’t have any second thoughts about my plan, but I did get a little anxious as the day of inking arrived. I have three small tattoos – all black – and they didn’t take long to complete. I was nervous about my two-hour multi-colored tour with Kareem. And when you’re getting a tattoo in honor of a steel magnolia you better not be a wimp about it.

You might be wondering about now, “Why a tattoo?” I don’t know if it will make sense to you but for me a tattoo is like a short story – a visual manifestation of a personal narrative. A tattoo is an intimate expression that becomes a constant companion along the journey.

My tattoo is on my inner forearm. I almost always wear long sleeves, except for t-shirts in the summer or at the gym, so my tattoo is truly for me. Full disclosure: Dear wife wasn’t thrilled about it but she is a lot like my mom when it comes to supporting my sometimes quirky ideas.

There’s also something about the cultural aspect of tattoos that I find fascinating. There are some studies that suggest that in ancient times tattoos were used as part of a healing or strengthening ritual. I know that my tattoos feel like talismans to me – touchstones of calm and peace. I certainly don’t need permanent ink to feel close to my mother – I feel her presence daily – but my tattoo is a tangible reminder of her elegance and strength.

I suppose there’s something adventurous and bold about a tattoo that speaks to me, too. It’s like literally wearing your alter ego on your sleeve. In my real life, I am pressed to perfection – my creases have creases thanks to my dry cleaner. I have played by the rules most of my life and I think the events of the past couple of years have made me rethink the wisdom of that approach. Getting a tattoo feels liberating to me.


My mom and me.

My mom was a rule follower, too – that apple didn’t fall far from the tree. She died at 70, which has always felt like a huge rip-off to me. There were so many things she never got to do – like watch her grandchildren grow up or see Paris. “Life isn’t fair” she would often say to me when I was a sullen teenager complaining about being told no when I wanted to do something ALL my friends were doing.


Words to live by.

Turns out, she was right. Life isn’t fair, but it does hold a lot of wonderful surprises in between some staggering disappointments and maybe my magnolia tattoo is a moderately bold reminder that one can be a lady but still break a few rules along the way. Maybe I just want my mom’s blessing to be a bit of a badass and take more chances.

I think daughters never get over wanting their mother’s approval. I recently saw a YouTube video of Anna Wintour interviewing Meryl Streep and at the end of their conversation, Wintour hands Streep the current issue of Vogue that features the most decorated actress in the history of forever on its cover. Streep gushes as she views her glamorous  photograph and then shakes her head a little wistfully, sighs, and almost whispers, “I wish my mother were alive to see it.” And in that moment, Meryl Streep looks like a little girl.

I know that girl.

The longing for my mother’s presence is a steady undertow that rarely ebbs even after 15 years, but today I’ll celebrate the beauty and richness of her life instead of dwelling on those pesky fractions. Sure, I suppose they’re useful, but I bet even Miss Sullivan knew that fractions make lousy tattoos.

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“In Memory of a Steel Magnolia” – tattoo by Kareem Masarani.


Ink imitates art.

Be the light in the darkness


Photos by Carla Kucinski

It’s 3:30 on a Wednesday. Three days before Christmas. I am sitting in my favorite tea shop, sipping a cup of hot cocoa that tastes like a melted milk chocolate bar. I feel its warmth as it travels down my throat and warms my insides. These next two weeks are all about comfort and self-care. Pause. Rest. Reflect.

My eyes burn from the lack of sleep I had last night. I painted my eyelids with grey eyeliner and combed my lashes with thick black mascara to make myself look and feel more awake than I am. I stayed up most of the night with my dog Molly who had a tumor removed from her chest the previous day. It was a fatty tumor about the size of golf ball near her shoulder, with a smaller bump that had appeared last month. When we picked her up after her surgery, our vet was certain the smaller tumor was cancer and sent it out for further testing.

That night, I slept with Molly on the couch with our tower of pillows and piles of blankets and stroked her head as she whined through the night. Every time she whimpered I Googled: Dog, pain, surgery, whining—trying to find ways to soothe her. There’s nothing worse than hearing an animal suffer and knowing there’s not much you can do but be there—be her comfort, her security for all the times she has been yours. As I sat beside her on the couch, I propped my head up with the palm of my hand to keep myself from nodding off while I stroked her silky ears. I started thinking about earlier this year when she didn’t leave my side the entire time I was recovering from my miscarriage. She camped out on the couch with me, nuzzled her muzzle into the crook of my arm and slept with me for days. When I cried, she licked the tears on my face. Now it was my turn to take care of her.

Molly recuperating after surgery. (All photos by Carla Kucinski.)

