This was supposed to be about my best friend’s mother, but then it became more about the best friend that mother gave me. And then it became about mothers, and friends, and family. Basically, this post goes on a ride, so get on. Also…this is probably the most serious I’ll ever get on this blog. I’ll be back to posts about trivial crap later.
My best friend’s mother is dying.
I think on a subterranean level, the one in our minds that we never let ourselves get to – the one that keeps you up at night – we know that these sorts of days will come. It’s the natural way of the world, the parents going before the children.
Doesn’t make it less horrible.
When I was about eight years old, Gampel Pavilion had much more lax rules about letting kids play on the court after basketball games. My mom would let me run around and shoot hoops while she tracked down my dad after press conferences. Until my brother was old enough to join in, this usually meant I was standing at an empty hoop, throwing balls into the net, quite content to be by myself.
Slowly I became aware of a girl standing near me. I don’t remember if she was holding a basketball or not, but she had made her way over to me and seemed intent on getting my attention. Now, I was an oblivious kid but I knew if someone wanted to be my friend, so I gave her a smile. She grinned a big wide grin that bordered on euphoric. “Want to shoot hoops?”
She had on an oversized basketball shirt, much like mine. Clearly we shared flawless early 90s fashion sense. “Sure!” I said, flipping her a ball. We played and talked. She had an “up for literally anything” energy that I, as a somewhat paradoxically ‘extroverted introvert’ lacked. We talked until our mothers yanked us apart to go home. “I met a friend!” I gleefully exclaimed to my mom. And that’s how I met my best friend Chelsea.
That day was also the day I met Chelsea’s mom, Nance. I could be wrong, but I think it was Nance who said “Go talk to that girl and ask if she wants to play!”
Nance is a towering presence of a woman, but her mama-bear tendencies hide a mammoth heart. She’s an invincible monolith of awesome. She’s indestructible. She’s Nance.
I quickly fell in love with the entire family and wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. Chelsea and I had sleepovers nearly every weekend, either at her house or mine. If it was at her house, we’d eat pizza and play the LARP board game Tales of the Crystals (Youtube it, it’s GLORIOUS) and Nance would tell us to be a bit quieter. If it was at my house, we’d hang out in the basement or run around the backyard while my brother would tell us to shut up.
Then, things happened. Nothing bad, just a drifting apart that can happen sometimes with young friends. Chelsea lived in a different school district and she and I went off to high school and college apart. What with one thing and another, we didn’t speak for ten years.
But I saw Nance. Or, more specifically, I heard from Nance. That presence doesn’t have to come from being around her physically. She infiltrates.
Almost like clockwork, every three or four months, my Mom would come home and say “Hey, guess who I ran into today? Chelsea’s mom! She said she misses you, and to get in touch with Chelsea!” Now keep in mind this is pre-Facebook, so every time my Mom came to me with this information I would say “I don’t have her number! Next time you see her, get Chelsea’s number!” But I remember thinking how nice it was that Nance kept thinking about me. I also thought about how cool Nance and Chelsea’s relationship was – it was a friendship, but also the type of strong connection that a mother and daughter should strive to share.
This routine of Mom telling me she saw and talked to the mom of my best friend without getting me in touch with said best friend continued for I think FIVE YEARS until we got our shit together and friended each other on Facebook. We chatted through AIM and Facebook for about a year until she came to see me in a musical with her parents. It was like no time had passed at all.
That was five years ago. Chelsea and I became inseparable again; she was instrumental in helping me acclimate when I moved to New York and calmed me down when I had to move back. We blasted Miley Cyrus in the car unapologetically, went to several concerts, drove to the beach several times, and biked and danced and laughed and cried together. I cheered her on during her exams in law school, and she celebrated with me when I got into graduate school and passed the MA exam. She’s the first person I texted when I met the boyfriend, and I helped her through several boy pitfalls before she fell in love with the awesome Dave.
Through it all, Nance was a presence. Maybe not directly in front of us, but a presence nonetheless.
