All Saints’ Day
On the wee early hours of November 1, Earth lost a very dear and wonderful person and it somehow seems fitting a beautiful soul was Heaven bound on All Saints’ Day. My dear long time friend Holly was a mother, wife, sister, daughter, niece, neighbor, teacher and friend to so many and she will be missed terribly. I’ve known Holly since elementary school and while she was a grade ahead of me she was always the type of nice person that everyone liked and played with. Back in the summer days when you could just be dropped off at the pool where young hot redheaded lifeguards would keep you safe*, Holly was always a go to fun person to meet up with. (It’s cool, I married said hot redheaded life guard) Pool days were always more entertaining if she and her sister could be there and games of Marco Polo were far more entertaining. In 7th grade, I was invited to my first of many of their family gatherings. It was a cider fest at her Grandma’s house. As my cousins were scattered in age and distance, this gathering of many cousins all ages in a row was an absolute hoot. And the sweet delicious cider served strait up from a press – well that’s still my favorite drink of all. Holly moved from Trenton in high school but yet we always kept in touch. She got her license a year and a half before me and would come back and together we would cruise the streets of Trenton in Elvira – a classic car that had to be 30 feet long and Holly could impressively maneuver.
It was in those hours of Elvira on the main drag in Trenton that our friendship grew. We were both studious and yet a bit mischievous and had similar goals in life. We had plans for marriage and children after college and back up plans of being roommates with a cat orphanage if Plan A didn’t work out. We both loved walking in creeks, exploring old abandoned houses making up stories of the previous owners and could enjoy a good prank call before pesky caller ID came about. While Clay says our electoral sign switching of ’96 is a felony, I claim misdemeanor at best and we wouldn’t have been tried as adults anyway. (My apologies if you woke up to find a Bob Dole sign in your yard instead of your Clinton/Gore or vice versa.) However, neither of us ever felt too bad about flooding the grumpy red house on 9th street with bright yellow “Kids are the Reason. Vote Yes!” signs and covering his ugly homemade “No More Taxes!” signs. (For the record, the town voted Yes and a new Middle School was built. Sorry if we took your sign, but you’re welcome Trenton!) Holly always made a point to stop by when she was in town for holidays or the fair and she soon was a part of our family even before she was officially in the family! Holly could help turn the mundane into a side splitting laughing adventure. I never knew milk could actually shoot out of one’s nose, but Holly could do it with her famous snort laughter
Who knew dressing up in college could be fun? We found these awesome little 70’s gems in my parent’s basement and had to have a special photo op. (Why did 70’s fashion have to die?) That would be my cousin Kevin in the middle and Holly’s soon to be brother-in-law. While I had no sisters and lots of males in the family, I always figured the next best way to gain a sister would be convincing a friend to marry into the family. I thought I had this figured out… (note order of back rub train)
But then life has a funny way of throwing surprises. Holly was often a part of family holiday gatherings and then there was the fateful New Year’s Eve 2000 party. I have to hand it to the Big Guy, He is sometimes a better matchmaker than myself. Into our party walks Kevin’s older brother Brian – with a female friend who he has always claimed was NOT his date. Oh well, the more the merrier. Brian was the older cousin and growing up possibly he was even more irritating at times than my own brothers. He was too old for my forced games of house with Kevin and really just seemed to show up just to boss or antagonize in just the way an older brother can. (I already see these skills developing in Wyatt…) So then the countdown to midnight begins and as I was in the midst of my quarter life crisis dating drought, I gave some friendly cheek pecks as the New Year began. I then look over and see Brian and Holly in what was clearly more than a friendly cheek peck. We all crashed at Holly’s apartment and started the New Year with homemade mac and cheese and a little chemistry in the air. As some dates started happening, the overall reaction was Holly, AND BRIAN?!? After sometime dating and convincing Brian an engagement ring was a better purchase that a boat, these too little lovebirds tied the knot in a beautiful wedding I was honored to be a part of in September 2003. Shuggie and Boogie were hitched and while I didn’t always get it (This was my pesky farting cousin after all…) they worked. She would tell me of their pranks to each other and I was all “You did what?!? and he did what?!? and you’re laughing?!?” 11 years later, I still don’t know who is officially Shuggie or Boogie, but I know they had a loyal and true love and that even Nicholas Sparks couldn’t write a better story.
