Three weeks ago, on the last leg of our trip back to Chicago from a week in Ptown, in a car park near Penn State University, my friend Carleen took her phone and showed me a fb post from our friend Sandra. Sandra just posted that she had been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. It was devastating news, yet she wrote it in a positive and uplifting manner. There seemed to be hope.
Two weeks ago, again in a car park (this time after we visited an Italian deli), Carleen took out her phone and showed me a second fb post from Sandra. The cancer was even more aggressive than anyone could imagine, and hospice care was the best they could do. The reality sank in. Over the weekend, Carleen drove to Kansas to visit Sandra. She told me she felt bad for leaving me alone. To me, visiting Sandra took precedence over everything else, it was a no brainer.
One week ago, I flew home. Back to being 13, 14 timezones away. I still thought about Sandra. On tv was a program about the Vatican and I prayed to Papa Francis for a miracle.
Sandra passed away Saturday night their time. I was at my niece’s birthday lunch.
I’m not a great displayer of emotions. I only get touchy-feely-huggy at the conference. I don’t cry at three-tissue movies, I didn’t cry at my grandparents’ funerals; it’s not deliberate and it doesn’t mean I have no feelings. Carleen wrote a touching post about Sandra. And when she described her dream:
There was Sandra! Smiling and looking lovely. I swear she was taller. And she glowed.
She said to all of us, “It’s okay. I’m good.”
There, I cried a little. I need that message to keep me going. I commented on the post that I’m going to hold onto the “It’s okay. I”m good.” I’d like to believe—no, I do believe—that it was Sandra telling us she’s okay and pain free now.
There was a massive outpouring of grief and tribute on fb. People deal with their sorrow their own way. In this day and age of oversharing and social media, feelings and reactions that was kept within are often let out.
Me, I didn’t want to post anything, didn’t want to write pointless platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” because in this case, I can’t see the reason. Losing someone so young, so full of life, so well loved, it’s an ambush on one’s faith. But Carleen also told us to share our memories of Sandra. Be sure to share them, she said.
Sandra’s first con was Dallas 2013. I honestly can’t remember if I met her in person. I left that conference extremely tired. My lasting memories of Dallas 2013 were whisky adventures with Adrian, no time to rest and constantly taking the lift up and down. The only pic I have of Sandra is at the author autograph session. Here she is on the extreme left talking to Andi.
I started reading Letters Never Sent and regretted never having the chance to chat with her. I finished the book, and immediately went back to the beginning to re-read it. I’m not a very retentive reader, I wanted to read the book again carefully, to absorb passages that I missed. Then when I finished, I went back to the beginning again. It’s that good.
I didn’t take many pictures in Portland 2014, but I did get hugs from Sandra. I joined in the well deserved applause when she won two awards.
Ran into her at registration for NOLA 2015 and, yay, not only a hug but pictorial evidence. I attended one of the sessions she was presenting, a 2-part masterclass, intending to stay for the first part then go to another session. Guess what, I stayed for both sessions, it was that good.
I can’t say we were close friends, but you can’t tell by how she treated me. Always a big smile, always giving me full attention, even if 17 people were waiting to pull her in all directions. She was quick-witted, extremely smart and a keen observer of her surroundings. Who else can make gloves left at the side of the road, or pie charts, or food left in a stranger’s car seem engrossing and interesting in an academic way?
The world is poorer at her departure. Three years of knowing Sandra, it’s more enriching than some friends I’ve known for 30 years. That’s her legacy. She touched everyone she met and I’ll never forget her.
p.s. Sandra’s family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations are made to the gcls scholarship fund in her name.