On May 30th, Chelsea and I were texting back and forth about the house she was going to be purchasing at the Jersey Shore; to any Italian kid with Philly roots, this is the ultimate dream and I was jealous as hell of her accomplishment. She was talking about how Nance was organizing all of it and that they had been going back and forth about decorations (did I mention Nance is a badass decorating wizard?).
I was texting her about dress ideas for a wedding I was going to that weekend, and sent her a picture of a dress with the caption I’m thinking about this one?
She texted me back an hour later telling me Nance had been airlifted to Hartford Hospital. She had suffered a stroke that morning at work.
I froze. I think I went through the entire Kubler-Ross grief model in five minutes – mixed in with a NOT NANCE – but the ones that keep coming back to me over and over are shock and anger. I didn’t know what to do. I texted her back to keep me posted, and then texted a few more people in my family so they could start praying as hard as they could for her. The more people, the more hope.
I waited for updates. They came in slowly, and the heartbreak and sadness and overwhelming grief in the emails by Chelsea to her close friends ripped me in half. There were a lot of days I’d just lay in bed and cry, but then tell myself to get over it because it wasn’t even my mother going through it. But then I’d think about my own mom going through this sort of trauma and then I’d be off again. The mind sucks sometimes.
The emails were bleak – the stroke was really, really bad – but there were nuggets of hope sprinkled throughout. Chelsea even found the strength to joke during the emails. I began to think we could perhaps move out of the darkness. Every small thing – a hand grab, a tear rolling down a cheek, a head movement – I clung to all of it. Because, of course, there was no way Chelsea would lose her mom this young.
But about two weeks ago, Chelsea told us Nance would be moved to palliative care. The stroke was too much. Too much damage. Too much for even a warrior like her to handle. Nance would not have wanted to keep her life going in the state it was in. The course of action was to make her comfortable and keep her in that state for the next 2-3 weeks, the amount of time doctors estimated Nance had left.
I thought about Chelsea having to deal with the incomprehensible loss of her mother so quickly. I thought about what I could do for her – cards, visits, text messages – and every suggestion that popped up was dismissed as not being enough, ever, because what could bring Chelsea back her mother? I thought about my parents, my other best friend Connie’s parents, my boyfriend’s parents, pretty much every set of parents I know in my immediate friend group and there’s only been one or two divorces and a few deaths.
We just think we have so much time with each other.
I pulled myself out of the car to go grocery shopping – I needed to do something mundane, like mentally debate which brand of almond milk to buy, so I didn’t crumple into a ball and wail. And then I thought about what I could do for Chelsea, or for Nance, or their whole family, that would mean something.
Whenever life has been almost too much to handle, my instinct is to write.
I crawled back into my car and sat there for a little while, crying intermittently. But I mostly remembered a night in October 2009, when I got us tickets to go see Kelly Clarkson a few years ago at Mohegan. It was me, Chelsea, Connie, and Nance, who is a HUGE Kelly fan. Nance was awesome, driving us all down to the casino and debating pop singles with us like a friggin’ pro. We debated Kelly’s albums – Chelsea and Nance still strongly believe her best is My December – and whose music holds up more, NSYNC or Backstreet Boys (sadly, I have to say BSB won that one). The whole time I kept thinking Chelsea’s mom is so. goddamn. cool.
As I sat there in the car I realized that night we partied at Mohegan at the Kelly concert was the last time I’ll ever see Nance. That’s the last memory I have of her.
And you know what? I think that’s the best tribute I can give to her. I have a last memory of Nance that is vital, and fun, and strong, and maternal, and basically everything Nance was. And is.
If I didn’t have an AWESOME Mom, I’d want a Mom just like Nance. But if Nance were my mom, I wouldn’t have Chelsea.
So basically, this blog is to say thank you Nance. Thank you for everything you’ve done for every person whose life you’ve touched – and you’ve impacted a lot of lives, personally and professionally.
But for me personally, Nance?
Thanks for giving me my best friend. Thanks for telling her to go up to me that day twenty years ago.
Thank you for everything.
PS. Chelsea has written a beautiful essay dedicated to her mother that says a lot of things I couldn’t even scratch the surface of here. Go read it. Do it.