An unexpected gift

Gary Gruber photo of pigeons.
Pigeons.

After we picked up Olive from boarding and unloaded the car, I went to the post office. That was Thursday after a nine-hour drive from Christmas in Santa Barbara. I was exhausted because I have anxiety on freeways and we started the trip home at 5:30 a.m. in the dark in the middle of storm. I could tell my husband, who is normally cool, was having a tough time with the drive until we left Los Angeles freeways and headed towards Palm Springs and the rain subsided. Nine hours of driving and riding in the car is bad enough without bad weather.

I was bleary-eyed at the post office and I discovered four slips for packages in my P.O. Box. I was surprised to see a flat package from Gary Gruber. He’s a photographer who I worked with during my PR career in the 80s and 90s. His wife was my boss and we shared an office for several years. She became one of my close friends and is my daughter’s Godmother.

Pool hose photo by Gary Gruber showing beautiful patterns
Pool hose photo by Gary Gruber.

When I got home, I tossed the mail and packages on my desk, but opened the flat package. Inside were three incredible prints. I’m going to take them to the framing store later today. I called my friends to thank them! Gary had included a letter to update me about his work and a gallery showing next week. He also sent me a link to his blog and his photography site. Check out his photos HERE. Be sure to go through all his tabs. The photography is stunning.

Bob Hope Classic girls, photo by Gary Gruber.
Bob Hope Classic girls.

I especially enjoyed the PR and Still Life photos. Above is a PR photo from the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament. I worked for the PR firm that put on the Classic in the 1980s. I love the photo because it reminded me of how the Classic Girls — who were ambassadors to the tournament — were selected. A group of old men affiliated with the Classic and Eisenhower Medical Center (the beneficiary of the charity golf tournament) would meet in an auditorium at the hospital. The girls one by one walked across the stage, turned round, etc. while being ogled by the old geezers.

My boss asked if I’d like to try out. I was an account executive at the time in my mid twenties. He commented that I could wear the “Bob” shirt. Chrysler became a sponsor of the tournament and the old geezers joked about the young lady they’d pick to wear all the letters of “Chrysler.” You get the drift? If not, it’s all about breast size.

Wouldn’t fly today, would it?

These prints are truly an unexpected gift that I’ll treasure. Also, I loved reconnecting and hearing about Gary’s success with his artistic photography in a gallery and in Palm Springs Life magazine. You can check out Gary’s blog here.

What are your thoughts about unexpected gifts? Are they more special than ones you know are coming?

This is one of Gary’s street photos from Italy.
Child photo with cat by Gary Gruber
A photo by Gary Gruber taken decades ago. I swear this is my Olive the cat.

I don’t know what to say….

Sunset in Arizona.
Sunset down the road.

Not to get too morbid, but the past two weeks have been hellish. I feel my last week’s posts have focused on death. But it’s what is happening in our lives. I feel raw from the sadness of losing our friend Mark, and then I got a phone call late Friday night from a fellow swim mom. It’s not like her to call me. We haven’t talked much since our daughters graduated college with our swim parenting days behind us.

She started the call by saying, “I have something awful to tell you, but it’s not about Kat or Megan.” Kat and Megan are our daughters who swam together at the University of Utah. It was about one of their former teammates. He committed suicide.

I was getting texts and calls. Everyone was worried about my daughter and how she’d take the news. She was at work, and I asked everyone to talk to her once she got off work. In the end, her coach from Utah made the call and they cried together. Then my daughter went to her brother’s house and sat with his girlfriend. I’m so thankful and grateful to have them so close.

I am devastated for the loss of this young man of 24. He was the type of person everybody wanted to be around. He was tall, good looking, smart, funny. He had a hearty laugh that was contagious. He was so polite and well-mannered that when we went out to dinner with him, he’d stand when I got up to use the bathroom.

I’ve heard from swim moms that his teammates are devastated. Nobody had a clue that life was less than perfect for him. Nobody knew that he was suffering. There weren’t any signs.

I cannot imagine how his family is doing. I enjoyed his parents so much and often sat with them at swim meets beginning in high school through college. His older sister is one of my daughter’s best friends and the three of them spent tons of time together.

I asked my husband, “How much pain are we able to take?”

This makes me worry about the mental health of our youth more than ever. I want to know if social media has made depression and anxiety worse? There’s a difference of three years between my son and daughter. Social media was only MySpace when my son was in middle school and early high school. By the time my daughter was that age, social media was so much more prevalent and popular. Is this a result of growing up on screens?

