For this post, I dedicate my song “Beside Me Always” to Sandra Callahan. Click the blue link to play audio:
She’s gone . . .
I whispered those words, hoping they would stick and force my disbelief to scatter like leaves in the wind. Throughout my day, I kept wondering where she was; death was such a mystery for me.
I could still remember her wise and loving voice. I reminded myself that she lived far away from me and the time where we actually met was so brief. My loss was minuscule compared to how her family felt. Yet, she had made such an impact on me. And I knew it was that way for many other friends in her life, too.
I prayed that perhaps if I listened carefully she might communicate with me somehow. I closed my eyes and longed to hear her sweet wisdom permeate the silence.
In 2010, I joined the world of blogging. I had no real expectations of what it meant to be a blogger as I poured out my heartfelt feelings into cyberspace.
It was probably about two years later when I had the urge to explore and read other blogs. The topic that I used for my search was grief.
I found a blog about a mother in South Africa whose only daughter was dying from a horrible disease. Another blog was about a wife in Australia coping as her husband declined from Parkinson’s. And then there was a blog written by a woman named Sandra who was terminally ill; I discovered her because she left such caring comments on the other two blogs.
Despite these sad topics, getting to know these very real women and reading about their lives touched me. I found a new kind of family and felt close to them.
Sandra had congestive heart failure and had already outlived her doctor’s expectations. Her words always touched and inspired me. She had a way of celebrating life that was contagious.
Unlike my other two blogging friends (Tersia in South Africa and Julie in Australia), Sandra lived in the United States. I was in California and she was in Georgia.
When Sandra mentioned she was coming out to California for a vacation in Yosemite, I grabbed the opportunity to meet my blogger friend. Yosemite was such a beautiful place to visit and only a seven-hour drive from where I lived in Los Angeles.
Our time together in Yosemite was very brief, but special. It gave me a beautiful opportunity to put a face and voice to her sensitive words.
During the trip, Sandra was not well because the altitude affected her heart. We ate a few meals together and I looked forward to playing my guitar for her. But each time we planned to meet, she had to cancel and rest.
On the last night, she came into an Internet room late at night (where I was) to check for messages. No one else was in the room but us – so I asked her if I could grab my guitar and play for her and Chris.
I was nervous but excited. The crackling fireplace and sparkling Christmas tree made a beautiful stage for me.
I started out by playing a familiar song – I chose an outdoorsy one by John Denver. The acoustics in the room were lovely and my voice felt open and light. When I finished, Sandra said, “Now I want to hear an original song of yours!”
I thought for a moment and then chose my song “Beside Me Always.”
The room was quiet except for light pops in the fireplace. My voice floated and I felt so connected to my lyrics that I almost cried. I strummed the last chord and waited as it rang softly for several seconds.
Then Sandra imparted words that would stay with me forever. Those words are in blue toward the end of this story.
The experience that night gave me a lot of insight about where I wanted to go with my music. I had much more confidence to sing my own lyrics from my heart after that.
After our lovely meeting at Yosemite in 2013, Sandra and Chris invited me to visit them in Georgia. Even though I seriously considered it, I was not able to push myself to plan the trip. My youngest son was graduating high school, my dry eyes were bothering me and my impending divorce after a long marriage had me very stressed.
When I was finally ready to make the trip, Sandra felt it would be best for me to come when the weather was cooler in the fall. Then she asked me to wait until after Christmas, in January.
I sent her a private message saying that I was willing to come and simply hold her hand anytime she gave the word – but she didn’t reply. I understood because she had significantly declined before the holidays.
On her very last blog post two weeks ago, Sandra seemed aware that death was coming closer. Breathing was difficult and she was tethered to an oxygen tank.
I felt a pang in my heart when she wrote: “A friend living in another state whom I wanted so much to come visit was not able to due to my serious health change.”
I realized that was her way of saying goodbye to me.
I learned so much from Sandra. She found the love of her life after many years of great disappointment. Her husband, Chris adored her.
Everything she wrote on her blog was meaningful. She expressed how grateful she was to know that she would leave this earth surrounded by deep love. I was told that Chris held her as she took her last breath.
Even though in 2010 I knew little of what to expect from blogging, later on I began to look forward to every comment I received from my blogging friends. Because they read my innermost thoughts, they actually knew me in ways my family did not.
I could always count on Sandra to find the essence of my story and impart loving words back to me. Her words always caused me to grin and warmed my soul. From her, I learned how important it was to write caring comments to others – it was a human connection that could truly make a difference.
One of her very last comments to me was this one:
“Judy, I remember the change in your whole being when you stopped playing someone else’s music and started playing your own. I felt it run through my body and touch my heart and soul.
As always your words comfort me. My concern is how those I love are going to handle my leaving. You know Chris and how close we are. Just a couple of hours ago he told me I can’t leave him. I keep hoping he will reach a point of release, but I don’t think that is going to happen until he has to.
You are a remarkable woman and friend. Meeting you was a moment in time that I treasure and I am still hoping to see you again. I cannot think of anything more uplifting than listening to you play, sing and tell your story. To think that you traveled all the way to Yosemite to visit with us is amazing. And then to have you give such a personal and private concert, it was a gift I will never forget.
You are one of the bravest people I know and I am so inspired and proud of you, my friend. I hope you have gained even half of what I have been gifted with your friendship and love.”
Sandra’s Blog: http://thedrsays.org
Other stories on my blog about Sandra:
I plan to share more of her inspiring words on another story soon.
© 2016 by Judy Unger http://www.myjourneysinsight.com. 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.