A picture of us taken at a folk dancing weekend before I was married.

“It’s hard for me to realize that she’s gone.”

I was in my bathroom getting ready. I noticed that the second memory box needed the cover adjusted. However, I lifted it up instead and peeked inside. I had thought that I went through both boxes. I realized that I hadn’t actually gone through this second box.

It wasn’t the right time to look through it – I needed to get ready. However, I grabbed a stack of cards and quickly glanced through them. I saw a few were from Cheryl. I decided to take them with me so I could share them with her mother.

Yesterday, I visited with Cheryl’s mother, Blanche. Cheryl was my best friend from college who died two years ago from breast cancer. It was at least six years since I had seen her mother. After Cheryl died, her mother told me she was unable to speak with me because her grief was too intense. I called Blanche’s son (Cheryl’s brother) many times, but he told me Blanche wasn’t ready to speak with me yet.

I waited two years. Last week, I decided to reach out; I went ahead and called Blanche directly. We made a plan for me to drive out and visit. Blanche, is almost 88 years old. Cheryl used to confide a lot in me about their relationship. Her mother was a worrier, and Cheryl had a lot of difficulty not sharing things with her mother that might cause her to be upset.

Because I didn’t see Cheryl very often, the grief process has been strangely unemotional for me. I simply have imagined that Cheryl’s still living far away. It’s hard for me to realize that she’s gone. I have had a difficult time accepting my friend’s death. My music has reminded me very much of her, and I want to begin grieving her.

My visit with Blanche was very sweet. After looking at pictures of Cheryl’s children, I shared with Blanche a few of the poignant, email messages that were responses to my blog posts (#92-#97). Blanche had not been able to figure out how to see my blog on her computer. I handed her a stack of printed sheets with all of the ones about Cheryl printed out for her to read.

I also shared the few cards I had found before I left. One card really spoke to our rift. The card was a thank you from Cheryl; she appreciated the support I gave her after her father’s death.

After Cheryl was married, we didn’t speak for almost three years. We reconnected the day of her father’s funeral. She called me was that day, and it was the same day that Jason was released from the hospital. Jason was nine days old and very sick with a congenital, heart defect.

She wrote on her card, “It is unfortunate that our crises’ have helped renew our friendship – but it’s always when people are in their greatest time of need that they are able to put past conflicts behind them. My father’s death helped me realize what is most important to me and your friendship is among those things.”

I told Blanche I wanted to share some special songs I had written for Cheryl. I brought out my guitar. Each special song I played held a lot of meaning for me. My eyes were closed as I sang and tried to conjure up Cheryl next to me. However, I was unable to feel her. While I was playing, I could hear the sniffling and emotion from Blanche sitting across from me.

If I had conjured up Cheryl’s presence, I wouldn’t have been able to play the last song. It was a song where Cheryl had written the lyrics for me. Only a week ago, I sobbed and was unable to play it. However, I was detached as I sang the song. Blanche was softly crying and having difficulty maintaining her composure. It was time for me to stop.

Before we left to go out to dinner, we looked together at Blanche’s computer. I showed her how to view my blog. Blanche visibly glowed and was teary eyed as she shared with me her talented granddaughter’s theatre performance. There was a lot of sadness for me knowing that Cheryl did not get to witness it.

Blanche really became choked up when she shared Cheryl’s son Facebook page. Not too many teenagers have their mother’s picture representing them on Facebook.

Our dinner was lovely, and I even had low-calorie ice cream before I left. Blanche had cookies, chocolate, and all kinds of treats for me – but it was easy for me to resist. I am not into food anymore. Blanche would not let me leave without the ice cream, and she was visibly enjoying our visit. I was enjoying it, too.

I drove home, and thought about how Cheryl would have been so glad that I had spent that time with her mom. Her mom was managing very well considering the effects of grief and her age.

I came home exhausted and realized that emotional drain was probably the reason. I collapsed into bed, but it was still early. I decided to sort through more items from that second, memory box while I was in bed.

I found the card where Cheryl wrote of her discovery she had breast cancer. It was heartbreaking for me!

Why had I only now found this card? Inside was a picture of her with her three, young children. It was after her youngest child was born, that her breast cancer was discovered.

