Lean on Me: Thoughts on friendship, sisterhood, and the loss of a parent.

Me and my bestie atop Mount Isabel de Torres, Puerto Plata.

Me and my bestie atop Mount Isabel de Torres, Puerto Plata.

My best friend lost her dad yesterday. It was sudden and unexpected, and tragic as only losing a parent can be. She is left hurting so badly. And here I am a more than a thousand miles and an ocean away, totally helpless to do anything about it.

I never had the privilege of meeting Julie’s dad, the infamous ‘Duff’ Cook. I have heard a lot of stories, though. He was something of a legend in the town where he lived, and at the factory where he worked as a welder for many years. He must have been one heck of a guy, if his daughter is any indication.

There’s no one quite like Jules, as I like to call her. While I haven’t known her my whole life, I feel as though I have. Our friendship, forged in both good times and bad, has transformed into something so much more. We have long since crossed the line from friend to family.

Our families – the real ones – have followed our lead.

Jules was the one I called late on a Friday afternoon in early January 2012. I had just found out my father was being sent home from the hospital and being placed in hospice care. It was…devastating…to hear this news. But I had to switch into action mode, because the house needed to be prepared both for his arrival and that of the hospital bed. Jules met me there, and helped me do the heavy lifting – both physically and mentally.

Jules was also the one there with me, walking laps in the hospital, when I had my own health scare a few months later.

She’s the one who not-so-subtly tells me when I’m working myself to death, or when I’m doing – or have done — something stupid. That said, she’s remarkably supportive of some of my riskier moves. She was one of the first I told that I was trying my hand at writing fiction. And she’s been surrogate daughter to my mother in so many ways since I skipped off to the Caribbean.

Jules is the one who cried when I told her I was getting married. Not that she wasn’t happy for me, she was just worried she wouldn’t be there for the occasion. She was, though. Even though she had to move heaven and earth to do it. (Not to mention the fact her son is about to graduate from high school and she has major back surgery coming up.)

See what I mean about the bouquet! Perfect!

See what I mean about the bouquet! Perfect!

Jules was my therapist when the strain of planning a wedding in a month started to get to me, not to mention a co-conspirator in planning the bachelorette bash. When the time came, she sent me down the aisle with a perfect bouquet (fashioned from purloined frangipani blooms). She played photographer, too, capturing all of the precious moments and memories of our special day.

How did I repay all of this when I learned of her father’s death?

Well, I’d like to say I found words that were the perfect blend of wisdom and sentiment. Something that would both sooth her pain, and let her know it’s ok to feel how she’s feeling. That she’ll get through this. That even though it may not seem like it in this moment, she will. Because I know she will. But you have to take it one day, one hour – sometimes one minute – at a time.

But did I say that? No. In the face of the raw emotion that she shared, I said none of those things. Not even close.

Instead, I blathered on about okra. Yes, OKRA.

I think it’s safe to say I’m out of the running for friend of the year.

Oh, Jules. Can you forgive me? What I really want to tell her is that I love you and your family, and I’m so, so sorry about your dad. I wish more than anything that I could be there to help you get through this day, and the next, and the next…just as you was there for me.

I will, of course, be there. But not in person, and I know it’s just not the same.

You will get through this, because you’re one of the strongest people I know. And even though there are a thousand miles or so, plus an ocean, between us, I AM here for you.

Whatever you need, Jules, you can always lean on me.

Sending strength, love, prayers and positive healing thoughts from my heart to yours. You, Lyndon, Jesse, Jaret, my other brother Dennis and all of Duff’s family and friends are in my thoughts and prayers.





One Very Special Lady: In Memory of Bethel Jarvis

The woman, the myth, the legend: Bethel at 86.

The woman, the myth, the legend: Bethel at 86.

Some people are important to us, not because of the direct impact they have on our own lives, but because of the role they play in the life of someone we care about. For me, one of those people was Bethel Darrow Jarvis, who passed peacefully in her sleep on Thursday, April 2. She was 91.

I knew Bethel as Grandma Jarvis, the beloved, doting grandmother of my best friend, Melissa. I met her on the very same day I met Melissa for the first time. It was June of 1982, and we were in the women’s restroom at the Colonia Theatre in Norwich, having just emerged from the matinee showing of Annie.

It was fate, I think, that when Grandma Jarvis called “Missy,” I answered. And when my mother called “Melissa,” she answered. The ensuing friendship has lasted for three decades and counting, through every curveball life has seen fit to throw our way and is still going strong.

I have always been fascinated by the relationship between Melissa and her grandmother. A little jealous too because, having lost both of my own grandmothers before I was three, I never had the chance to experience that kind of bond.

And what a bond Melissa and her grandmother shared!

Melissa and Grandma Jarvis.

Melissa and her grandmother,

My friend’s childhood was a tumultuous one, and her teen years even more so. Through it all, Grandma Jarvis was one of the few constants in her life. Her anchor through good times and bad. And she remained her closest friend, confidant and champion until her last breath.

Grandma Jarvis was the one who bought Melissa her first Barbie, and set her on the road to being a serious collector. The one who organized her childhood birthday parties. The one who (along with Grandpa Jarvis, of course) swooped in just about every weekend to whisk her off and lavish her with love and attention. No matter what else was going on in Melissa’s life, they always made her feel safe, special and incredibly loved.

Grandma Jarvis was also a role model. And not just when it came to collecting Barbies. She worked in the same factory for well over 50 years before her health forced her retirement. (Sometime in her 80’s, if I remember correctly.) By her example, she taught Melissa the importance of independence and hard work from a very young age. These are lessons Melissa definitely took to heart. She was the first of my friends to get her working papers as soon as she came of age.

Over the years, their roles may have changed – with the caregiver becoming the one who needed to be cared for. But Grandma Jarvis never lost her independence. Melissa made sure of that.

In the end, Bethel died just as she lived. With the same steadfastness, independence and confidence of purpose that I have always so admired about her. I believe she went to bed that night fully aware that it would be her last on this earthy plane. She had said her goodbyes and was ready to move on, at peace with the fact that life would go on for those she was leaving behind.

Perhaps what she didn’t realize was how much richer that life would be as a result of her influence and her memory.

To Melissa, her beautiful daughters, her father and the rest of the family – I send my heartfelt condolences as they lay this wonderful woman to rest.

May you rest in peace, Bethel.

Grandma Jarvis and her 'girls'.

Grandma Jarvis and her ‘girls’.