Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tribute to My Friend

In this life, I have been blessed to know some of the best people. These souls have shown up in the guise of family members, teachers, students, mentors, co-workers, and incredible friends. That is my definition of hitting the lottery! But I really hit the jackpot when I met a great lady named Ann Warren Watlington many moons ago, when we were both in our 20’s, and teaching at the same school.

Annie made her transition on April 2nd, and it was quite a shock to me. She had a recurrence of the breast cancer that she beat almost 20 yrs. ago, It came back in a relentless fury, and when finally found, was already stage 4. She was gone in a couple of months. I didn’t know about any of this, as our last get-together had been in November, where she seemed good to me. It was our  “normal” to go quite some time between visits. Apparently she wanted to tell me herself, but it all just went too fast. I am left wishing I had known so that I could have been there for her, and yet understanding that it was the way it was meant to be. Even with all I know and believe to be true about Life, there is still the physical loss that will stay with me for the rest of my stay here on Planet Earth.

Annie filled up a room with her presence and her gorgeous head of cascading red hair.  She was gentle, loving, and profound. She was a being of immense grace and courage, and handled her cancer that way, adopting her child from China that way, taking care of her special needs brother, Sam, that way, and teaching that way. Ann loved history! She knew it well, taught it well, and when she retired, worked at historical sites in Richmond, including St. John’s Church and the Dooley Mansion. She was full of spunk, had a wicked sense of humor – could find the funny in anything – and loved Carson (her child from China) with all the love she embodied and then some (in fact, I think having Carson kept her healthy and vibrant as long as she was).  And Ann loved me in such an unconditional way that I will always be grateful for. She always saw the best in me, and never hesitated to tell me. And I loved her back, just being so thankful for a friend/sister like her. I always looked forward to our time together, to talk and talk, laugh and laugh, catch up, and just enjoy being “girls” with one another. It was comfortable and easy to be with Ann. It also gives me comfort to know, as her sister shared with me, that the talks Ann and I had had along the way about life and death, and my take on how the Universe works, were a comfort to her as she neared the end. So, perhaps, in that way, I was present with her.

What I know is that through the year that they tried to find out why Ann was having such digestive issues (which is how the cancer showed itself again without being diagnosed as anything other than acid reflux), and couldn’t find the answer til the end, was because they weren’t supposed to. For whatever reasons, she was done here. While that’s a hard one for her family and friends, I know that’s how the Universe works. You cannot leave before it’s time, and as I learned through reading Home With God, by Neale Donald Walsch, you cannot die against your will (whether it’s a conscious choice or a soul choice), and that no death is ever a tragedy, it is always a gift. She is needed elsewhere now to be an angel to Carson and to fulfill her mission as Spirit. And while I will sorely miss her human presence, I know what the gift is for me: 
I have another dear friend/mentor in my life who is a grief counselor (as am I), and I have spoken with her a couple of times since Annie’s transition. She asked me what Ann’s legacy is to me. Mostly, it is about how she lived her life with the determination that nothing was going to get in her way of what she wanted to do in life – not the cancer, not letting anyone tell her “no” to adopting Carson in her late 40’s, retiring when she wanted to and finding new purpose in her life. She also gifts me with her unwavering ability to stay in a place of grace in the face of the hardships she coped with. And perhaps, most importantly, her absolute devotion to her family and her love of her pets. We were always sharing stories about our cats (and she also had dogs) with each other! The way I can best honor her is to carry these gifts within myself, which keeps her memory alive for me. Looking at Annie’s legacy to me has also left me thinking about the legacy I wish to leave when I am done, and living that way…. I am so grateful. I have been so blessed by her presence in my life.

Journey well, Sweet Annie, and there will certainly be a lot to catch up on when next we see each other! There is a cherished space in my heart where you will reside until then.