Holly truly had incredible talents. She could have owned Pinterest before it existed. She and Martha Stewart could have had a dinner making, table setting with homemade truffles contest and my money would have been on Holly. Plus Holly would’ve been a lot more fun to hang with than Martha! She read Newsweek magazine in first grade and our mutual Trenton friend Jayla commented that she really could have done anything in life that she wanted. And she did. She wanted nothing more than to be a mother and homemaker and after teaching the third grade for awhile, that is exactly what she did. And she did it with grace and love and enjoyment of her “job”. I tried to learn from Holly, but despite several lessons, my truffles still look like balls of dung (tasty though), I will never use a proper food display tag at parties (just taste it and guess the dip) and my domestic skills, well let’s just say I would’ve had to take remedial Home Ec. There were times Holly was the Marsha to my Jan (Brady Bunch reference here) as she could maintain a lovely sense of organization and while I would complain about my lack of these skills, she could remind me of my other skills. Or at least to keep trying.
Holly was my Maid of Honor at my wedding and helped keep my scattered brain in check so that I did indeed show up the the event on time. She threw me an awesome bridal lingerie party and my gag gift cotton monkey pjs were worn thread bare. We talked about raising our future children together and had lovingly picked out their names in our early twenties. Holly gave birth to a beautiful baby girl Anna and then a year and a half later another beautiful girl Elsie. And then after a longer time of waiting than I planned, I gave birth to triplets.
My triplet baby shower with my sister-in-law Kelly and Holly – the two best shower hostesses I could ever meet!
Then life threw more curve balls, ones that would always lead to more questions then answers. Infertility followed by a very sick baby and then child loss and grief and our days of side splitting giggles seemed so long ago. Holly brought me 3 separate meals after I had the babies saying “well you had 3, so you deserve 3 dinners!” She helped us out with flights by contacting people and surprising us with funds which helped tremendously with our Boston commutes. When Lydia died she asked what I needed. I said chocolate and yoga pants and she showed up with the very best no bake cookies and yoga pants. Seriously, I always joked the secret ingredient must be crack they were so good. She also took the balloon photos from Lydia’s life celebration. Photography was another of her many talents, a hobby she developed as a little girl.
Just as I started to pull myself back up again (a life long process still in the works…) Holly was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in March 2013, a year after I said good bye to my beloved Lydia. She faced her Goliath with such a fierce bravery and determination that she would indeed defeat this terrible beast. And she did. She went through painful chemo and radiation and treatments and a terrible surgery called the Whipple that sounds too gentle for the difficult road to recovery that it leaves and she was cancer free. While this was joyous news indeed, she was still dealing with the terrible side effects from the surgery and full on celebration was difficult as she still had pain and complications. Yet despite it all, she made sure to cherish every moment with her daughters, husband and family. Just when we could almost start smiling again and I could correct her with “You HAD cancer! That bee-yatch is gone!” the Beast returned and was far more vengeful. She once again gave it such an incredible fight, following every doctor order and diet recommendation ever put out. She would down her healthy organic beet juice blends and had such an amazing dietary will power to avoid any possible food that would not keep her body in a healing mode. But such is the Beast of Pancreatic Cancer that it does not discriminate against celebrity or age or gender. Neither Steve Jobs or Patrick Swayze could conquer it and she gave it a heroic fight that would rival anyone and she did it with unwavering grace and faith.
And a sense of humor too. (Photo booth at my brother’s wedding in May)
We all gathered last Sunday for a Pancreatic Night of hope with lanterns and glow sticks. I struggled to keep my kids quiet and calm with the excitement of seeing their cousins and I knew she struggled against pain and fear as so many more names were read In Memorial than In Honor of. It was a beautiful night and yet so heart breaking too. We had purple drinks and watched part of the Royals at the World Series. I thought, we all thought, there would be more gatherings, more time and still a chance of conquering The Beast.
We will hold a celebration of her life on Wednesday and then try our best to help Brian and Anna and Elsie live with an incomplete family, something that is so incredibly hard. Please keep them lifted in prayer as they begin their own steps of healing and any donations to the Pancreatic Cancer Network in Holly’s memory will be greatly appreciated. I try to remind myself that with faith, “the worst thing is not the final thing” even though this week certainly again feels like the worst thing.
Until we meet again my dear friend… I will miss you so. Give my love to my precious Lydia. When we talked about raising each others’ children, this wasn’t what either of us planned and yet so it is. I will do my best with your beautiful girls. Except with truffle making – I’ll take them to a professional class!