Saturday, June 01, 2013

Kindred Spirits

My best friend died three years ago. Here is the eulogy I wrote for her at the time. Today is the first time I've read it since her funeral. I almost lost this piece of writing so I'm putting it here, for memory-keeping.


In 1977 the ‘new girl’ came to sit at my 8th grade language arts table. New kids were very rare in Pekin, and I immediately saw my chance to befriend someone who didn’t know just how un-cool I was and invited her to sit with me and my friends at lunch-- a friendship seed was planted.

We both agreed our high school years were not that memorable. We survived Pekin High with the help of our little circle of friends but were happy to move on. During high school and college we planted some roots, we kept in touch, but were just friends.

In early ‘85 we had about a 2 hour phone conversation out of the blue. Sherry called to tell me she was in luuuv with this guy named Chuck. And the main thing I remember discussing even then, at age 22, was that she was making a heart-shaped brownie for Chuck and his daughter for Valentines Day. This idea intrigued me. I made a mental note that Sherry was someone I definitely needed to spend more time with.

Spring forward to fall of ‘88. I was a lonely mom of an 8 month old living in the Chicago suburbs. Sherry called to tell me she was pregnant. With the conception of Melissa our true friendship began to grow and blossom. 

Mind you there was no email or free long distance in the early 90’s. We talked on the phone incessantly. We wrote letters continuously.

We knew everything about everything -- and our husbands didn’t really care for that. I knew how much baby Melissa hated peas but loved pears. She knew which stores I had credit card balances at and what I was planting in my annual beds.

In any argument I recounted to her, she ALWAYS took my side, and I did the same for her, even when we knew the other one was in the wrong. That is a priceless quality in a friendship.

We’ve known each other 33 years, and we’ve been best friends for 21. For 21 years she was more like my sister than any sister probably is. We were each others’ therapists. During the period of our friendship I like to call “The months of $100 phone bills”, we told our husbands that we were actually saving them money – that it would cost much more for a real psychiatrist. Talking and sharing was what kept us sane and got us through the hard times. The boring times. And the many, many good times. 

I think in the coming years that this is when I will miss Sherry the most--when I experience a joy or a sorrow. I got a call just last week that I didn’t get the job I was hoping to get and my gut reaction was that I needed to talk to Sherry, immediately. And I realized that if I could have called her, I would barely mention the job interview. What I needed was to hear her describe the chicken and rice casserole she was fixing for dinner that night. I wanted her to talk to me about cutting out daffodils from construction paper for her class. That would bring my world back in balance. That would make everything ok again.

When I spent time with her two weeks ago she couldn’t speak or move. But she could laugh and cry. Her friend Cathi made her laugh that day, and I made her cry. One of the very last things I said to her, was “It’s gonna be ok….. It’s gonna be ok.” She kept crying and I kept saying it. That is what we did for each other. 

You might think from listening to me that all Sherry cared about was her friends, but OH NO. It was always clear to me where I was on that totem pole, and it was friends are friends but FAMILY is family. So after all these years, this is what I know for sure about Sheryl Deener Bankes.

I know that THE most important thing in Sherry’s life, her finest goal, was to be a good MOM. She planned and schemed and organized and read and researched and trained and workshopped and prayed and worked and worked and worked at the goal of being the best mother possible. Nothing else consumed her as much as that did. She was beyond protective of her two little chicklets, and had a zero tolerance policy for criticisms of Chelsea or Melissa. Her pride in Melissa and Chelsea was in her very cells and came out in everything she said or did, along with her love for them…..And her plans for them. Her very specific detailed plans for them…

The second thing I know for sure about Sherry, is something we have in common. We feel that God was really on his game when he picked our husbands for us. Sherry always felt extremely lucky to have met and fallen in love and married a really wonderful guy. My Chuck and her Chuck think that all we ever did was complain about them in our long letters and phone calls. And in the days of crying babies at 3 a.m. we did our share of complaining. But we also talked a lot about other friends and their husbands and how on earth did we get so lucky to find men like ours?

Sherry admired you Chuck for being a fantastic dad. For not usually complaining when she had to go to book club or bake 50 cupcakes for MOPS. For going along with her elaborate family vacation plans just because you knew it was what she wanted. Everyone who knows her, knows she felt she had won the ‘who gets to marry the best guy’ contest.  

And watching and hearing how you held her life together, in the last seven months especially, was truly inspiring. I’m a pretty critical person at times--she and I have that in common-- and I never found one darn thing you could have done better or more thoroughly or more lovingly. You and her parents and her sweet girls were truly there in sickness and in health, which is a wonderful thing to witness and will be a hard standard for the rest of us to live up to.

I’ll end with a bible verse, one she and I both loved :  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. I live by this verse…but I have also had a back up plan for many years. It was “I can do all things with Sherry, who strengthens me.”  

