I was cleaning house the other day and as I dusted a picture of me and three other women I was struck but the specialness of our relationships. Standing tall and smiling, we are linked arm to arm. But there is more that links us, God has been weaving us, in and out of seasons, sharing history and experiences together in this life. I close my eyes for a moment and my eyelids become a movie projector flashing memories and images of days gone by.
I have known my sister in law the longest, having met her when she was engaged to my brother. I was a mere 16 and I marveled how being only a few years older she was already helping to run a household she shared with her mother, sister, grandfather and grandmother. The movie projector in my mind flashes delicious meals she put together for 12 or more, making Julia Child proud and putting a few pounds on me. Scenes of her organizing, shuttling family members (her mother did not drive) and what we call logistical planning come in flashes. She had the wisdom of someone much older. I have watched her become a caregiver of her grandparents while raising her two children and then caring for her mother as she descended into Alzheimer’s while running a successful medical billing and consulting company.
I look back at the picture of the second lady. I was a young married woman when I met her. She and her family were our next door neighbors and she was instrumental in giving me a glimpse at what motherhood was like. She encouraged me to nurse my baby when I was inclined to follow other’s well-meaning advice of how hard it would be to both work and nurse. She introduced me to the library’s Story Hour, and Mom and Me Classes that I would share with my daughter. When my daughter was 3 days old, she asked me where I was going to send her to elementary school! Looking dumbfounded, she explained that one of the best schools was at our local University but utilized both a lottery system and enrollment was based on being racially, socially, and economically balanced. Getting my daughter’s name on the list as soon as she was born was a must! She drove my daughter (just 5 days old!) and I to the school which 5 years later she would attend for her entire nine years of elementary and middle school. Thanks to my neighbor, my daughter received an excellent education and met many wonderful teachers and students, some of which she remains friends with to this day. The projector before my closed lids flash images of both our daughters (best friends) putting on plays, signing songs (sign language), and playing games at our weekly Friday night get-togethers; which by the way they thought was solely for their benefit. My daughter would later marry her son and we would become family, sharing the joys of being a Grandma and Nana.
As I look at the picture again, I smile broadly and chuckle under my breath. The third woman also lived in our neighborhood and we would meet at parties and celebrations because our children all knew one another. In fact her son, my son in law and my nephew were all best men at each of their weddings. She and I would become “Best Buddies” after we retired from our jobs and began to hang out together. Doing nothing together was our specialty whether it was grocery shopping, running errands or working on a project. It always included lots of laugher. Memories of making chocolate heart favors for her son’s wedding, and chocolate bears for my daughters baby shower float in front of the projector. We were Lucy and Ethel trying to get the consistency of the chocolate just right and eating the mistakes until we were covered with the brown gooey substance and wired enough that we were jumping up and down and laughing until we cried. We could have powered our whole community of 700 homes with the mistakes we consumed! We share not only the fun events but the not so fun events: the death of her husband, the passing of our much loved pets and the plethora of illnesses we have nursed one another through.
While each of us is distinctly different and we haven’t always agreed with each other; God has placed us together for a reason and for a season(s). There is much we have shared: we all lived in the same community for a time, our children went to the same high school together and while the third lady is not a relative, she is like a sister to me and the best kind of family you can have – one that is chosen.
As I open my eyes and look at the picture of the four of us again, I realize we share another commonality. Each of us is a survivor of breast cancer: my sister in law currently battling the dreadful disease while the rest of us are “in remission” waiting and wondering if it will return. The picture of us means more to me now as I realize how mercurial life can be – any one of us could disappear from the current picture frame of life. I see how we are locked arm in arm not just in the picture but in our walk together through this life that God has provided for us. And in His wisdom, He has given us the gift of friendship, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and family. We are smiling in the picture and we smile today because despite whatever life throws at us, we are stronger together, having each other to talk to, laugh with, advise and commiserate with one another.
Each of these women has blessed me beyond measure. They are angels placed by God and as I enter a new year and ponder what may come, I know that whatever it is, they, along with God will see me through. No cancer will change that.