Cheryl: A Smile the 1000 words could never portray
Whew. This is a blog that I've been avoiding but know I should write. The one that is stricken with pain and grief over the loss of my friend. But my friend Cheryl was never the type to be stricken with pain and grief even though she walked a road that was riddled with it. I wouldn't say she was naive and avoided all the pain, or didn't allow the sadness in, but she pushed forward. ALWAYS WITH A SMILE.
I wasn't in Cheryl's inner circle of friends who hang out all the time. I am one of many small town friends in the outer circle who cherished and cared for someone has passed on. My grief will not look the same as her cousin Alexa who misses her partner in "crime" and adventure. My grief will look greatly different than her sister Karen. My memories of her will be triggered by occasion rather than the daily emptiness of her closest ally not being here. My heart breaks for Karen, often. I get stuck in, "I don't know what to do," so I do nothing. I don't always think that is helpful. Or the opposite is true with the same result: I fear doing the wrong thing and hurting more than helping, so I do nothing. But nothing isn't good enough, and pity isn't super great either. How do we be empathetic but not pitiful? Help to show compassion and sensitivity without trying to silver line everything? My grief looks nothing like hers and yet it comes in many layers and one doesn't discount the other. I really do not have the right answers, but today rather than doing nothing I'm pushing forward like Cheryl and taking the time to honour a friend and encourage those of you on a similar journey.
Cheryl and I have a long history of friendship, but its a unique small town one. You see Cheryl and I became friends when were in the same homeroom in the 8th grade. We'd sing and quote lines from Little Rascals, "Ive got a pickle, I've got a pickle, I've got a pickle hey hey hey hey" or "Oh~tay." I would sometimes even call her Buckwheat. But what makes our friendship unique isn't a love for Little Rascals; its that even though I wasn't in her inner circle, or she in mine, we would always connect in some way because of our small town and sincere care for one another.
Throughout our growing up years we worked at McDonalds together. Teenagers today just don't understand how super cool it was and the place all of your friends worked. Together along with her sister who trained me in the drive-thru and her cousin who trained me on the grill, and a few other friends we made a fantastic work environment. We'd always check the schedule to see if we were working together and every time we did it was the best way to make some money. One of our crazy schemes was making pyramid O chez when 59 cent cheeseburgers were the thing, and we stacked them into a giant...well pyramid. We had to produce cheeseburgers like Duggers produce children. And Cheryl ALWAYS WITH A SMILE...and laughter.
In high school she was obsessed with the Junior B hockey team and in our shared metal art class I distinctly remember her making a key chain of their logo. Her obsession was also a catalyst for her match making a fellow friend/co-worker with one of the boys. I played basketball during hockey season so didn't have many free weekends to go watch hockey, but I'm certain Cheryl could've won the most faithful fan award. She knew everything about everyone and was at every game. What I could not tell you is who had peaked her interest that made her so committed. Maybe that actually wasn't the case at all, her loyalty knew no bounds so it wouldn't surprise me if she was just being super supportive of her friends.
We graduated and went down different life paths. That would be seemingly it. Our contact points were few and far between and while we were friends, we didn't run in the same circles. However, one thing was always true, whenever I would see Cheryl we would always make a point of connection and while they were few they were meaningful. We had this mutual "lighting up" when we'd make eye contact, and her smile would ignite excitement in my heart because she always brought joy and laughter.