Molly recuperating after surgery. 

Fucking cancer. This year it already invaded the lives of three people I love, and now my dog. Eight days later, good news arrived. Lab results were in and it was in fact a mast cell tumor, grade II, but our vet was able to get the entire tumor, which meant no follow-up treatment with chemo drugs. “This is all good, good, good, good, news,” Dr. Fuller sang into the phone. I threw my arms around Molly’s big neck and wept. She celebrated with a Kong bone filled with peanut butter.

A two-inch scar remains where Molly’s tumor was removed. We called her Frankenpup for the first few days. We needed to find some humor in all of this as we waited to find out whether our dog had cancer. Over the last 10 days, the scar has changed from a jagged, angry red line to a faded pink scar. The fur where they shaved her is started to grow back in as if nothing ever happened. It made me think of a passage I read recently in “Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself 40 Ways” about finding beauty in your scars. “I see scars and I see stories. I see a being who has lived, who has depth, who is a survivor. Living is beautiful. … We may hurt, but we will heal … ”

My pup is a survivor. I suppose I am, too.

I can’t help but think of my own scars that I earned this year. 2016 has been challenging and exhausting. I am tired. So tired. I feel like I’ve been on a treadmill all year, and now I can finally get off and rest. I’ve been off from work since Dec. 18, which leaves lots of open days to just drift. It’s one of the rare times of the year where I let myself be lazy and quiet. My muscles ache. Even my bones feel tired. I thought maybe it was because of this sinus infection I’ve been battling on and off for the past few weeks, but honestly, I think it’s the weight of this year, still trying to hang on and drag me down. It’s like I’ve been carrying fistfuls of stones in my pockets this past year. But it’s time to finally let it all go. That phrase, “let it go,” has been a thread in this journey of ups and downs. I’m still not sure I’ve mastered the act, or even know how to begin. I’m learning.

Earlier this year my therapist, told me that I needed to decide how I wanted to carry this grief. What did I want it to look like? How did I want to feel carrying it? I think I started out holding this weight of grief, heavy like wet clay, in my heart and my stomach for months. Eventually the weight shifted and I carried it on my side, like I was holding a basketball that I could put down or pick up at any time. Some days my grief still feels like a boulder, other days it feels like a single stone. I want to pick it up and launch it into a lake, hear it kurplunk in the water, sink to the bottom, never to be found again. But it’s a part of me now, and always will be. I just need to learn how to carry it, live in harmony with it. I’m learning.


Every year on the evening of winter solstice, my yoga studio hosts a ceremony that involves reflection and meditation with a few yoga poses thrown in. I went for the first time last year and found the experience cathartic and moving. The practice involves a “letting go” segment (there’s that phrase again) where we each hold in our hand a smooth, charcoal grey stone and breathe, meditate, and do a few gentle yoga poses while focusing on the things that no longer serve you and that you want to let go of. As I laid on my mat, the stone cold in the palm of my right hand, I thought about the past year and what I wanted to rid myself of. My cheeks became wet with tears. There was still so much pain weighing me down. All the “what ifs” and “what would have been” or “could have been” circled in my mind.

I found out on Christmas Eve that I was pregnant. I remember my heart racing as I looked at the two pink lines in disbelief. I flung open the bathroom door and yelled to Andrew, “I’m pregnant!” It was 5:30 in the morning. We had to wake up early for the 10-hour drive to his parents’ house in New Jersey. Andrew was half-sitting up in bed with a pillow propped up behind him, bleary-eyed but awake. I’ll never forget his smile that morning. I jumped on top of him and then Molly tried jumping in the bed with us. It feels like it was all a dream, but my heart says otherwise.


I poured into that stone my sadness, pain, fears, uncertainties, worries and all of the hurt so many of my close friends have endured this year. I was one of the first people to drop my stone in the middle of a circle of flickering tea lights. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. As soon as it left my hand, my heart felt lighter hearing the weight of it hit the floor. It was a release from this chaotic year; even if it was temporary, it felt freeing.

A few days after Thanksgiving, a tarot card reader told me I was in my Wheel of Fortune Year, which is characterized by upheaval and change that will be painful, traumatic and shocking. She described it as having no control as life spun out of control. And there’s no time to adjust to each change. That’s certainly how this year has gone so far—a series of traumas, losses and heartache. But she also said it was a year of tremendous growth and advised me not to stay stagnant, to shake things up, take risks and be open to creating new opportunities. I definitely haven’t been sitting idle.

