November 9th is a date that sticks out in my mind for several reasons:
1) It is the day that I became a vegetarian...14 years ago!
2) It's the day that the Berlin Wall fell down: Ich liebe Deutschland!
3) Most recently and most bittersweet, it is the day of the death of a good friend of mine, Lisa. That's what the rest of this blog is going to be about.
Lisa began working at SLES at the same time I did. She and I taught 3rd grade right next to each other and muddled through the difficulties of being a first year teacher. We depended on each other for our sanity! She was in remission after having a rare form of bone cancer, and things were looking really good for her and her husband. They adopted a baby at birth named Will, who is a beautiful little boy with a full head of curly brown hair!
Things began to fall apart in the spring of Lisa's second year of teaching. She had some pain checked out at the doctor and they found that her cancer was back. She went through some radiation that didn't do anything to the tumor. After weighing the options of whether to operate or try to shrink it by doing chemo again, Lisa decided to have a very dangerous and experimental surgery. They were going to be removing her sacrum where the tumor was (which basically holds up your spine) and replacing it with an artificial piece. In order to do this, the surgeons would first have to "unhook" all of her major organs. It would be a very long 2 day surgery, and her chances of survival were very slim. If she did live, she would have to learn to walk again--if she did at all.
We didn't find a lot of this information out until afterwards, and I think that is because Lisa didn't want people to try to talk her out of it! She loved Will with all of her heart and wanted a chance to watch him grow up. She knew that the chemo wouldn't save her. This surgery was pretty much her only chance, even though it was a slim one.
To our shock and horror, Lisa died during surgery. I remember the phone call vividly. It was November 9, 2005, and I was getting ready for school. Jen, my teammate and phone-chain buddy, was on the phone. My first thought was that it wasn't snowing, so why was she calling?? It didn't even occur to me that this could be about Lisa, because she was going to be fine. The surgery would be hard, but she was strong and she'd make it.
I remember Jen's exact words: "Julie, Lisa didn't make it." It took me a minute to comprehend what that meant, and then I remember tearing up and Matt trying to figure out what was wrong. I distinctly remember leaning against the door jam to the bathroom and then sliding down to the floor. I just couldn't believe it. I'd never had a friend die before, and a good friend at that.
I am really not sure how I made it through that day. I do remember that no one would/could make eye contact with the third grade team that day. Everyone seemed to avert their eyes when we came around, like they didn't want to be reminded of their own sadness. I also remember attempting to tell my class the news, and having to buzz the office to have a grief counselor come down. I really wanted to tell them myself, and I wasn't impressed with the impersonal tone the counselor took with the whole thing. I guess you become numb after a while, but I didn't like how casually she told my class that Mrs. Western had died.
Our team really stuck together after that, and I definitely feel a bond with those ladies even now that I am teaching 4th grade. We all love and miss Lisa, and I do think about her often. I have a picture of her with her sweet boy Will that was taken just a few days before she died. We'd gone over to visit her before they left for New York, and I took some pictures for her (it was also Will's first birthday). Had I known that this would be the last time I'd ever talk to her, I might have said something deeper or more sincere. I think I said something trivial like "good luck, and we'll be thinking about you." How insignificant do those words sound now!
It was even harder receiving the thank you card for Will's birthday gift several weeks later. She had written them on the train to NY before her surgery, and her husband had a hard time getting them to us at first. I still have that note. I will never get rid of it.
At her viewing, they had a letter that Lisa had written to her husband and left at home for him to find in case things went wrong. It was the saddest, sweetest, most sincere letter I have ever read, and I can't imagine her grief while writing it.
At her funeral, the third grade team clung to each other and cried...a lot. The worst part was when they played "Seasons of Love." I am a huge Renthead to begin with, and that song totally described Lisa's last year. She poured more love into that year than most people do in a lifetime.
Knowing Lisa, she wouldn't have wanted to spend her life in a wheelchair. She spent the time she had left LOVING Will enough to last his whole life, encouraging her friends and telling them not to worry, and instilling as much wisdom into her students as she could.
She was quite a lady, and she was loved by many.
I miss you Lisa!