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It was quite possibly her first day back to work after just giving birth to Holland at the beginning of October. It was November 13, 2013, and I had just showered post birth and was walking around my hospital room when suddenly there she was, exuberantly appearing at my door, the first to see my sweet baby Ashlyn. And, of course, in hand was not one-but two-bags of supplies to be sure to take home.

A few years before, Her brother, Jake, had told us to be sure to keep an eye out for her at the River. We met in the sunny golden narthex of the church when it was on Bronson park, both of us with our pregnant bellies.

Next, she was there to care for and bless my little ones by babysitting when I needed some quiet respite and a hopeful opportunity to stretch my parched brain and creativity-first, when those babies in our bellies when we met where then toddlers. We then each found out we were again pregnant and encouraged each other week by week through seasons of nausea and growth. Then, again she blessed me and my girls with care when we each had two toddlers…and she threw a foster baby (and ducks at some point?!) into the mix as well. Side note: It was also fun to see a glimpse of Jake every now and again, too, in her mannerisms.

She was steady bright relief to me as a young, severely depressed and undersupported mom-although I didn’t realize the reality of those two things at the time. Unprompted, texting me after dropoff assuring me my toddler had settled and was playing after an intense parting. I had a spouse who was regularly traveling, and so much aspiration myself to be doing more than mothering and surviving. I never really did get there then, which I was always sheepish about. But she eagerly and graciously supported me all the while.

So then when I had been gone out to Gun Lake from 2015-2018 and I was newly back in Kalamazoo…and quite anxious to reengage with any of the community I had had there as I had just moved out of my house and was getting a divorce. I felt a level of embarrassment and was mostly fearful no one would believe me.

I was curled up at the Oshtemo library late one Thursday afternoon prepping questions for my discussion group, and saw her and her crew passing through. I actually think I heard them before seeing them-lol. I confided in her the news of my divorcing. She didn’t bat an eye. Her response was-that she trusted who I was and that if that needed to happen, it needed to happen.

I had literally no idea of the level of good reputation and rapport I might have until she responded the way she did. What a huge fear relived and confidence that gave me as I carried on.

When I saw the fundraising page this fall, I didn’t want to believe and accept this. The prognosis seemed quite clear. She would not remain here long. All I could think was-but we Need Her. So much distinct influence for women’s health in our community. Don’t take that one. Denial, bargaining: in comparison, we don’t need me, take me instead. Same with the funeral today. I was dragging getting out the door because going would be admitting she is no longer here. It’s unfathomable to face.

I never understood why and how she could blast through life, more babies, more care, more education, more baking, the lake, the ski hill—I didn’t know she had to fit 100 years into 33. I’m so glad she knew to pack in life at at least 3 times the rate. I’m so glad she got to be so fully and beautifully herself.