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LIFE | Life Lemons - Just Add Sugar

Friday, June 26

They say "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Right?

Well I've encountered enough "life lemons" so far this Summer to keep myself sustained on lemonade alone, into the Fall and Winter months as well.

We are only in week three and although I could bore you with the details of

(1) Not having internet service for over 7 days after a neighbor cut my fiber optic line.
(2) Running around like a crazy person with a Summer schedule filled to over-capacity.
(3) Having our house struck by lightning this weekend resulting in no air conditioning, 8 or 9 blown GFI outlets, and most of our major appliances needing to be replaced...

I'm actually choosing not to get into all of that.

I won't focus on those little lemons because there's a far bigger lemon I want to share with you today. A lemon so sour and so bitter that all of those little "life lemons" I mentioned previously seem like minuscule pieces of lemon zest in comparison.

The big lemon I'm talking about is that Ella's preschool teacher from last year lost her battle to cancer on Wednesday, June 10th.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook may have seen the post I shared a week ago about Mary. 

If you didn't read the post, I encourage you to take the time to do so.

I cannot tell you how very sad + conflicted I have been. Mary was diagnosed with Aggressive Triple Negative Breast Cancer back in 2013, beginning chemotherapy in April of 2013. By the time I met her and introduced her to my little Ella pie at the meet-the-teacher in the Fall of 2013, Mary had already lost all of her hair and was wearing a wig. Her pre-K students, including Ella, never knew her hair wasn't real and honestly, I didn't even know until someone else shared with me she was fighting cancer and still had a few more rounds of chemo treatments to undergo.

I don't know all of the details of Mary's ongoing treatments or the specific timeline as to when things occurred but I do know over the course of it all, following the completion of chemotherapy, she had a double mastectomy and then had reconstructive surgery. Mary scheduled her chemo treatments and surgeries in such a way so as not to miss very many days of school. She loved her students and I truly believe she focused her energy on showering them with love and learning. I never once saw a frail teacher trying to hide pain or sickness. I only ever saw a smiling, happy, kind + patient, vibrant woman who truly loved what she did and enjoyed her calling in life. She never let on she was in pain nor did she let any of us know she didn't feel well.

Ella thrived in Mary's class. She looked forward to going to school everyday, loved her teachers (including Ms. Fennel, Mary's wonderful assistant) and really developed a love for learning.

Mary is on the right. Ms. Fennel is on the left.

We finished out a wonderful year with a fun Pre-K graduation party and Mary organized a Pre-K Reunion that same Summer for her students to meet her and Ms. Fennel up at the local High Five Frozen Yogurt. (see below)

Mary is on the right. Ms. Fennel is on the left.

The reunion that Summer provided the opportunity for everyone to swap hugs, share some laughter and spend a little time with each other before the kids entered Kindergarten that Fall.

It's my understanding that some time just after the new school year started in the Fall of 2014, Mary developed a cough which was later determined to be lung cancer. We were all devastated but never did I ever think Mary would not overcome it.

Every time I think of her and her courageous spirit, her beautiful smile and how dear she is to my little Ella, I am brought to tears. And yes, I used the present tense of how dear she "is" not "was" on purpose because truthfully, I cannot bring myself to tell Ella her beloved PreK teacher isn't going to be in the halls of the school this Fall handing out warm hugs to Ella and the rest of the students who were lucky enough to have had her as a teacher.
I. just. can't. tell her.

So here I am...
back to the simple and ever-popular adage:
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

I whole-heartedly agree that we need to
find the good...
look for the silver linings...
count our blessings...
and so on when life gets tough and we are faced with trials + struggles.
Mary was certainly an example of someone who applied this to her own life.

But I have also learned over the last week, through a couple of unexpected twists + turn of events,
oftentimes it takes borrowing "sugar" from your neighbor to turn those lemons into lemonade. 

Let me explain...

The Instagram post about Mary automatically posted to my Facebook page when I originally shared it. Close friends of mine left comments. Friends of friends left comments. Mary's friends left comments. Teachers from the school left comments. Some people shared the post to their own timeline spreading it to even more people. People I didn't even know left comments.

All of a sudden my tiny, insignificant post became a hub of comfort + conversation among people who were hurting. People were looking for consolation and thus formed a sense of community among strangers + friends. This is the SUGAR I'm talking about.

I was in awe and humbled by the 2,500+ people being reached by this one post. I had no idea how far-reaching it would be and that it would resonate with so many that knew Mary. My heart was truly touched and I, personally, felt comfort through connection. Again, SUGAR.

And then....

In the sea of all of the beautiful comments thanking me for sharing my feelings and thoughts and words about Mary, there was a name that caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks...Margaret Shark. 

I recognized the name immediately...Ms. Shark!
The fantastic Pre-K volunteer Ella adored.
The wonderful woman who would show up to the classroom every week to help Mary and her pre-K students with fun craft projects.
Ms. Shark...Mary's mother!!

The rest of the words on the computer screen and frankly the physical world around me melted away as I focused in with a sacred-like reverence on the comment she left:

"I cannot begin to tell you how this touched my heart. I know I posted, but just reread this and got chills. You so nailed my daughter. I am proud to call myself her mom. I know Ella will grow to make you as proud."

