Sandy was my very best friend for forty years! This past February she called me by phone. She thanked me for helping her change the trajectory of her life so many years ago and remaining a supportive friend. Well of course, that’s what friends are for … yet she did all the doing!
Sandy and I were colleagues teaching at an upstate New York public school. She was married, mother of 4 … one child still at home, and a pleasant person to spend time with when our school day ended. We talked about everything … over a cup of tea or glass of wine!
Within a couple of years, I was off to a new school administrative position; she divorced and started law school at age 50! New directions for both of us. We stayed connected and shared all that was happening in each of our new worlds. Sometimes that meant weekend visits, with phone calls always our best way to connect. She chose a new direction … I was proud of her.
We started to jog/run at local races, hike local trails and enjoy more of the outdoors together. She was my most frequent friend to visit my “shack” in the New York State’s Adirondack area. As a result we loved hiking there and especially in the Lake Placid area, where delicious pie was available for purchase. Unfortunately, a black fly bite just above her left eye required a trip to Urgent Care. This was one of our least enjoyable Adirondack moments! But what always brought a laugh to us was a memory of a mouse scampering across our sleeping bags one morning. Few others could ever appreciate that moment, but to even her last days alive we laughed about it! As years went by, she encouraged her family to visit the Adirondack area too. I would hear about their hikes and time near Mirror Lake. We laughed … and were glad to know the area we could share with others.
Both of us enjoyed reading and talking about books. We discovered we loved seeing Broadway shows. Often we drove to New York City to spend a weekend seeing the sights, enjoying a show, and sometimes spending time with one of her sons who lived in the area. We traveled other places, but our best trip was to Bermuda. It was a new place for both of us. Our trip ended just before a hurricane hit the island and unfortunately we had to cancel our parasailing. Darn, we never did have that experience!
Despite my move to the west coast, Sandy and I remained connected another 20 years. Thankfully numerous phone calls and a visit she made allowed her to see my new world. I often traveled to the east coast to visit my family and friends, which always meant visiting Sandy too. Her family was growing with grandchildren. I heard all about each of their births and activities … they always brought joy to her … her family was so important to her. Her travel to Japan to visit her family members was most interesting to me.
Years went by with so much happening. I was excited to hear about Sandy’s ice skating and eventually helping others with their skating skills. She took piano playing lessons. Despite her piano teacher encouraging her to participate in a recital she was hesitant. After years working at a law firm, she joined another one of her sons to have their own law practice. She loved doing research, so worked at their practice well after many other people would have retired. She also taught at the local community college … she was always an educator. She was playing golf with a group of women she really enjoyed traveling and having fun with. There were times I wished I had been with them, but always good to hear Sandy laugh about their fun.
A year before that February phone call, Sandy was battling cancer and having chemo treatments once a month. In preparation for that year’s April visit, I asked Sandy to choose a place for us to visit for a couple of nights. I wanted her to have a break away from her usual routine. She chose a visit to New York State’s Hudson River Valley. We had a wonderful time seeing the historic homes of the area, walking at Poet’s Walk and walking the pedestrian bridge across the Hudson River. Walking was a challenge for her, but with walking sticks she accomplished many steps each place we went. I would ask where she planned to turn around, since I did not want her to collapse, and she would always aim for about another 40 steps! Her years as a jogger/runner/hiker allowed her the determination to go on! Sandy’s goal was to walk the entire pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River. I know I have mentioned this before in another post, but it tells of what kind of person Sandy was. To accomplish this, she walked the bridge from one side of the river to the bridge’s middle and the next day we went from the other side of the river and walked to the bridge’s middle … goal accomplished! We had a wonderful trip!
Three months after the February phone call, I spent time with Sandy. Her daughter, who we affectionately called the “gatekeeper”, assured me I could spend time with Sandy when I got to the east coast. While at her side for many days during the month of May, I met some of Sandy’s grandchildren and that was fun. I’m very uncomfortable around ill individuals so I dug deep within myself to help my friend as she needed care. Hospice aides were wonderful in explaining what was best, and how, for me to help Sandy. Her daughter and I texted often to be sure Sandy’s needs were met. I loved getting Sandy outdoors and into the sunshine as I pushed her in a wheelchair in the neighborhood. Any opportunity for us to take a car ride and stop for non-dairy ice cream for her was a treat. I visited and stayed many days, sleeping on a couch in the same room as Sandy. One night we sobbed. I will never forget it. Neither of us had ever cried so hard in each other’s arms. It was then she told me about a book her daughter had given her. Patrice Karst’s book, The Invisible String. The next day I read the book to Sandy and we discussed its message. Sandy died this past June; she and I will always remain connected!