My friend, Sheila, died today.
I once joked with my sister-in-law that I hated turning 60 because, when you died after 60, you went from “she’s gone too soon” to “she lived a long, full life.” No one would ever say that about Sheila. Yes, she did cram as much living as possible into the 61 years she had, but there’s no way it was enough time for her. She could have gone on to 100 and still been flirting and dancing with young guys; sitting on her balcony with a glass of wine talking for hours to friends on the phone; redecorating her house in enviable style; and reorganizing her impressively stocked closet into its remarkable, color-coordinated scheme.
None of my memories of Sheila are couched in serenity and peace. We had many intimate conversations on our girls’ weekends with our friends, Helen and Lisa, but even a hushed conversation with Sheila pulsed with electricity. She called it ADHD; I would call it a manic joie de vivre. She was determined to fill every single minute of her existence, and so she did.
What are my memories of such a force of nature?
On a girls’ trip to Ireland, we found ourselves on a bus tour where we were the young chicks (we were already in our 50’s) to an older crowd. At one of our hotels, the activity of choice was ballroom dancing, which our travel companions were doing with grace and impressive flair. Ballroom dancing was never Sheila’s thing, nor was she a shy wallflower. She made her way to the bandstand, convinced the band to switch to rock music, and proceeded to tear up the dance floor with Helen, the two of them laughing and busting out moves like college kids at a rock concert.
Sheila was a life-long smoker, but don’t get on your high-horse in judgement of her. For Sheila, it was nothing but an opportunity to meet interesting people. When we would leave a restaurant, looking for her where she had gone out to have a smoke, she would be laughing and talking with one soul or a dozen, learning their life stories and giving them advice for their problems.
She was an amazing gift-giver. Her gifts were always thoughtful–as in, she put a lot of thought into every single one–and they were often unexpected. She sent me the most extraordinary cutting board etched with our favorite travel places. What!? Who would ever think of that? Sheila would. When my mom died, she sent the most wonderful blanket with a beautiful cardinal and the sentiment “I will always be with you.” It brought me to tears.
There was one topic Sheila addressed with absolute seriousness: her boys. She defined the term “devoted mother,” and no matter what other activities or events were on her agenda, everything stopped when they needed her. Big house or small, she always had rooms for them, immaculately but intimately decorated, and no one who ever saw them with her could doubt that they were equally as devoted to her. Though everyone who ever knew her will keep her memory alive, her boys are her legacy, and whatever they do in their lives is an extension of her impact on the world.
You may not have known Sheila before, but now you do, just a little. Let her story inspire you to get the most out of your days as she did with hers. As she has inspired me.
RIP, my dear friend. Your battle was bravely fought, but now is the time to rest pain-free and be at peace.