Our first connection point was always the local rodeo. We both volunteered in food booths and every year we'd sit and chat when we weren't on shift. This is typical of our small town: people you don't hang out with on daily basis tend to have a yearly mini reunion, occasionally even seeing people who have moved away. But Cheryl was always someone I looked forward to seeing, because she always invited you in with her smile and unlike most of the other conversations there was an authenticity and depth that went beyond, "How ya doing? or What are you up to?" (or for real...."whatcha upto?") One particular year she expressed how she was going through a difficult time and I just remembering leaning in and seeing if there was anyway I could help. Another time we just reminisced about grade 8. How we had fiefdoms and as peasants we gave our Lord D'Arcy such a hard time. Or when one of our classmates stood up out of nowhere went to the front of the class and started singing "Peaches" by the Presidents of the United States of America. Then there was the incredibly awkward sex ed talk that went beyond acceptably appropriate, but that we would still laugh about. Or she'd remind me how in high school we'd leave and go have lunch at Ron Pettigrew, the Christian school up the road. It was calmer, cleaner, more peaceful and where we had good friends who we simply didn't get to see in class so we made the effort to seek them out. I remember the principal at the time firmly but kindly kicking us out all time because we had over stayed our welcome. All of these things, and many more. I loved talking to her about them all because she was there, she experienced it too and she understood. After she passed this winter I remember thinking that this understanding was one of the many things I will grieve and miss. That my friend who understood the grade 8 me and the stories was no longer here to share them. Now, on the other end of my grade 8 "Paper War" story there would have to be more explanation and not my friend who laughed and nodded in agreement, when we overtook the class. Shared experiences are so powerful and create bonds beyond anything that outside influences can break. I encourage you to cherish the moments you share with those you care about, because while doing it solo can still have a profound impact, it never fills that deep desire for connection. Cheryl was spectacular at this. She lived for adventure and creating memories having these shared experiences. I learned that to be true at a deeper level at her service. (Which honoured her admirably and effectively helping us all mourn and say goodbye in a healthy way.)
Our next connection point was the local skating arena. After I moved home I worked part time at the rink and eventually took a full time position. Cheryl and her Dad were always at hockey games, she was an avid fan of her nieces figure skating, and eventually she was taking her daughter to skating lessons. Needless to say she was often at the rink. Sometimes Cheryl and her daughter were on the go but there was always a minimum: stop by hi. Most times however there was a point of checking in, for both of us. I loved hearing the new adventures of Ameliya through every stage. Such a busy, joyful and loving little girl, just like her mom. I learned that one of the traditions they shared was getting a concession grilled cheese after lessons. So much so the concession ladies nicknamed Ameliya: Cheese. One of the great joys of our little town is that everyone is little like family. And as a rink employee I have also taken to calling her Cheese.
During our rink visits Cheryl would also tell me the other places and adventures she was going on. THIS we had in common...Our love for adventure. We would both excitedly tell of our most recent feats that we had encountered or journey's we'd been on. Again ALWAYS WITH A SMILE. Joy illuminated from every part of her being.
This last year when we all learned that Cheryl was in for the battle of her life with cancer I learned biggest lesson of all...Don't give up. The other is to keep joy in the journey, never let that go. My goal and vision for writing is taking peoples ordinary stories and amplifying the extraordinary in their lives giving other ordinary people hope that their story matters and it counts. Cheryl was truly an extraordinary person. More than just her contagious smile, she was compassionate and caring, helpful and kind, an adventurer, and she had a deep faith and belief that God has her in the palm of His hands. Cheryl believed she was going to be healed and faithfully prayed that and exuded optimism and positivity until her last breath. She wanted to be here, with her family and with her daughter. That wasn't the case. God instead promoted her to Heaven to join her Dad, where there is no doubt that there are no more tears and that her body was fully restored from the cancer that took her life. It doesn't feel like a happy promotion to celebrate for the rest of us. It's somber and mournful, but I know Cheryl would find a way to make us smile anyway. In this season and through her passing she taught me to pray without filters. To pray without the lens of my experience, my hurt and even my adventures. She taught me to pray for the miracle until there's nothing to pray for any more; either they got their miracle or they got their Heavenly promotion. She taught me not to give up and to maintain joy in every circumstance. Grief stricken I write that I am no longer praying for the miracle for Cheryl. She got her promotion. I will pray it for someone else. I will not let the filter of my pain and loss keep me from praying for that miracle that someone else needs. Because like Cheryl I'll push through, I'll not give up and ALWAYS KEEP SMILING.
Professional photographs courtesy of www.littlewhiterosephotography.ca