“You’re lucky you’re alive,” a friend said to me the other day, looking me square in the eyes. She is Vietnamese and follows Chinese astrology. I’m a monkey, and this past year was the Year of the Monkey. I thought that meant it was my year. My friend told me it was the opposite: when it’s your year, it’s the worst year. The Chinese new year began on Feb. 8. That same day I found out we lost our baby. My year of bad luck had begun.

But the winter solstice ceremony helped me remember the bright spots in 2016. As my teacher asked us to think about the good memories, I closed my eyes and started to smile as images of this past year flashed in my mind. I thought of all the places I’ve been. Me and Andrew in Maine. Vistas. Walks on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean. Lobster and warm melted butter. Atlantic Beach and its sparkling ocean. Reading on the deck. Sunsets. Sunrises. Laughing at Molly chasing birds in the water. Roanoke. The bitter cold. The wind chill. February. Valentine’s Day. Dinner and martinis. A rock show. Fire places in the lobby. The sun cutting through the trees. Asheville. Cocktails at a sidewalk café. Mountains. Us. Life returning to normal. Late night heart-to-hearts with my oldest sis on her couch in our pajamas and glasses. Sipping rosé with Gina and Marco. Laughing. Crying. Sharing our life’s stories. The sweet ending of summer. Swimming in the lake at Omega. Napping under the trees and summer sun. Meeting Janie. Meeting Janine. Facing my fears. Reading my work to strangers. Crying in front of strangers. Being vulnerable. The drive home. The Catskills. The Hudson–the magnificent Hudson. Lobster fest under white twinkle lights. Tasting my first oyster, a mix of salt and sea. Being the surprise at your best friend’s birthday party. Pajama parties. Cocoa. Laughing until your face hurts. Old movies. Balloons on my birthday. Snowflakes. Sunshine. The turning of leaves.


Life can be ugly, but also beautiful. The two cannot exist without the other. The good still outweighs the bad, and yet, why is it always the bad stuff that seems to lodge itself in the forefront of my brain and loop on repeat? Why can’t my mind be flooded with the good memories?

Addison texted me the other day and said we were like the phoenix rising from the ashes. This year was an opportunity for me to grow. I came to some realizations about my future, and I’ve been making steps toward fulfilling my plan to create a richer, fuller life. When I look at myself in the mirror, I mean really look at myself, I see someone with scars but also someone who has chosen not to hide them. They are proof of my strength and resilience, a reminder of what I’ve survived and what I’ve lived. I no longer want to honor my pain and sadness and grief. I want to make whole this sutured heart of mine. It’s time I start honoring the joy in my present life and give power to that and not the past. No more looking back.

Kabir says, “Wherever you are is the entry point.” As I walk into 2017, I imagine myself digging my hands into my pockets and pulling out fistfuls of stones and letting them slip out of my hands as I walk forward and leave them in my wake. They are no longer coming with me on this journey. There isn’t any room. There’s only room for joy. I have to believe there is a greater path, destiny for me that I will follow. Grief made me feel trapped. Unmovable. And I think this is what these last few days of 2016 have been about for me. Sitting with my grief. Really sitting with it, embracing it, having a talk with it. I’m done with you. We’re breaking up. I need to come home to myself. This is my entry point into true peace.

The winter solstice ceremony closed with each of us lighting the candle of the person next to us until the entire room was aglow in candle light. I looked around at the faces in the room, glowing in the golden light, and I saw a diversity of expressions: peace, joy, sadness, pain. Me? I felt like my entire body was smiling. “Be the light in the darkness,” my teacher said as she lifted her candle. It made me think of the famous quote by Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” In those moments of darkness when it seems no light can get in, I vow to find it and not lose sight of it as I head into the new year with an open heart and open mind. I owe that to myself. 2016, I’m letting you go.

Some of the bright spots …
































Safety instructions



“Brace, brace, brace.”

That phrase constitutes the critical dialogue in one of the many emotional scenes in the film Sully – the story of US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009. No spoiler alert needed, we know that all 155 passengers and crew on board survived that harrowing day in January and the incident came to be known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

The flight attendants called out that chilling command to passengers as the plane began its descent into the river. They kept repeating that refrain until impact in unison like holy words in a chant or prayer.

As I watched that dramatic scene unfold on screen, I became aware that the top of my shirt was wet – drenched from the steady stream of tears rolling down my face. I wasn’t even aware that I was crying but my body was apparently having a very visceral reaction to what I was seeing – the sheer power and beauty of humanity on display. Strangers helping strangers in the most dire of circumstances.

A quick aside – I have reserved a giant eye roll regarding Clint Eastwood since his asinine “empty chair” routine at the 2012 Republican Convention but damn, that old coot is still making great movies at 86.

