Sunday, March 12, 2017

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye

Cancer is the one thing I wish we could obliterate from the world. Simply remove the six-letter word from usage, and keep those who it decimates, impacts, or touches, safe. Why do I have such strong sentiments? This disease has taken four family members and just this week someone special. The world has lost another star to this blight on humanity. One of my closest, dearest friends, has succumbed to her illness.

Members of the Women's Writers group at an event
with romance author Sandra Kitt (center) at the EFCL
I met Sandi at the East Fishkill Community Library almost a decade ago when I finally gathered enough courage to sign-up for the weekly women's writers group that met there. The group consisted of some seeking publication, others writing as a hobby. I had been pursuing a career as an author in the quiet confines of my house for months while raising my three children. I tired of the solitary nature of the art. The group met on Wednesday mornings inside a good-sized room right off the library's entrance. I entered meek and shy, not sure of what to expect, and there she was—this bright ray of light with her short blond hair and smile. She introduced herself and invited me to take a seat.

That day I sat and listened to the voices of the members as they read their offerings. Unaccustomed to being around my peers in such a casual environment, I quickly learned the goings-on of a meeting. Their critiques were honest, some spot-on, others mere suggestions or observations. All were said in kindness. Egos remained outside.

Consequently, I made sure to keep my Wednesday mornings open. I remained quiet for weeks, unsure of how to make my place in this ever-expanding group. One day, as we were leaving, Sandi asked me when was I bringing something in to read. She'd always smile at me from across the table and make me feel welcome. I answered I wasn't sure. From then on, she always inquired about my work and when, not if, I would share it. I had begun working on a paranormal story for young adults so I finally decided to make the jump.

Sandi celebrated her birthday last October with some
of the writer's group at Tiramisu
The following week I brought in around five or six pages of the first chapter. She smiled, seeming generally happy that I had taken that important first baby step. After I read, silence greeted me. Worried my work sucked, I waited for a barrage of comments. What I heard instead was a discussion about my descriptions. Some thought there were too many, others found the details easy to visualize.

First step made.

Their encouragement prompted me to keep on studying, reading, and yes, writing. Sandi commented as we walked out together that she knew the quiet types were always the ones to watch out for. Looking back, I had way too many details, and my beginning was not good, but the group instilled in me, or should I say, enforced, my will to improve.

The day I heard Sandi reading the opening chapters of her young adult novel was the moment when we really clicked. In those opening pages, her main character discovers something life changing. As Sandi read, I felt my own world begin to spin. When she finished and the discussion began, I sat quiet, unable to speak as the world once again settled. Then, when someone questioned the validity of the main character's discovery and wondered if it was realistic, my mouth began to move.

I’d found my voice. 

The same birthday celebration
For years, I kept my own discovery secret—only a handful of my friends knew—and here I was about to open myself up to a group of women I'd only recently met.

I shared my story while Sandi smiled at me from across the table. Afterwards she confided how shocked she was that someone had endured something similar to her character, Sarah, in her novel, Voices in the Wind. That Friday night she called me at home. We talked about many things. She made me feel comfortable, as though we’d known each other for years. Our ‘real’ friendship started that night. From that time, I looked forward to those weekly meetings and her smiling face.

That was over nine years ago.

I learned one of her favorite sayings: everything happens for a reason. She said we met for the simple reason that we were kindred spirits. We shared a love of writing stories for young adults and learning about our craft, QVC, TV mysteries, and so much more. We began having weekly lunches, speaking on the phone, and then came the trips and excursions away from the group.

So much of my writing journey has been spent with the one person who became my cheerleader, my champion, my rock of support. We did so much together from attending workshops, classes, other writing events, book signings, conferences, and retreats. We traveled down to Manhattan for an agent's event, up to Lake George for a weekend retreat, and to Connecticut for the yearly Unicorn Writers Conference. We also joined the SCBWI and attended their local events. When our own writing group held readings, we went to read our own works and support one another.

We met James VanPraagh
Sandi was a serious foodie and told me about some of the best restaurants in the Hudson Valley. Every occasion usually ended with our having coffee and a meal somewhere, chatting about what had gone on, our individual experiences, and our joint opinions. We shared an easy camaraderie and our friendship never wavered. I discovered she believed, like I did, in mediums and psychics so naturally we included them in our litany of excursions whenever we could. We went to a dinner event with a local medium in Beacon, saw and met James Van Praagh, and experienced the incredible Chip Coffey at separate events, besides other trips.

We went to see mediums Julia and Rebecca
 at Miss Fanny's house at least three times
There were many things to like, admire, and love about my friend. Sandi had a huge heart, was fiercely loyal, extremely thoughtful and selfless. She loved her husband and her family, and was incredibly proud of her kids and grandchildren. When her father became ill, she took over the care of not only him but his home and affairs. She did everything and more.

There are also many things for which I will remember her, especially for her quick wit, her telling it like it was, and her humor. Sandi had a great sense of humor. Sometimes I was afraid to look at her because I knew she'd make me burst out into giggles. She always found something to break the moment with, to make others relax and smile.

She could read my face like any family member. Over the years, she got to know me so well. She welcomed me into her home, and I met her wonderful family. In the summer, she'd invite my family over so the kids could use her pool, and her husband would barbecue. She was a fantastic cook and always liked to share new recipes with me. With our writers group, she became the birthday planner, always remembering someone's birth date, and she'd arrive with a box of donuts, a card, and a scratch-off.

Sandi had a natural rapport with people. Feeling alone at a gathering? Staying quiet in a group of strangers? Those things didn't happen when she was around. She did it with me—she broke me out of my self-imposed shell and let me see how easy it was to greet others, to offer a kind word, to put one's self 'out there' and live. She might not have been a tall person but her soul, her spirit, was tremendous.

Sandi and I had lunch up at Hudson, NY, during a
SCBWI summer event with Chris Cheng
We met over words in a room filled with other like-minded souls. I hope my words here remember you sufficiently. Of course, a post cannot do you justice but simply sitting here and remembering all our good times, our laughs, the cups of coffee and road trips is cathartic. It's easier to smile through my tears.

When I remember you, Sandi Gallagher, I will not remember the woman in the sick bed. I will think of everything we shared. Of your kind heart and generous nature, and how things always felt better around you, especially when you smiled.

I will always remember you, Sandi, as the vibrant person you were, and for being one of my very best friends. I hope you get to meet a real angel in heaven and see all those you lost. When my time comes, I hope we can reconnect over coffee with a smile and a laugh. Who knows, maybe heaven has a bookstore or a shopping channel?

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye. You are already missed.

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