She was my strength and I will miss her always. Until I see her again in heaven.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sickbed (not death bed) Promises

I happen to be home with a sinus-head-cold-feel-like-crap kind of virus.  And whenever it gets bad enough, like today, that I call in sick at work and stay in bed, the same thing happens.  First I rest.  Then I give in to the impulse to get something done while the house is empty.  Then I start coughing and hacking and realize the day is shot and I haven't rested nearly enough.  Then I try to take a nap.  And that is when the bell tolls.  The deja vu bell.  That I've been here before having these exact thoughts.

You know, like "Why didn't I take advantage last week when I was HEALTHY and start on this presentation?"  or "Why was I complaining about achey-painy stuff when it was nothing compared to this?"  and the ever classic "As soon as I start feeling better I'm going to stop taking my good health for granted."

This is usually followed by a few sallow days of non-productivity, Kleenex over-usage and bad television or napping at work with my eyes open.  Then, God-willing, I start feeling better.  And the first day I wake up feeling human I drink a big glass of OJ.  I google which vitamins help your immune system and stop by Walgreens to pick some up.  I floss my teeth, dust off my walking shoes and I tell myself, "You are not getting younger and someday one of these virus-cold-think-you-are-dying things will turn out to be Something.  You need to GET your ACT to-gether.  Starting now." 

This promise to myself is genuine, even if it does feel like a tolling bell.  But in a week or two when life has attached itself to my adrenaline pump and I'm overwhelmed and understaffed (all wives need a wife) I start up with the same bad habits.  I over indulge.  I sleep late and get to work late. I slough off the housework.  I forget, my brain follows the same rut, and I forget my promises.  Until.  Until the next time I catch a nasty bug and am here.  Again.  Promising.

Today I see an analogy that I'm sure has been done a thousand times, but I'll take the excuse that I'm not well-read and use it anyway.  My usual life is like an automobile.  A car that you fill with gas.  Then you hit the accelerator.  And you don't stop, until the tank is empty.  When the tank is empty you wring your hands and say "WHY didn't I see this coming?  Why didn't I fill the tank with gas half an hour ago?  Why didn't I slow down for those stop signs and for that zoo and that antique store?"  I might have had a chance of my brain kicking in long enough to warn me 'Stop and fill up.'  But we all continue with this awful habit.  We push down to accelerate our lives and we add tasks and say yes and try to accomplish more in an evening than should be done in a week.  Then when we get sick (our tank is empty) we stop and wonder how we let things get like this yet again.  If I'm 50, I've probably had this talk with myself 100 times.  And I haven't learned a thing.

So today's promise?  Today's promise is to take ownership of the way I have chosen to subsist and to recognize it for what it is.  I don't have to drive myself hard.  I don't have to say yes.  I do it and no one else is making me.  No one else is putting that nutty bar in my purse.  No one else is 'forgetting' oops, my yoga mat one more time.  No one else is passing up the banana and apple for the Pringles.  It is I.  And I can continue down this path.  Its ok.  As long as I'm aware it is a choice I make. 

Colds will come and go for everyone and for me.  But this head cold is wake up call #100.  Slow down.  You move too fast....

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Toni Re-read this Regularly

So I started writing again today.  And by writing, I don't mean that I ordered three books about writing that looked delicious from Amazon (although I did that too).  I don't mean that I posted humorously on facebook (did) or that I'm writing a blog post here.  Although you can tell that to get my writing engines running I have to do a darn lot of babysitting of my ego and self-persuasion.

But no, I mean I started a new story today.  I woke up and grabbed my laptop (yes I sleep with it under my bed) and started writing an idea for a story that has been brewing for some months.  I don't know why today is any different than any other Saturday morning.  But everyone was asleep, I have no plans whatsoever for the day (uh oh, that won't repeat itself), I'm healthy, I've been in the 'new year try again' mode for 19 or so days, and so I started writing.

Yay for me!

Now, it is a good time to make some promises to myself about the new story, fragile new attempt, and to reread these thoughts every time my thread breaks. Notes to self...

1. Examine the long gaps in your blog posts at least once per month.  Time flies whether you write or not.

2. Start writing your dreams when you wake up right next to your prayers before you fall asleep.

3. Practice being better at keeping secrets. I find in the telling and explaining to others I lose my energy for characters and a story.  Every time you are tempted to blurt out "I'm writing again!" instead blurt out "I love chocolate chip cookie. Don't you?"

4. Read the damn books that you order about writing.  Read at least one a month.  OK, read at least one per quarter.  There, an ATTAINABLE goal, measureable, and not painful in the least.

5. Stop the critical voices in your head the minute they start.  The ones that say things like, "Why are you obsessing about that character's first name instead of plotting?  You know that isn't something REAL writers do.  You must not be a real writer."  Instead tell yourself "I love Chocolate Chip cookies!" and smile.  Or, just stop.

6. Avoid the over-used elipses...

Whew, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a book contract out of those six on how to motivate yourself to write.  Let's see, if I get the book contract, and then they interview me, I better have an answer to the question, "So where do you get your ideas?"

Oh yeah,  and

7. Repeat after me, or rethink after me, "Why do you write Toni? "  " Because I love to."  "Why?"  "Because I love to."  "WHY?"  "Because I l - o - v - e to write."