I had this conversation with my daughter before this tragedy occurred. We were talking about anxiety and depression. She thinks that people her age and younger are much more open to getting treatment. And that they are more open to talking about mental illness. She doesn’t think social media is causing more young people to have depression or anxiety. She thinks the numbers are going up because more kids are getting treatment.

I tend to think it may be a combination of many factors, social media included, and her generation being more open to talk about mental health. I think I’m searching for a reason. Something to blame for the loss of this young man’s life.

What is your opinion? Do you think mental illness in teens and early 20-year-olds is increasing? Or are they more open to discussing it? What do you see as the causes?

Remembering a friend on her birthday

One of my closest friends from childhood passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. I woke up realizing that today is her birthday. The pain of losing her has lessened over time. But I still miss her.

Rebecca with my baby girl
Rebecca with my baby girl.

I learned via Facebook that my dear friend Rebecca had passed away.

She had a huge personality, was fearless, beautiful and brilliant. I received private messages from her on Facebook constantly, and I noticed I didn’t reply to the last one which I received on a Saturday afternoon—the day she died.

I wonder if she knew she was leaving us? I had no idea that she was ill, but I’ve since learned that she had diabetes and died from DKA (Diabetic ketoacidosis).

The first time I met Rebecca was at my own house. Her older brother Paul had been hanging out with our family for a few weeks that summer before seventh grade. One day, Rebecca decided to come over to our house with him because she wanted to meet me. We went to different elementary schools but for junior high the town’s elementary school students would all attend the same school. I was shy and wouldn’t leave my bedroom to meet her. Finally, my mom coaxed me out to meet Rebecca Coombs and our friendship of a lifetime began.

grandmother kissing grandchild
The last photo she sent me of herself. “When my baby grand wants a kiss, I oblige. Sir-Mix-Alot this as good as I can get! lol.”

She was the opposite of me in so many ways. She was bold, outgoing and not afraid of anyone or anything. Her long straight black hair hung past her waist and she had a huge smile. Some of my fondest memories were her introducing me to Taco Bell—which I still love today. I got a burrito supreme today in her honor. Also, because of Rebecca, our entire high school won the local radio station KJR’s competition for a free concert—which was the first rock concert I ever attended, “WAR.” I went with her to see Natalie Cole at the Paramount in downtown Seattle, too. She introduced me to so much music and laughter. I remember always laughing with Rebecca and her sister Mary. Mary became as close of a friend to me as Rebecca.

Rebecca was one of a few students from our high school that went to the University of Washington with me. I remember spending the first night in the dorm, with Rebecca in a sleeping bag on my floor.

Me and Rebecca 24 years ago.
Me, Rebecca and my baby girl.

My sophomore year Thanksgiving weekend, I was home and I went with Rebecca and Mary to a concert at a local Grange. I was going to ask a family friend who was there to a Tolo (a dance where the girls ask the boys for the date). We were crossing the street on the Bothell Highway when I panicked at the oncoming lights of cars. I froze in the middle of the street. I grabbed onto Rebecca’s parka hood and she wasn’t able to escape the oncoming pick-up truck either. I shattered my pelvis and Rebecca lost a kidney. We became connected by that one experience forever.

Later on, she married the family friend who I was going to ask to the dance. The marriage didn’t last that long and she did find someone she said was the love of her life, who sadly died a few years ago. Also, her brother Paul died years ago as well as Mary’s husband. Her life had so much tragedy, yet she stayed positive and filled with joy. Near the end, she moved to Hawaii to be close to her son Jake, who she was so proud of. She posted pictures of her new life and her grandchildren whom she called “the grands.”

I will admit she was much better at reaching out and staying connected. Throughout our lives, she’d call me and during the last few months send me private messages on an almost daily basis. One funny story I remember about Rebecca was she called me up and asked who Bill Gates was. She had attended the Microsoft Christmas Party with a friend who worked there and met Bill Gates. She had no clue who he was. It was well known in Seattle that Bill was looking for a wife. He had asked her to Sunday Brunch and she said no. She told me that he was kind of a geek and she was felt awkward and made up an excuse why she couldn’t go.

I miss my dear friend and how full of life she was. God bless you and RIP, Rebecca.

rebecca 2
Rebecca, her husband Andrew and son Jake plus my kids.

