Saturday, February 17, 2001

Well, I was almost successful. I haven't been keeping up with the blog, but at least I've been *thinking* about the blog. That should count for something, shouldn't it?

Gayle Cunningham is the mother of my husband's very first girlfriend. She was also Tom's English teacher in high school. They had an incredible relationship all the way through high school and college...Tom is one of "Gayle's Kids". I think you would call them soul mates. When T and Lisa (Gayle's daughter) broke off their relationship, he continued to communicate with Gayle. When T moved to Texas and met me (way back in the dark ages of 1989), and we married (also in 1989), Gayle and Lisa sent us a wedding gift...a beautiful sterling silver frame. I was touched, and not a bit threatened (to my surprise and delight! Maybe I was actually growing up? *nah*) A year or so later, Tom took me back to Tennessee to see his family and the area he called "home". On that trip, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting both Gayle and Lisa.

(I must digress for a moment...Tom brought some of the greatest people to my life. Larry (his best friend since grade school and the best man in our wedding) and Gayle are two of those people. The rest are actual blood family members.)

When we arrived at Blanche's house (she is Gayle's Baptist momma) on Christmas Eve, I was nervous, to say the least. Would they like me? Would I like them? Would I measure up? Lisa was pursuing her master's degree at that point, on her way to a doctorate in who-can-pronounce-it, and she was Tom's "first love". I was shaking in my shoes. We walked in the door to find Gayle resting comfortably on the couch, wearing these funky prism glasses that allow you to read or watch TV while laying flat on your back. She has rheumatoid arthritis (or "Old Arthur" as she is wont to call him) and at that time was spending quite a bit of time on her back. Immediately, I was struck by how tiny these people are. Tom is 6'6" and I am almost 5'11". Gayle can't be over about 5'1", on a really TALL day. She has an incredible laugh, and a dry wit. She put me at ease immediately. We went for a drive in Lisa's car. Tom and Lisa rode up front, while Gayle and I rode in the back. We talked about all kinds of things while we drove (both literally and figuratively) through a wet, cold and drizzly Tennessee afternoon. By the time we got back to Blanche's house, everyone was warm and toasty, and I had a forever friend. We began exchanging cards, letters, and telephone calls. Sometimes, when Life got crazy, our letters would dwindle to once or twice per year.

Then comes 1996. November 22, 1996, to be exact. Maddy's birthday, and the day that our lives changed irrevocably. Tom called his mother first, then his grandfather. Both of those calls lasted a few minutes. Then he called Gayle. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him...he is such a positive person, and the news he carried was so grim...our little angel baby was sick, maybe dying, and he was lost. I know he talked to Gayle longer than he did to anyone else that night. Her wisdom and friendship pulled him through. Over the next few weeks, Gayle and Lisa contributed financially to our family, allowing Tom the luxury of staying with me and the babe at the NICU. More than the money, Gayle made sure to call us and talk to us...asking all the questions that everyone else was afraid to ask. Marveling over Maddy's strength, and ours. She even spent an hour on the phone with my mother, who was really having a difficult time with the diagnosis of her first (and so far only) grandchild. I don't think I would have made it through those early traumas without Gayle's support and love.

Bear in mind that we hadn't seen Gayle since 1990. In June 2000, we finally made it back to Tennessee (along with Virginia and Georgia), and we spent a couple of days with Gayle. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, but was hopeful. She started chemotherapy a couple of days after we left. She's continued with chemo since then, and has also lost both of her breasts and 16 lymph nodes. With her customary good humor, she celebrated the breast least she never has to worry about wearing "The Dreaded Undergarment" if she doesn't want to! The lymph nodes were all cancerous, as well. However, her doc gave her the hope of 3 years, provided she complete the chemo. In January, we went back to TN to celebrate Papa's 80th birthday, and we again spent the day with Gayle while we were there. It was wonderful, although she was very tired and in a lot of pain. We caught her on a "good day" and we stayed from 10:30 AM until well after 1:00 AM, laughing and talking. I'm so glad we were able to be there with her.

Just this week, only 3 weeks left to go in her chemo, she began suffering from excrutiating pain in her hips and back. At first, she blew it off, figuring it was nothing but Old Arthur acting up again. When it didn't get better over a couple of days, she decided to see the doc again. He did a scan, and found that the cancer has metasticized (sp?) to her bones. She has in it her pelvis now. Not good. Actually, really bad. Bone cancer is supposed to be the most debilitating, painful kind. Her time is seriously limited. I am seriously devastated. I can't even begin to tell you how much this lady means to me...she is a kindred spirit on this walk. I know in my heart that she will always be here, even when her body is gone, but I can't shake the feeling that the world will be a darker, less inviting place without her in it. Did I mention that breast cancer sucks?

So, if you have a moment, please light a candle for Gayle. I know I will. I've been praying for her every day...for relief of her pain, and for strength to face this latest battle. I have no doubt that she will face it with grace, dignity, and her simple passion for life that is so immutable, and such a part of her essence. I know that she knows how much I love her, and how much Tom loves her...and that we will always be here for her, and for her kids. Maddy loves her Auntie Gayle, and so does Maddy's mommy.

Be strong, Gayle.

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