Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Maid of Honor

Today is my 30th anniversary, but I am not blogging about that event (already did so on God's Gals). Today, I want to write about my best friend, Ruth.

I know I mentioned in a previous post that I had set up Ruth with a friend of mine on a date. While Ruth and this friend had a good time, Ruth said that she thought this guy and I belonged together. And wouldn't you know, that guy and I are now celebrating our 30th anniversary today. And Ruth was the maid of honor at our wedding.

Ruth was the daughter of a preacher. She grew up in a suburb of Detroit, and went to college in my home town on the northern shores of Lake Michigan. We met one day in our sociology class when I asked to borrow her pencil. We talked after class for over an hour, and decided to go out for dinner (Burger King) that night. The rest, they say, is history.

We didn't have very much in common in the conventional sense. She grew up in an upper middle class family within a close and loving family. I grew up in a lower middle class family where arguments were frequent and the words "I love you" were rare. She was extremely prim and proper and very naive. My mother was a very genteel person and taught me etiquette, so I can be prim and proper when the situation calls for it, but I am sometimes a bit "rough" around the edges when my dad's raunchy sense of humor kicks in (I am proud to say that I can even embarrass my teenagers with my "mouth" at times!). Ruth would sometimes be aghast at what came out of my mouth - but not in the "how dare you say that" sense but the "oh my gosh - I've always wanted to be able to say that" sense. She admired me for my free spirit, and I admired her for her constraint. I think we eventually rubbed off on each other - she loosened up, and I toned down (well, sort of).

We spent so much time together during our freshman and sophomore years at college. We cried on each other's shoulders as a new "love" broke our hearts. We talked about the future and what our hopes and dreams were. We talked about our upbringings - how different they were, and how they helped to shape the persons we were becoming. We laughed - a lot. What a gift that was to me, as I hadn't had much to laugh about prior to meeting her.

The college we went to was only a community college, so at the end of our sophomore year, it was time for her to move back to Detroit, and I moved to Grand Rapids to continue on with my college. We stayed in touch, and when it came time for me to be married, I asked her to stand up for me. She stayed at my house the night before I got married, and we stayed up quite late talking about marriage. She helped to calm my jittery nerves, and helped me to see that I had picked quite a guy with which to spend the rest of my life.

Even though we never lived in the same town after our college years together, Ruth and I always stayed in contact. I went to her wedding. We exchanged letters, card, and phone calls. We always picked up right where we left off. When my husband and I adopted our first child, Ruth made a beautiful patchwork quilt for TP - which TP still treasures and which she has slept with every single night of her life (even when she's in the hospital).

Ruth found out she had breast cancer in 1992, after the birth of her fourth child. She had a mastectomy and went through months of chemo. Our conversations took on a deeper signifcance as she talked about death, God, leaving behind 4 kids and a husband. She utimately went into remission - and was considered to be cancer free at the 5 year mark!!! What a relief and celebration that was.

Then, I didn't get my usual Christmas card in 1997. I thought that was odd, but I just assumed she was busy with her life. I called her in January after the holidays, but she wasn't available. I called her on her birthday in Februaary, but her son said that she wasn't feeling well and that she'd call me back. I was beginning to get very, very uneasy at this point, but I thought that I would wait for a few weeks and call her then to see how she was doing. I waited too long. I got a call on my birthday (in May) from her husband. He said he was going through her date book, and he noticed that my birthday was marked on that day, and so he thought he'd call and let me know that she had died a few weeks before. He went on to say that they thought at first that she just had a bad case of the flu in January and February. Finally, in the middle of March, they decided to go to their family doctor, who ordered some blood work. The liver function results were way out of whack, so they ordered an ultrasound, which revealed a huge tumor on her liver. It took them a week to get into University of Michigan hospital for an evaluation, but by that time, the cancer had spread everywhere. She was not conscious for the last week of her life, but before she slipped into a coma, she was able to say her goodbyes to her family, her husband, and her kids. I wanted to ask her husband "Why didn't you call me - why didn't she want to say goodbye to me???" - but I didn't. His grief was too raw, and I didn't want to add any more to his burden. We talked about this special, extraordinary woman whose gentleness was her defining strength, and whose love was her legacy to all those she touched. We talked about the huge void she left behind. We wept and laughed - all in celebration of this woman we loved like no other.

At times, I wonder why she didn't call me. But, deep down, I know the answer to that question. Ruth saw in me a wounded soul - and she was my healer from all my childhood hurts. I think she thought she was sparing me pain by not sharing her pain, and by not saying goodby. Little did she know that I was no longer that wounded soul - thanks to her - because I had never told her what she had done for me. So, not only couldn't I say goodby, but I also couldn't tell her "thank you". I know, in my heart, that she knows those things now - but how I wish I could have said those things to her face!

I miss her to this day. And especially today, as I remember her so vividly on my wedding day, in her special role as my maid of honor. For it was an honor to be her best friend - it was an honor to know her and love her. So, in her honor and her memory, please call up your best friend and tell her/him how much you love them and cherish them. I talked to mine already - and told her how much I miss her, and how I know she's smiling down at me today and wishing me a Happy Anniversary!


At 12:40 PM, Blogger Paula said...

I am in tears. I feel like I've just lost my best friend. The way you described Ruth made me feel as if I knew her too. The care I have for you makes me feel your pain and loss. What a special post and tribute to an incredible woman. You were both blessed, I'm just sorry that the story had to end, but for those who believe in Christ, death is actually the beginning.

Love and hugs,

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

I am going to come back when I can see through the tears!!!

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

OK. So I have pulled myself together now.

That is a beautiful story and I am sure that, whatever reasons she had for not sharing with you, she did it for the best reasons at the time.. but that, I am sure, does nothing to lessen the hurt...

But you have her memory to cherish - all those shared places in your past - that she was able to be such a part of your life - and touched your life in such as special way - is a blessing in itself. As paula says - it has not ended - just seperated for the time being...

Someone once said something like "it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all" - You are so blessed to have had her - even if it was not for long enough.

Happy Anniversary.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Mrs. Diamond said...

Happy Anniversary!!!
I loved what you wrote on my blog about the "pearl" and irritations... BEAUTIFUL!

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. (hug)

At 5:58 PM, Blogger My Kid's Mom said...

My dear friends - Paul, Barbara, Mrs. D - your kind words and love have now brought tears to my eyes. I love you all dearly - and I truly believe that "death is actually the beginning". Yes, her death came much too soon - but I know she's in God's heaven and is without pain now. Thank you, each of you, for being my friend.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Tyra said...

What a wonderful tribute to your friend.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

Your post made me cry first, then made me think. When was the last time I told my best friend what she means to me? I'm going to call her later today!

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Gina Burgess said...

Val, it is such a fleeting thing, this thing we call life. It is much to short to not tell our loved ones how we feel and to carry any kind of hard feelings. Your story hammers that home in a poignant way. Thank you.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger HeyJules said...

This is my worst nightmare...that my best friend would want to "spare me" this kind of pain.

I think you might just have this backwards though. Maybe she didn't call to save you from the pain or maybe it was because you were the one person she could never say goodbye to.

I'd be willing to bet she loved you that much.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger My Kid's Mom said...

Tyra - Thank you so much.

Sarah - How did that phone call go?

Gina - That is so true!

Jules - I thought about that, too -and I think there is an element of truth to it. Thanks!


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