Then I came across a long hand-written note from Cheryl. As I read it, I began to feel the familiar ache of grief. It was not only familiar; it was welcomed. She was with me the rest of the evening as I cried and cried.

A picture taken in 2002 during one of Cheryl’s visits.

Cheryl’s Note from January, 1997

Dearest Judy,

How are you managing? I hope you got the package I recently sent you. I have to apologize to you. I just recently opened the package you sent me. I thought it was just filled with my old letters. Little did I know what a special package it was.

First of all, let me thank you for the wonderful book. I had actually been waiting to borrow it from a friend at work. When I saw it my eyes lit up. Stories of others who have “survived” cancer are so inspirational to me. I, too, feel like a stronger person for having survived this experience. For the first time in my life I am learning to value my life and enjoy taking care of myself.

I listened to the funeral tape you sent. That was such an emotional experience for me. I cried at the thought of you struggling to take care of a sick child and the pain you experienced and continue to experience. I feel so sad that I live so far away and that our lives are so different – I just want to hug you. As I listened, I felt your pain coming through, but also your strength. You are so eloquent and wise. I’ve been thinking about your insights, your voice, your experiences every day since I heard the tape. I want to pass it along to someone at work who lost a child. I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with me. I bet if Jason knew all that his mom does to help others, he would feel proud. I know I feel proud just knowing you.

I hope I’m not babbling or sounding trite – I’m finding it hard to express my feelings about this.

Please let me know how you are doing. How does it feel to have another child around the house?

I’m doing well. I’ll try and send you a recent picture of us – hopefully you can do the same.

Love, Cheryl

Once again, I feel the relief. Another “anniversary of the heart” has passed. Every year it has been this way, and I imagine it will continue to be. However, now that my tears have returned, I am connected to life once again.

Below is something I wrote for a memorial booklet made for Cheryl’s family by a friend:



I met Cheryl in July of 1978. We attended the Brandeis-Bardin Institute’s month long summer retreat for college students. Cheryl and I actually became close after that experience, during the reunions.

Something about Cheryl changed my life; she was different from any other friend I’d had before. She was so enthusiastic and it was so much fun to be with her. I was enraptured with her genuine passion for life, and so it heightened sharing everything we did together. We sang songs, we went Israeli dancing, we spent long days at the beach, we went on amazing hikes, we had sleepovers and slumber parties, and sometimes we did all of this on the same day! I can still picture her smiling and dancing the Israeli dances with her enthusiastic bounce and head up high. Usually, both of us would be sunburned from the beach and our red skin would have us both moaning in pain. When we got home late at night, we would secretly raid the refrigerator. Once when we were “caught,” we hid the chicken under us while sitting on the couch at 2 a.m.!

When we didn’t have sleepovers, we would often call each other in the middle of the night and giggle over the magnificent details of our adventures. Cheryl went on week long vacations with my family in Carpinteria (near Santa Barbara) – we chuckled for many years about the time I coerced her to climb some rocks near the beach, only to scramble off terrified when a dog came after us. I made her go swimming with me in the ocean; she put her arms around my neck in terror when some particularly huge waves started coming in. She trusted me, and I am lucky that I didn’t get her into too much trouble. The closest call was the concert we attended at the Greek Theatre (an outdoor arena). We went to watch Barry Manilow, and we sat in the wooded area behind the arena; an area we had to hike to. After the concert, as we were climbed down, Cheryl slipped on the hillside; shrieking as she hurtled all the way down the hill and landed in a pile of leaves. She was covered with dirt from head to toe! I can laugh about this, but I’m crying inside because I can no longer share these anecdotes with Cheryl.

We were so close, and when I met my future husband, we often all hung out together. She was my maid of honor, and I was her matron of honor. However, after Cheryl and I got married, those years of carefree fun and late night phone calls came to an end. We stayed in touch intermittently, and whenever Cheryl came to L.A. we would reunite. Cheryl was genuinely compassionate and caring, even though we didn’t speak for years at a time. I regret that I wasn’t able to be there for her during her illness, but I knew she understood.  She touched so many others, as she did me; I felt relieved to know what wonderful support she did have. I knew she would be an amazing mother and wife, and it’s obvious that she was.

I will always miss my “sparkling” Cheryl, and will forever treasure all of our fantastic adventures. She was such a special friend and I’m grateful for our special friendship.

© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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