Sunday, January 5, 2014

Losing a best friend ~ in honor of mine

My best friend, Donna, passed away two years ago tomorrow, and her struggle with life in her last few years is what inspired me to start writing my first novel, THE TO-HELL-AND-BACK CLUB.
If Donna was alive today, she’d have been well-qualified to join that fictitious club!  Below is a condensed version of what I read at her funeral.  I’d like to share the kind of person Donna was—the person I was lucky enough to call my best friend.

I met Donna thirty years ago when our husbands played on the local men’s softball team.  We were both new to our small town, and instantly connected.  We shared the joys of motherhood, the sadness of leaving our girlfriends behind from where we’d moved, and our feeling overwhelmed at times in our mid-twenties with businesses to run and young kids to raise.  Donna became the sister I never had.
I remember when she first got Leukemia, twenty-five years ago.  I got a call at work, telling me Donna would likely not survive the day.  Hah, those Doctors didn’t know Donna!  As bleak as her outcome looked for a long time after that, what pulled her through were their young sons.  She didn’t want anyone else raising them and fought like crazy to get better.
Donna had many good years after that and we had a lot of good times.  Not only did we take trips as couples, going fishing, snowmobiling and even to the Cayman Islands, but Donna and I went on well over two dozen trips with our friends Sandy and Sharon.  Those trips cemented a bond between us four like nothing else could. 
Donnas’ determination and strong will could be frustrating at times, especially these last years when she was suffering physically and emotionally.  Many of us felt upset that we couldn’t help her—she wasn’t admitting she needed help and sure wasn't allowing us to help.  That determination of hers showed through right to the end though when her husband was trying to feed her the night before she passed away.  Even though Donna could no longer open her eyes, had trouble moving, and was fading in and out… big surprise, she insisted on feeding herself.  I watched her husband put the spoon in her hand and hold the bowl up to her, allowing Donna the little bit of control she had left of her life.
That same night, when I walked in the bedroom to visit her, she said weakly, “Well, Jill, I have some good news and some bad news.” 
I laughed through my tears and said, “Really, Donna, what possible good news could you have at this point?” 
“I’m still alive.”  She replied.  Positive to the very end.
When I think of what drew me to Donna the list is short but important:  She had a good sense of humor, was nice, thoughtful, a very loyal friend and a great listener. And she was a great cheerleader, always encouraging me to do things even if she couldn’t make herself do them.  Friendships usually have their ebb and flow times, but in the end, I always think of a particular situation I had with Donna years ago when three of us couples went to the Cayman Islands.
There was a storm brewing one day, and the beach was clearing out quickly.  The dark waves got bigger and bigger, and although just about everyone else had the common sense to leave the beach, the six of us were young and foolish.  I’m pretty sure it was the men’s idea to try swimming into the gigantic waves.  So we did.  The men went out as far as they could, Donna, our friend Denise, and me stayed closer to shore. 
It didn’t matter.  Those rolling waves and undercurrent knocked us down time and time again as we tried holding hands and standing up.  We had sand packed into every crevice of our body from the strong force of the storm but it didn’t bother us, we were having fun.  I was a little nervous since both Denise and Donna confessed they weren’t exactly strong swimmers. I can’t tell you how many times our legs got knocked out from underneath us, and I had one of them on each side as I tried to drag their laughing, sorry, bodies closer to safety. 
Just as I was thinking we’ve got to stop this before someone gets hurt, a fierce wave knocked me down, sucked under and away from Denise and Donna as the undercurrent pulled me out. I was sure that was it for me! Suddenly I felt arms fumbling around me, reaching for me and dragging me to safety.  Donna and Denise, the not-so-strong swimmers, had managed to get to me and pull me in.  Just like friends do, reaching for each other when they're down, when waves of life threaten to destroy us, girlfriends have a strength that rivals the ocean to reach out and keep us from drowning, lifting us back up when we need it most. I’ll always wish I could have done that more for Donna.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Resolutions - Horton's Way

     When I think of making New Year’s resolutions, I can’t help but think of Horton the elephant, from the children’s book “Horton Hatches the Egg.” 
      For those of you who’ve never read the book, Horton is tricked into sitting on a bird nest by the lazy mother (who ditches Horton and her egg and flies to Palm Beach.)  Horton sticks it out, despite many obstacles, often chanting “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant” (an elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent.) And when the egg hatches, the creature emerges as an “elephant-bird” and goes to live happily with Horton in the jungle—Horton’s reward for sticking to his word—while the lazy bird ends up with nothing. 
      Which is what happens with our resolutions.  If we put nothing into them, we'll end up like the bird with nothing to show from our lack of effort.  Statistics show that only 40% of Americans even bother with a New Year’s resolution.  And of those, only 8% succeed.  For Pete's sake, people, an elephant has more determination than we do!
      So are we better off saying “eh” to the whole idea of making resolutions?  Psychologists warn that making—then breaking—a resolution will damage your sense of self-worth.  And who in the world wants to have that happen?  I’m already well aware I have no self-control when it comes to snacking.  Why make myself feel worse?
      Years ago I made a resolution to not eat chocolate before 10 a.m. So guess who was shoveling chocolate in with a pitchfork at 10:01?  Likely eating more than if I’d allowed myself that first morsel at, say, 8:00 a.m.
      Researchers tell us it's better to bite off a little less when it comes to making our resolutions.  Why write a laundry list of ten things knowing full well it'll take a small miracle for you to achieve even one?  We also need to be very specific in those goals (which, in my defense, I was—10:00 a.m. and not a second before.)  But apparently it would’ve made more sense if I worded my resolution as "I'll keep my daily chocolate intake to under four candy bars."
      What I find most shocking in these studies is they state the success rate higher for people under age fifty, than those of us over fifty.  I was sure the older we got, the more resolute we were—especially when one of the other top resolutions is to spend less money—something I thought we’d have figured out by the time we hit fifty.
       As a "good Catholic" high school girl, my list every year usually involved giving up swearing and eating junk food.  Right.  A teenager who doesn’t eat junk food (or ever swear.)
      After losing weight, self-improvement is next on resolution lists.  We all know what we should do… volunteer more, drink less, spend more time with our family, complain less, make someone happy every day… in my case I need to work on my patience.  Or lack thereof.  Really, it’s true.  Just ask my husband.  It needs a little tweeking... or hatching.
    So if in the near future, you can't find me, I'm likely sitting on my nest, developing my patience-egg.  Because I meant what I said and I said what I meant… my patience needs working on one-hundred percent!

       Happy 2014 to all of you! 
And if you make a resolution – keep Horton in mind!