If you told me twenty years ago that I would write blogs. I probably wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I probably would ask you what is a “blog?” I am proud of my work as a writer. Not because it garnered me dozens of awards, but because it has inspired and encouraged those who have read them.
This story will be different than my other blogs.
This story is about my dear friend, Sylvia. In December of 2014 I received a phone call from her. It was devastating news. She told me that if she didn’t let a surgeon perform another ileostomy, she’d only have two weeks left to live. But… there was absolutely no guarantee that if she put herself through yet another painful surgery that she’d live any longer. In the past year, Sylvia had dealt with numerous surgeries that left her with endless diarrhea, bloating, severe pain, profuse vomiting, daily nausea, and zero appetite. It took a major toll on her, and she lost 70 pounds.
After I heard Sylvia tell me of her awful news, I could barely drown out the high-pitched sound I heard inside my head. It sounded like an alarm clock, “Tick-tick-tick.” Except this was a travel alarm clock. The tick-tock sounded urgent. Sylvia’s life, the one we knew, was about to end. She was about to leave this world.
I had a bit of a conundrum. I couldn’t just drop what I was doing to go see her. After all, I live in Florida and my dear friend lived in Ohio. In order for me to visit her, planning would have to be done. There was quite a list: my employer, my clients, the airlines, and a car rental agency. I had a genuine concern. I wondered whether I would even make it back to Ohio in time to see my dear friend. Sylvia knew my concern without my having to say it. She reassured me if I came and her end was near, I could just sit at her bedside, in her rocker.
“Please come,” Sylvia pleaded.
That’s all I needed to hear. I knew I had to find a way to make another trip back to Ohio.
I first met Sylvia right after my house caught fire in 1979. I lost everything in that fire. What the flames hadn’t destroyed, the smoke had damaged, and whatever the smoke hadn’t ruined had been taken care of by the water the firefighters used to douse the fire. Everything I cherished vanished that day. It’s a long story. I don’t have room to tell it all.
My insurance company declared it a total loss and put my family in an apartment, an empty apartment. Sylvia and her husband, Deacon Al, showed up along with a few others who I didn’t know personally, but I recognized from all the times I’ve attended or served communion at Mass. I watched two men carry in a shabby, but clean sofa, a threadbare upholstered chair, and mismatched dishes. Someone placed an old, but workable portable television on a metal TV tray. I remember watching men carry bed frames into the bedrooms, along with new mattresses and box springs, and bedding. I remember my knees giving out and my body sliding all the way down a wall, at this incredible display of loving kindness. I stayed on my butt on the floor with my knees pulled forward as I wept. I watched Father Dennis make the beds. It was truly a humbling experience. I felt ever-so-grateful.
Sylvia was right by my side years later, when I was suddenly out of a job, after 28-years of employment. The can manufacturing plant where I worked permanently closed their doors. I was a single mom of two with a mortgage, car payment, utilities, and multiple credit card bills. I was barely scraping by as it was. But the grocery bills are what worried me most. After all, how would I feed myself and my two growing boys? That’s another long story, for another time.
And just when you think it can’t get any better, it can.
As part of our separation from the can manufacturing company, I was able to sign up for classes at a local college. I chose to attend a two-year program in Interior Design at Davis College. I was required to take a textile class as part of the curriculum. One mandatory project was that we make an accessory that involved using fabric. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
You see, after Deacon Al and Sylvia sold their Maumee house, they bought a brand new condo. I’d been invited to the blessing of their new home. After each room had been blessed, all the guests were invited to stay for brunch. I choose to sit with the women in the living room, while the men ventured off to the enclosed patio porch. It was there, Sylvia asked, “Do any of you know where I could purchase an ottoman?” Like the condo being brand new, so were most of the homeowners’ furnishings. However, Sylvia said she couldn’t find an ottoman to match her new furniture.
So, I jumped at the chance to make her an ottoman in my workshop. Before I left her condo, I borrowed a pillow from her new sofa. I planned to use it to shop at local fabric stores, in the hope of finding matching fabric or coordinating fabric. On my very first stop to JoAnn’s Fabrics, I found the same exact print by Waverly! The pattern is from their vintage collection called “Calypso.” I also purchased a coordinating fabric for the lining that would go inside of the storage unit. You see, I wanted the ottoman to be a storage unit. Not just a plain footstool.