As you might imagine, I was in tears.
I felt so humbled and so grateful for her words;
Grateful through the chain of comments and shares on Facebook that my one little post had made its way to Mary's own mother. And even more grateful she "approved" of the words I chose to describe her beautiful Mary. It meant so very much to me. (SUGAR)

Fast forward to Mary's funeral service on Saturday, June 20th.
I decided I would go by myself so J could stay home with Ella.
I've never attended a funeral alone so this decision was not something I was looking forward to. However, my desire to honor Mary and her life strongly outweighed any hesitation I had that might keep me away.
I walked into a church overflowing with people who loved Mary!! (SUGAR)

I was handed a program but didn't look at it right away as I was full focused on the nearly impossible task of finding an empty seat. I managed to make my way over to a partially empty pew on one side of the church. I avoided eye contact with anyone and focused solely on getting to my seat and getting settled and most importantly, maintaining my composure.

Of course, when I finally looked down at the beautiful program and saw a lovely photo of Mary on the front, my plans for composure went right out the door.

I flipped the program over and got lost in the brief summary of Mary's life and the family she left behind...most specifically, her three beautiful children: Jacob, Katherine and Addison. The words I read describing Mary included "brave, loving, grace-filled, giving of her love, she was a positive and contagious spirit, putting the needs of others before her own, a great example, she made an impact on the world and she touched so many lives". The words were all so right and true. (SUGAR)

The sadness of it all was overwhelming and I finally peeled my eyes from the program and looked up. I sat silently watching the slideshow of photos of Mary being projected for everyone to enjoy as we all waited for the service to begin.

Once the music announced the start of the service and we were asked to stand and sing some of Mary's favorite selections, I could scarcely contain my emotion despite my attempts to hold it all in. I felt I could burst at any moment and found myself continuing to fixate my stare on Mary's three children and husband for most of the service. I studied their faces, knowing the excruciating pain in their hearts and knowing all too well the harsh reality that there is only more pain to come and more grief to work through together with all of the "firsts". (the first holiday without her, the first birthday celebration alone, the first Mother's day without a mother by their side, the first day of school this Fall without their mom and so many other life events Mary will now miss). It's all so heart-wrenching.

But there we all were...gathered together on that Saturday afternoon to celebrate Mary's life and pay tribute to a woman who had so much to share...and so much to give...and had so many people who loved her...and she them. (SUGAR)

Following the songs and bible readings and words from the pastor, a young man named Jacob stood before the congregation and bravely shared how Mary's influence and example had touched his own life and the life of his family.

Then Mary's stepdad stood up to speak on behalf of the people who knew and loved her most...her family. He shared warm memories and heartfelt sentiments from Mary's children, her husband, her mother, her stepdad and her brothers.

Just before he ended his comments with one final thought from Mary's mom, I heard him say something along these lines, "A mother of one of Mary's students posted this about Mary...
"Ella's pre-k teacher from last year... "

I recognized the words immediately as my own and sat stunned in silence taking it all in.
I struggled to hold onto the thoughts in my head as they began spinning out of control as I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that Mary's stepdad was sharing my post as part of Mary's memorial service. I could not contain my tears or emotion and just buried my face in my hands, wishing J were there with me to witness what was happening.

I felt a melting pot of emotion in an instant...humbled + grateful + dumbfounded + astonished + completely taken aback + confused + thankful for the SUGAR pouring in on me at that moment.

I was immediately transported in time back to a similar instance when I sat in a funeral service years prior as a high school student.  It was a service for a high school friend named Tim who's life was taken in a tragic automobile accident. I had written a poem in Tim's honor and gave it to his family. His older brother ended up reading it during the funeral service.

It was in that moment of remembrance that I felt an awakening of sorts realizing the impact I've had on others through my ability to convey my feelings and thoughts. It was a quiet and very emotional moment between myself and God. Something inside me came alive as I sat in that church pew despite being surrounded by sadness + loss. For me, there was suddenly a profound awareness that my words have actually provided SUGAR in the lives of those around me.

The service came to a close just as quickly as it had begun.
We all filed out of the doors in quiet reverence to meet on the church lawn for a butterfly release in Mary's honor. I'd left my sunglasses in the car so there was no hiding my tear-stained face or red swollen eyes. I really didn't want to speak to anyone because I knew another round of tears was only a blink or two away but I had several people approach me to acknowledge the fact that they knew I was the one who'd written the post mentioned during the service. (SUGAR)

I tried to thank them genuinely but instead stumbled over my words trying to overcome the awkwardness I felt in that moment knowing I wasn't there to be recognized. I was there to recognize Mary.

As I sat crying in my car before driving home to my family, I felt a slight shift away from the suffocating sadness. Buried beneath the tears and the pain there was without a doubt some underlying healing that took place among the friends and family gathered together that afternoon. (SUGAR)

As I've continued to reflect on that day and all of the beautiful and tough moments associated with it, and as I continue to think of Mary and her kindness and warmth, I've came to the conclusion that we're all just makin' lemonade. Sometimes we are holding the lemons and sometimes we are holding the sugar. It's the coming together that results in the lemonade.

You see, for most of us, when we are found left holding life lemons we usually have to borrow sugar from our neighbor in order to make the lemonade. (friends, family, and positive people in our life).

And then there are those special people, like Mary, who manage to hold an entire bag of lemons while simultaneously sprinkling sugar on the rest of us!

We love and miss you Mary Clemens!! Thank you for your beautiful light!!

And thank YOU ALL who faithfully come back to my blog to read and listen and share with me. YOU add so much sugar to my own life and for that...I am grateful!!

It took me all week long to write this post.
I developed a cold on Sunday and just wanted to stay curled up in a ball on the couch as much as I could. I'm just now feeling better but I still think if I had been feeling myself it would've taken just as long, with all of the emotion tied into it. Do you think that means I should avoid ever taking on the task of writing an actual book? It'd take me YEARS to ever finish it.

One more thing...stay tuned for the "makin' lemonade" art print and t-shirt design I've been inspired to create from all of this. Just my way of turning lemons into lemonade!! More on that to come...

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