Friends can sometimes know you better than yourself, or so I think. It’s been 2 months since my best friend died; however, I was just thinking about a birthday gift I received from her during my visit with her 3 months ago. The card’s sentiment and added personal note were perfect. The gift card was perfect too, but my first inclination was to think, don’t we read all books on-line these days? The look on my face sent an unintended question to my friend. She responded, “they sell art supplies too”. Yes, perfect!I had no art supply need so I tucked the gift card away till recently. I was drawing faces from some on-line instruction when the instructor mentioned using different drawing pencils as you draw. HB pencil versus 2B versus 6B versus 2H, what? My lightbulb moment! Here was a perfect way to use the gift card! I purchased additional drawing pencils and discovered how to add texture to the drawing. Wow, plus the gift travels with me!
I love learning something new everyday, and now I have more to practice within my new world of sketching! Never a dull moment!
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!
My sadness had nothing to do with Iowa. It just happened to be the state I was in when I received a phone call; my best friend of 40 years died shortly after midnight. I knew my friend’s death was a matter of time. I spent many days, the month prior, with my friend as she lived as best she could after more than a year of cancer treatments and recent major surgery.
I sobbed while I listened to my friend’s daughter tell me the sad news. Moments like this are horribly sad. But it is a time to pause and realize how fortunate we are to be alive and to ask ourself if we are living our best life. My friend had a very full life … and one which she and I had opportunities to share either together or to talk about with each other during our 40 year friendship. I was always proud of her accomplishments, some of which were: starting law school at age 50, learning to play the piano, helping local organizations, improving upon her ice skating and golfing skills, and being a public school Board of Education member. We both loved books, people, the outdoors, hiking, jogging, travel, Broadway shows in NYC, drinking tea and wine. We always seemed to make things work. And we talked, as we jockeyed around work and family responsibilities which demanded much attention at times.
And here I was in Iowa receiving this sad news. There was nothing I could do to soften the sadness, except to let my tears flow as I drove. I got on with my day, and eventually arrived in DesMoines, set up camp, and connected via zoom with my partner and a friend. Talking with others helped me.
The next day I arrived at my starting point for a bicycle ride on the High Trestle Trail. This rail-trail is 31 miles long; however, I wanted to ride the portion where the trestle is high over the DesMoines River. As I stood at the middle of the trestle bridge, which is 130-foot-tall, I had a flashback of a previous year’s trip with my best friend. My goal was for her to have an adventure away from her home and a break during her monthly chemo treatments. Months ahead, I asked her to choose a place for us to escape to for a few nights and I would arrive from the west coast to take her on an adventure. She chose New York State’s Hudson River Valley. In the scenic Hudson River Valley, we drove by historic homes, walked at Poets’ Walk Park, had dinner at fine dining establishments, and walked the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River. She wanted to walk the entire mile long bridge. To accomplish that, we started at one side of the bridge and walked to the middle and back; the next day, we started on the other side of the river and walked the bridge to the middle and back. While exhausting for her to accomplish over the 2 days, she did walk the entire bridge!
Now 14 months later … memories of my friend, such as this memory, are sure to happen often … I know this for sure! How can one ever forget 40 years with a wonderful friend, our shared adventures and varied happenings during all those years? I will remember!
Each day I find places to bird watch and/or visit, then move on to another state as my goal is to eventually arrive and visit family and friend in NY/PA area. Here were 5 days of travel with my goal of a daily bird checklist into eBird plus arriving to visit my friends and family:
Walked Savannah, Georgia
Bird-watched at Tom Triplett Community Park in Pooler, Georgia
Harvest Host camping tonight
Bird watched at Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, South Carolina
Walked Charleston, South Carolina and a delicious dinner at Henry’s-on-the-Market
Kampgrounds of America camping tonight
Bird-watched at Wing’s Haven in Charlotte, North Carolina
Bird-watched at Ribbon Walk Nature Preserve also in Charlotte, North Carolina
Kampgrounds of America camping tonight
Bird-watched at KOA I just stayed at.
Bird-watched at Virginia rest area when the rain stopped! Met Upper Peninsula Michigan person. (More to this story.)
Kampgrounds of America camping tonight & birded here too
Bird-watched at a West Virginia rest area. Will it stop raining?
