She was my first friend, I think. I can’t remember a time in my life when she wasn’t there somewhere, in the background, not up front and obvious in my life, but there. And two days ago I said goodbye.
She was my next door neighbor, and was 4 yrs older than me. She was an only child, blond, more like a big sister than a friend. Cheeky, mischevieous, full of beans more often than not. A heart too big for her body. She was my tormentor at times, my protector always. No one messed with me. If they did, they would have to go through her.
Once, when I was in Grade 8 and she in Grade 11, after I had been bullied for years by the same girl, she recruited a group of her friends to “help” me out. However, stuff had already gone down between this girl and I, and the girl had jumped me in the hallway by the time she and her friends had arrived. When they found this out, it was on. These older girls chased this bully through the school, across the field and into the senior high school before she ran into the principals office. Imagine the sight if you will. It was rather comical now to think on it, and this story has been told over and over many times over the last many years. The bully and I were marched across the field back to the senior high school, where my friend and her girls were all sitting in the principals office. We were all threatened with suspensions for fighting, told off, our parents called, and then sent back to our own school. My friend just acted, without thinking, at the mere thought of her “little sister” being hurt. That’s just who she was.
Yesterday, at the celebration of life for her, one thing that many people mentioned about her was her “mama bear” tendencies. When the pastor talked about this in his sermon, a little giggle, snicker, snort went up from where we were sitting, presumably because everyone thought of that story. When he asked if anyone wanted to speak, I thought about getting up and telling that story, knowing that it made her and many other people giggle over the years, but in the end decided not to. We talked about it a lot during the tea and every time it made us laugh.
She struggled with her health for more than a dozen years. She lived hard and fought with her demons for a long time, and she faced challenges that no one needs to face in their twenties and thirties. Despite this, she never gave up. She faced these things with more courage than many people would. She never stopped smiling. She started and ended every conversation with “I love you” and meant every word. It wasn’t just something she said, as some people do, it was genuine. It didn’t matter if she talked to you every day or twice a year, it was always the same. She loved butterflies and windchimes and kitschy trinkets and flowers and gardening. Her animals were like the babies she wasn’t able to have, and she had a soft spot for big dogs who ended some extra love. She wanted to help people in any way she could.
When I had Q, and was in the hospital, she was one of my first visitors. Although she was concerned about me, she wanted to see that little baby boy in the NICU more than anything. And outside of my parents, doula and my Grama, she was the first to meet him too, because of that. She brought me a bag full of herbal and natural products that she had read would help after the baby was born, because she wanted to do everything she could for me. I think that she visited me almost every day I was in the hospital.
Her parents had a pool, and growing up, we spent so much time swimming in that pool. It wasn’t anything big or fancy, but it was fun. We would suntan and swim in the summers, talking about anything and everything, and she took it upon herself to educate me about some the ways of the world. Our families would take vacations together, and would camp, and fish and boat. Once, when I was probably about 9 or 10, we went crab fishing on the Island together. We were loading up the traps with fish heads and bits, and as we were doing that, an eyeball fell out of a fish head. She was unlucky enough to step on that eyeball, and although we were horrified, we laughed and laughed and laughed.
I can still see the inside of the house she grew up in, the giant Raggedy Ann doll in her room, where we would sit on the floor or couch and watch cartoons on TV, where the table was in the kitchen and the little stand when you first walked in the door. I remember trout fishing with her and another friend who lived across the road in the back slough, never really catching anything but having fun trying. I remember sitting on her front step waiting, for what, sometime we didn’t even know.
She loved music and the song ‘The Rose’ by Bette Middler was always one of her favourites. Oh, how she would sing that song over and over and over. My sister and I sang that song for her at her memorial, and it was one of the hardest things I think I have ever done. I hadn’t really cried for her much, and as soon as I opened my mouth and those first few words came out, they were followed by a wave of grief and sadness. It is the first time I have ever not been able to sing an entire song, and I was grateful that my sister kept going when the words to one line just couldn’t make it out. I picked it up again and kept going, my voice trembling and my hands shaking, tears streaming down my face in a cascading waterfall. It wasn’t about me, though, it was for her, and I know that she would have been smiling as she listened to it, wherever she is now.
She was strong. So strong. You don’t meet many people who would literally give you the shirt off their own back if you asked them too. She didn’t always have a lot, but what she had, she would share with you gladly, without complaint. She loved fiercely and loyally, but you did not want to cross her either. Though we hadn’t talked a lot in recent years, I knew that all it would take was one phone call and she would be there if I asked her to be. When we did talk, she always made sure that I knew just how much I meant to her and that means a lot. And part of her will always be there with me, when I think of her running across the field, or teaching me bad words, or when I hear that song, or see a butterfly. Though her life was far too short, she left behind a long lifetimes worth of memories.
Rest easy Jan. I love you.