This became a father-daughter project that took place in my workshop. Back then I owned all the power tools and equipment that we would need. We used ¾-inch plywood to construct it. Bulky, lofty foam was used with batting material to give the cushioned top a springy effect. We used gold utility hinges to support the opening and closing of the top (lid) of the ottoman. We used recycled wooden fence toppers that my dad cut down to make the perfect size feet to fit my clients. I stained the wood with a fruitwood stain. I cannot think of a better way to give a gift, than by making it from heart. What grade did I get? Glad you asked. I received a 96/100 grade. It was a tough class… another long story, but it was a mission accomplished.
During my senior year at Davis College I had the opportunity to go to Chicago with a busload of design students and college professors. We were going to visit homes built by one of the world’s best-known architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. Upon arriving in downtown Chicago, from my view on the bus, I was astonished to see a city filled with women wearing outlandish purple outfits and bizarre red hats! Later that evening I summoned enough courage to ask a woman about her purple and red attire. She told me all about the “Red Hat Society.” There was a convention in town with chartered groups from all over the country. The helpful woman gave me her business card. I happily tucked it away in my handbag.
After I returned home, long story short, Sylvia and I formed our own small group of women. Viola! This was how the local “Crimson Cuties” group originated. And when I graduated from college, all the members of Crimson Cuties, led by Sylvia, came to my college ceremony and threw me a graduation party afterwards. That was so much fun!
Months after I graduated from Davis College, I remember following a doctor down a long hospital corridor. I watched him push a button on the wall and in one easy motion from the single command, the over-sized double doors swung wide open. We continued toward an ICU unit. I remember feeling fear rise up in my chest. I felt petrified. My youngest son had been in an accident. The moment I entered Matthew’s room I stopped dead in my tracks. My whole body shivered. I felt the sterile iciness of the room. I was unprepared for the visual bombshell. My son’s six-foot framed body looked ridiculous as he lay on the twin-sized hospital bed with his feet hanging over the end, by at least a foot. I couldn’t help but notice the thin sheet that covered him. I remember the doctor saying, “‘Matthew had a tremendous blow to his head. There is a great deal of swelling on his brain. When the brain swells like this, it can be life-threatening. We put your son in a drug-induced coma. Your son’s brain will be able to rest and the swelling is more likely to decrease. When swelling is relieved, pressure on the brain also reduces, hopefully preventing some or all brain damage from occurring.’” I’m running out of room here. This too, is another long story.
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it can.
Sylvia once again, saw me through one more nightmare in my life. It was a surreal day when I received a dreadful phone call about a boating accident. My reality, my comfortable life as I once knew it, turned upside down and inside out. My cheerful life shattered into a million pieces. My oldest son, Andrew, was missing in Lake Erie for twenty-two nerve-racking days. I felt the deepest depths of despair as I grappled with my oldest son’s sudden ending. It’s another long story that I still struggle with sharing.
Seven months after my son’s funeral, I received this telephone call from Sylvia. Now you understand why I felt the urgent need to visit her. So, I rearranged my schedule in order to spend one final precious day with her. The day was January 1, 2015.
After we sat down in her warm and comfortable living room, I didn’t mean to, but I started to weep. After I wiped my eyes and blew my nose, I looked around the room. I glanced at the ottoman that I had made in the corner of the room. Her living room made me think of the joy my friend must have because over time Sylvia had surrounded herself with beautiful items that she loved. I’m sure there were pieces in her home that sang a little song every time she walked by. I imagined there were things that she loved to touch, that would instantly transport her to a different time and place. This was the kind of home that Sylvia had. I’ve always felt very comfortable in it.
“Oh Michele, I can’t believe you actually came!”
“I said I would! And besides, how could I not? There’s so much I have to thank you for.”
Sylvia and I had a wonderful visit. In spite of knowing she had been given a dreadful prognosis, she was still optimistic and positive. I guess that didn’t surprise me. After all, from the very first moment I met Sylvia, she never ceased to amaze me. Throughout all my hardships, Sylvia remained positive with an uplifting attitude. She taught me how to keep my faith. At the time of writing this blog, I sat at my desk in my home office, with my laptop opened. When the memory floodgates opened, I immediately typed like a skilled court stenographer. I must say that after typing all this out and then reading it back to myself, it made me wonder how I made it. But when you have friends like Sylvia, they save you from breaking down and becoming a puddle on the floor. Sylvia was much more than just a friend, she was a lifeline to me. She just had this way about her that made me think there’s nowhere else she needed or wanted to be, when I needed help.
I lost my dear friend on February 11, 2015. I miss her tremendously. I wrote this because I believe you should cherish those you love and surround yourself with people like Sylvia. Friends like her really are heaven sent.