Maybe the timing of seeing Sully was simply serendipitous for me because I was in desperate need of a good dose of humanity. I have been feeling the heaviness of the world in ways I can’t ever recall in my 60 years.

It has been a tough year for me personally, that’s true – losing my job in a maze of malevolence, searching for a new spiritual home after transitions at my church and just generally struggling with my place in the world.

The world – where do I begin? Syria, Orlando, Nice, Dallas, Charlotte, on and on. And this presidential election that has worn anyone with a semblance of a brain or a soul down to a nub. We live in a constant barrage of noise and vitriol.

Some days I feel like I’m walking around wearing that lead apron the dental hygienist puts on you when you’re having x-rays taken. I’m moving but the sound of my own heartbeat feels muted by the weight of it all.


No words…

There are days I feel hopeless and then I am almost always miraculously saved by a connection with another passenger on this journey. Some of them I know – others are simply kind strangers.

Last weekend, my salvation came in some gloriously different ways. On Saturday evening, my dear wife and I attended Harvest of Hope, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Our good friend, Lori, a 20 year cancer survivor and her wife Sue, are two of the original organizers of this annual event. This year’s dinner was the 15th and final one. Lori is retiring next year and 15 seemed like a nice stopping point.


My amazing friend, Lori – cancer survivor and chef extraordinaire.

About 150 people were at the dinner and near the end of the evening, all of the cancer survivors in attendance were asked to stand to be recognized. Now there’s a club none of us would choose to join. But as those 18 folks stood and everyone applauded, I suddenly felt that thin space between life and death. I thought about what those good souls and their families and loved ones had been through – the treatments, the pain and sickness, the fear and finally, the relief and peace.

And once again, I became aware of the tears running down my face. I thought about some of the people in my life that could no longer stand because of cancer – my parents and my friends, Regina and Kristel, who died earlier this year. Those survivors – most of them strangers to me – made me feel connected to the people I loved and lost.


“Cancer is an asshole.”

Those are the brilliant words of my friend, Jennifer, a young mother who is fighting breast cancer. She is a writer by trade and she is kicking cancer’s ass in her brilliant blog, Two Boobs, One Fight. Her words connect me to feelings I have had about life and death and everything in between. She has saved me on some of my heavy days with her courage and humor and yes, humanity.


Read this blog!

On Sunday, my salvation came in the form of family. Not my family of origin but a family that treats me like family and best of all, makes me feel like family. My fairy god-daughter Ella turned five and we went to her birthday party in Raleigh. We were given fair warning by her mother, my friend Sarah, that there would be approximately 20 four and five-year olds and their siblings at the celebration. We were also promised that there would be plenty of prosecco on hand so we decided to take our chances.

Sarah’s family is large – a mom, a dad, an ex-husband, a boyfriend, three children, two sisters – one with twins – and their husbands. I fell in love with her kids years ago and I still pretty much swoon when they call me “Auntie Addy”.

I had not seen them in over a year and for the life of me even I can’t explain why. I’m just going to blame it on what Queen Elizabeth would call this annus horribillis. I was a little anxious that they would be a little distant around me – they’re 9, 7 and 5. My fears were quickly put to rest when Maddie, the oldest, raced down the stairs to squeeze us when we pulled up in front of their house.


Sarah’s rules rule.

And then we were swarmed upon by Sarah’s Big Fat (a term of endearment, they are all skinny) Family. Her two sisters greeted me like my own sister – okay, they didn’t actually cry like my sister usually does – but they were so incredibly sweet and affectionate. Everyone was so damn happy to see us and I could no longer feel that apron on my chest. I felt happy. I felt connected.

The birthday party looked like a cross between a United Nations meeting – only with very short people – and a Benetton ad. There were white kids, black kids, Asian kids, Indian kids – all kinds of kids – and it was awesome. There was a jumpy house, a balloon guy, a piñata, temporary tattoos with glitter and best of all – very limited crying.


Ella is crushing 5.

Ella didn’t open her presents until after all the guests had left and it was just family. God, I had forgotten how much I love that feeling – being in that intimate circle – belonging.

The birthday girl was incredibly thoughtful with her pile of loot – carefully opening the cards first (swoon again – I love a girl who appreciates a good card) and looking very pleased with every gift – especially the s’mores maker. Right before we left to go home, we happened to end up in the kitchen alone with her and she smiled and sort of shook her little head and said, “Wow, I got so many great stuffs.”

That’s how I felt about the day, too.