Finally arrived to visit friends in New York State!!! Wonderful to see friends not seen in a year. (A very real disadvantage my living on the other side of the USA, despite my love of where I currently live with my partner.) My friends did visit more birding places with me:
Chris and I hiked at Lime Hollow Nature Center, enjoyed lunch in Cortland, and relaxed at Summerhill Brewery for a beer! Great day with a friend!
On my way to visit other friends, I stopped at Fuertes Bird Sanctuary and hiked the Renwick Woods Trail in Ithaca, NY. Whoa …. windy day with tree branches breaking, falling and crashing! Yikes!! I literally saw it happen 2 times! On my way off the trail, I started talking with a young man only to discover he was a past Cincinnatus, NY student of mine while I was the junior-senior high principal there! Karl and I had a great conversation catching up on old times and to hear how he is doing now. Unfortunately I also heard of the death of a friend/colleague I had known from that school district. Life really is to short … let’s live it now while we have one!
With my other NY friend, Sheila and I walked a trail at Bell Station Preserve, Lansing, New York, hoping to photograph wildflowers. She does fantastic drawings of flowers and needed good photographs to work from for her drawings. We may have been a week ahead of the real bloom …. she’ll be back to photograph more flowers and to great scientific illustrations of them!
After Harvest Host locations and talking with strangers, it was wonderful to talk with friends … people who have remained friends even with the distance between us. They each know me so well. This trip has many emotions wrapped within me and only my friends know the extent of those emotions. I was grateful to share time, thoughts and feelings with them. There is a safe place when with friends. A time to truly share deep emotions, some that often have bubbled within me at times and with no one to share them with … so visiting with these friends had been wonderful. In 4 weeks time, I will be heading home and appreciate knowing these friends are here for me if I need time to vent, be sad, share, or be with whatever emotion needs to be happening at that time. For now, I can appreciate them as the very good friends they have always been for me. Many, many thanks to my friends! Aren’t we so lucky to have good friends in our lives? I am very fortunate and can only hope they know how important they are to me. Thank you my friends.
I am sure this happens in your life too … you’re looking forward to something, then something happens to not have it happen … then all is good …. and then it is not. Well these days 21- 25 of my trip felt like I was on a rollercoaster.
Driving south from NYS’s Adirondack area I stopped in at a former colleague’s home. This woman, who I worked with, and her husband had been key people during my tenure as a junior-senior high school principal years ago so I always try to visit them when in the area. After a quick visit and greatly appreciated lunch, I was on my way to see my best friend. The plan was to stay 5 nights at her home. I have known this person since 1983 and I can honestly say she is my one of my very best friends. She has had tough past months with numerous chemo treatments. I wished I could have provided her more support, but phone calls were all I could offer since I now live thousands of miles away. Needless to say I was excited to finally visit and spend time together with her.
For the past 3 weeks on this trip, I wore my facial mask everywhere. I did not want to pick up any virus or virus variant. While the U.S. Center for Disease Control expected people to follow the honor system, to wear a mask if unvaccinated, I was not so sure people were doing so. In prep to visiting my mom and now my friend, I continued to wear a mask despite being fully vaccinated.
I received a phone call on my way to this visit. My friend had a sore throat and was going to the doctor for an exam and a Covid test! Oh my gosh, panic set in for me as I realized this could impact our visit. Since 24 hours are needed for a Covid test result, I chose to stay at a hotel. During that time, when we visited with each other we remained socially distanced, always wearing a mask, and waited 24 hours for the test result! There was my high, then low and back to a high when we realized she was Covid-free! Whew!
Although we had not seen each other in some time, we did not miss a beat. Our love for Broadway shows, art, reading, nature, walking and simply sharing time together has always been wonderful. I also admired the fact she started law school at age 50 and worked as an attorney for years after being an ESL and reading teacher. Now her inner strength to do all she can do despite the side effects from the chemo treatments is truly remarkable. I can only admire the person she is and so when it came time to say goodbye and I will see you next year, I was sad! My roller coaster had gone from high to low … thank goodness we have the technology to stay in touch!
Our visit included seeing other friends in nearby towns and enjoying ice cream. We also went to a driving range and clearly know we both need more practice before heading to a golf course! We also visited my sister’s alpaca farm and went for ice cream again. The time flew, every moment important, and I am still wishing I had my camera when we saw a beaver at work down at the river. Oh well … a memory for us both. I’ll be back next year for us to enjoy time together and to create more memories.
We connect with people, we have things that connect one place to another, or one thing to another…I liked this photo as two people spend time with each other and the covered bridge connects one location with another.