Keeping Girlfriends Close…While They’re Here

KelliWengerMany of you know that I’ve been vacationing in Maine, near Acadia National Park, for about 20 years. For the past ten years Joseph and I have rented the same little cottage in Town Hill on Mt. Desert Island. The people who run it, Kelli and Ollie, have been great. Ollie, now in his 70’s, is a warm, kind, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. And his spouse, Kelli, shares an August birthday with Joseph; she was 60 last year.

During our stays, Joseph and I would often see Kelli or Ollie or both during the day. We would be on our way to a hike or some other vacation activity while they would be changing towels, mowing grass or doing some other chores.

For the past few years, Kelli and Ollie have invited us to their house for cocktails some time during our stay. We always have a great time with great conversation and a lot of laughs…and, I think, Joseph and I always stay way too long…but it’s because we’ve really enjoyed Kelli and Ollie’s company.

View of Clarks Cove from Windward Cottage
View of Clarks Cove from Windward Cottage

To me, Kelli has been a kindred spirit. We talked often about getting older but still feeling like we’re kids. And losing weight…well, at least about needing to diet. We could talk for a long time about our love of plants and, one year, Kelli gave me a cutting from a lipstick plant – something I’d never seen but had admired while at her house. When it got its first “lipstick” bloom, I excitedly emailed Kelli. We were both surprised that it bloomed that quickly. I think of her every time I water it. And we’d exchange Christmas and New Year’s card and keep up with each other through facebook. It was sporadic contact but always enjoyable.

One winter Kelli sent this picture of Ollie shoveling snow off cottage#5 ("our cottage")
One winter Kelli sent this picture of Ollie shoveling snow off cottage#5 (“our” cottage)

Last week I got mail from Windward Cottages. I thought it was a reminder to send a deposit for this year’s stay. It wasn’t.

Instead, I’m sad to say, it was a letter from Ollie telling us that Kelli passed away. It seems that, in late February, Kelli was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She didn’t respond to treatments and decided to stop them. She died on June 2. Her “service of remembrance” is today.

When I first got the shocking news, and it started to sink in, I found myself thinking of some of our conversations over the years. I could her laugh in my head and feel the warmth she exuded, even during the simplest of exchanges.

But, for the life of me, I cannot remember my last conversation with Kelli. I think it was as we were leaving the cottages on our way home. Joseph and I usually stopped to say goodbye and give Kelli and Ollie a goodbye/see you next year hug. That’s probably what happened…passing by the office on a Friday afternoon with a packed car and our minds on the trip home. And fully expecting that we’d see her and Ollie again…and when we did, it would be the same as always.

And don’t we always think like that? That we’ll have that next time…and it’ll be as good as the last time. BUT, especially by midlife, we know that change is the only constant, and the best thing we can do is treasure the people we love when we’re with them.

So, in Kelli’s honor, here’s what I want to leave you with this week: forget all those people in your life who are complaining or miserable or who treat you as “less than” and “not enough” – and you know who those people are. Forget them and let them find their way out of your life. Instead of wasting physical, mental and emotional energy on them, make a list of all the people in your life who make up the good stuff of your life. Go through your phone book or email or facebook and write – literally write down – their names. Maybe give a call to someone you haven’t talked to…and take a second to be grateful for all the blessings of your friends, whether they’re near and far.
As Kelli’s family, spouse,Ollie, Kelli’s son and daughter, Ollie’s sons, and grandson, Brian (who lit up Kelli and Ollie’s life) are gathering today, I’m with them in spirit. Though I posted something in the “book of memories” with the funeral home, the best one was from someone else, who said, “We had a visit with Kelli during her last weeks. She was, as we have always known her to be, a graceful, compassionate, and dignified lady aware of the beauty that blessed her and that she blessed in return.” Yep, that was Kelli. I know she is resting in peace with love…and she’ll be missed by everyone who knew her.

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