The story started here. This is part 2 - remember I had a severely broken (I call it that though the break was minor) ankle.
A year ago today started out somewhat normal. Though it was a holiday weekend and I had my injury I was dealing with, but other than that it was normal. We were serving in the church nursery with one of the wife of one of the pastors. We had just sat down, playing with the babies, telling our friend about the injury. I was explaining what had happened, our story of being foster parents, etc. It was really pleasant. Then my husband's phone rang and our world changed.
My husband walked to the back of the room and I knew it was bad. I just knew. As he hung up or maybe while he was still on the phone he whispered to me "Stephanie is dead". It was her mom, who was trying to get a hold of someone, and she had our number in her phone from the t-ball game the day before. Stephanie wasn't able to get off work to take her son to the last blastball game her son and our son played together. My husband was a coach and made sure, this time, that her son batted because every game before then he was too shy. Stephanie missed him but we videotaped it so she could see it. I believe she did.
She was one of the most amazing people. Though she had plenty of hardship in her life that she faced, she overcame it with amazing grace. I learned so much from her about southern hospitality and true friendship. Taking life with grace. Facing people with generosity. She did everything for her son. Mostly by herself and she did it with a smile. Always a beautiful smile. I hated seeing her in the casket because though they did a great job with her at the funeral home there was no way they could recreate her smile.
The call told us she never made it to work. She never made it to drop her son off with her mom. So, her mom became worried and went to her home - her car was there but she didn't answer the door. When the police finally came the found her dead in her apartment. At 35 years old she died of natural causes - with everything she had survived natural causes took her life. Her 3-year-old son was sitting near her. He knew she was dead though I don't think he could really comprehend what that meant at the time.
As we sat outside her apartment waiting for the coroner to arrive we chatted, my husband and I with her family who we'd come to know over the years. We talked about Dr. Pepper. We talked laughed about how her sister and I had matching shoes - then remembered how I received mine when Stephanie gave them to me when mine broke. Their mother had given to her and now I have a pair too. We talked and laughed and shared about the matching tatoos Stephanie and I had gotten together just a few months earlier - butterflies - hers blue and mine pink. We got them on a girls night out - the first and only for both of us - I didn't tell my husband before hand and got in big trouble but now knowing how things turned out I wouldn't change it for the world. We cried a lot. We laughed a lot. When the coroner came but before they took her away we went inside for a mini-service - I kissed her forehead goodbye. I'm glad I did - I knew she was dead. It was a closure of sorts.
As we sat and waited for the coroner our phone rang again. It was my father-in-law. My husband's grandfather passed away minutes earlier. It was the 3rd grandparent that died within the last 6 months in our families. Though we were sad, it was so much different than losing a friend. Too many tears had already fallen. It's very interesting to experience both types of deaths at the same time - it helped us see how different it was to say goodbye to a grandparent vs. a friend.
My heart hurt so much that day - and for a long time afterward. I had to grieve all that was my dreams and hopes that I saw in my life that would no longer include my friend by my side. I wish I could have more time with her. I wish things could go back to the way they were then. But it isn't my choice. God had a different plan. There is a big hole where she used to be. I miss her.
The last time I saw her was at CVS the Monday before. She was there with her son who had pink-eye and needed to see the MinuteClinic doctor. I stopped by to get swim diapers because I wanted to take my kids swimming. I'm so glad - I had the chance to see her one last time. I of course didn't know that would be the last time, something so simple. But she smiled as she sat there at 7pm with her son - knowing he couldn't go to school and she would have to come up with childcare plans or stay home from work - all by herself. But she smiled and she showed me and my kids so much love.
I hope she knows how much she meant to me. I only wish I could be that type of friend to others. I need to try to honor her memory and the impact she had on my life. She is greatly missed.