After the horrific terrorist attack in Nice this past July, author Anne Lamott (yes, her again) made a raw and sprawling post on her Facebook page that I have gone back to often. Here is just a portion of it:

Remember the guys in the Bible whose friend was paralyzed, but couldn’t get in close to see Jesus preach and heal, so they carried him on a cot, climbed the roof, and lowered him down for the healing? Can a few of you band together – just for today – and carry someone to the healing? To the zen-do? To a meeting? Help a neighbor who is going under, maybe band together to haul their junk to the dump? Shop for sales for a canned food drive at the local temple or mosque? How about three anonymous good deeds?

There is no healing in pretending this bizarre violent stuff is not going on, and that there is some cute bumper sticker silver lining. (It is fine if you believe this, but for the love of God, PLEASE keep it to yourself. It will just tense us all up.) What is true is that the world has always been this way, people have always been this way, grace always bats last, it just does – and finally, when all is said and done, and the dust settles, which it does, Love is sovereign here.

There’s a scene in Sully where Captain Sullenberger corrects one of the NTSB investigators who describes the event as a crash. Sully says adamantly, “It’s not a crash. It’s a forced water landing.” Even though the situation appeared to be totally out of his control, Sully knew exactly what he was doing – trying to get those passengers and crew to safety.

Maybe that’s what we’re called to do in these heavy times – to help each other avoid the crash and navigate a safe landing – to carry each other to the healing – whatever that looks like for each of us.

This is our common prayer.

Brace, brace, brace.





House Call


Harrisonburg, Virginia

Cancer never plays fair.

One of my oldest and dearest friends was recently diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. She has never smoked, rarely drinks and could be a poster girl for fit over 50.

I’m not a doctor but even I know that on paper, she has about as many risk factors for this type of cancer as Snow White.

She retired a few months ago after 30 plus years as a pediatrician. Her father was my pediatrician. Yes, we go back a long way.

I met her in the 4th grade when my family moved to Harrisonburg, VA and we have been friends for 50 years.

She was always the smartest one in the class and went on to be our valedictorian when we graduated high school. But she wasn’t smart in an intimidating or condescending sort of way. She could be as silly as any of us and was often the butt of our practical jokes because she was so absolutely gullible.

I think she knew she wanted to be a doctor before she went to kindergarten. Her father is still living and I had the pleasure of seeing him recently at the funeral of another old friend’s mother.

He looked remarkably well for a man nearing 90 and he has retained his impish smile and charming bedside manner.

My friend (I don’t want to use her name for privacy’s sake and it feels weird to make one up) married a doctor and her son is now in medical school. I guess you could say it’s the family business. She has been a healer most of her adult life and now she is the patient.

She has one of those websites that keeps everyone updated and I have been blown away by her courage, grace, honesty and humor as she shares this journey with those who love her.

Her initial post was very clinical and written like well, a doctor. She wrote about how her cancer presented – an ulcer on her tongue – and the path to eventual diagnosis and surgery. She wrote in medical terms – cms and resections and such.

She had hoped that once her tumor was removed the pathology on the lymph nodes in her neck would reveal no more than two nodes involvement which would mean no further treatment. She had three positive nodes.

And that’s when the tenor of her posts changed. They became more vulnerable and very intimate.

It was real before that but if all it took to be disease free was an operation, I can do that. When (her doctor) started talking about radiation and chemo that hit hard. This wasn’t just a battle anymore. This is war and sometimes people die in wars. I was forced yesterday to face that possibility. I had to listen to my husband and children cry as we processed the news.

It doesn’t get any more real than that.

My friend noted in another post that she is much better with numbers and reasoning than talking about feelings. And she made me smile when she shared that her SAT scores were Math 720 and Verbal 520. Mine were the exact opposite but it turns out that she is much better at writing than I am at math.

Her posts have been a balm to those of us who love her and are still reeling from her news. She has a great faith – a faith that has been severely tested in the past few weeks – a faith that will sustain her through radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy.

Our High School Emblem

Our high school emblem. #bluestreaks

I last saw her at our high school reunion last October. She, of course, served as one of the chairs of the reunion committee and had spent a crazy amount of time on the fabulous decorations. She was a cheerleader and still retains that youthful enthusiasm for life.

We had a blast and giggled like school girls again. And, yes, she may have done a cheer or two. The girl’s still got it.

Her first grandchild is due any day now and she wants to get in lots of grandmothering before she starts her treatments at the end of the month.

Today the sunrise was beautiful. (A friend) and I prayed together and I feel at peace with all the treatment decisions. Now I need to get myself physically, emotionally and spiritually ready for this war.

Onward, Christian soldier, dear friend. We’re cheering for you now.