Friendships new and old

Arizona sunset.
Arizona sunset.

This past week was a tough one for us. But, I learned to appreciate friendships — new and old. We lost our dear friend Mark on Thanksgiving night who we’ve known for decades, but afterwards we got closer to his friends and family. We attended a viewing that was for his family and closest friends. There will be a funeral in Seattle, where he grew up and lived until a few years ago, after the holidays.

I wasn’t anxious to attend the viewing. It seemed to be on the morbid side to me. But it turned out to be very comforting. It was in a building with a nice waiting area with comfortable couches and chairs. The 20 or so of us friends and family gathered and hugged. By ones and twos people would go into the separate viewing area. My husband and I chose not to because we wanted to remember Mark as we knew him. One of his sons went in and one stayed out.

Afterwards, we went to lunch with some of Mark’s family and with one couple who flew down from Seattle for the viewing. Mark had introduced us to the Seattle couple in the spring. We hit it off and I’ve visited the Seattle couple when I’m up there to see my mom. They are planning on moving to Arizona when they retire and they bought a house here because of Mark that they’ve rented out. They asked to stay with us. I’m so glad they did. It was nice to be with them and share memories about Mark. I feel like our friendship has been cemented and that we’re in a special club for “Friends of Mark.” We are new friends who will become old friends — God willing.

In the evening, we all gathered at Mark’s house for finger foods and a pasta dinner prepared by his family. All the time with these friends and people I haven’t seen for years, or who I met for the first time, was a big step in healing. I returned home feeling peaceful and less sad and fragile. I’m happy for the time we had Mark in our lives and I’m amazed at how he touched so many people.

Do you think that since March 2020, we lost connection with friends and family and the joy it brings to our lives? Did you, or were you able to stay close to your loved ones?

 Unexpectedly.

cloudy morning sky
Cloudy morning sky.

We picked up my dad at the airport on Wednesday. Thursday I cooked all day and we had friends over for Thanksgiving dinner who moved from our old home town to one mile from us. It was a fun evening of friendship and family.

Then the text came in at 2 a.m.

We’ve been worried about our friend Mark. He lives down the road from us and got a cold that turned into pneumonia earlier this month. He couldn’t breathe and was coughing so hard that he went to the hospital two weeks ago. This past week the doctor put him on a ventilator and induced a coma. He tested negative for COVID.

Everyday we waited for news from his son who came down from Seattle. Every day the news wasn’t good.

Mark left us Thanksgiving night at 2 a.m.

My husband said, “What do we do now?”

He talked to Mark every single day until Mark was on the ventilator. I don’t think we’d be living in Arizona if it hadn’t been for Mark. We visited him in Arizona after he moved here from Seattle several years ago. Mark introduced me to my husband 37 years ago. Mark introduced us to our realtor and he went house hunting with us on the day we found our new home. He introduced us to other friends who are moving to Arizona from Seattle. They will stay with us for Mark’s service this week.

The last time we saw Mark was a few weeks ago before he was in the hospital. He seemed healthy. We invited him over for dinner and ping pong. I cooked one of the best meals of my life.

Now he’s gone. I feel raw and fragile. We pushed through the weekend, trying to carry on. We had to entertain my dad. Saturday we went to the ASU UA football game with a group of friends from my kids’ Palm Springs swim team — their former teammates and parents. It was a good distraction for a bit.

But now what?

I can’t express how much we miss Mark. How hard it is when someone dies unexpectedly who is one of your close friends. It’s surreal how they’re a big part of your life one day and then leave a gaping hole when they’re gone.

Benefits of Old Friends

friends reunited wearing face masks
Me and my best friend from college, showing off our masks at Pike Place Market, during a visit a few months ago.

I read an article today in the Wall Street Journal that made me feel good. It was about the power of friendships. It stated that reconnecting with friends from our past helps our mood. I looked back on my visits with college friends and I agree. I do feel better after connecting with my close friends. It gives me a lift that is more powerful than getting together with new friends. According to the article, we feel that someone from our past understands us, knows us better. I have a few people in my life that fit that bill including two friends from college and a couple from our early married lives. Whenever I get together with any of them, I feel warmth and peace.

My husband has a few friends like that, too. We reconnected with his best friend from grade school through high school when we visited our daughter while she went to college in Utah. Their laughter and fun stories are contagious when they are together. It was such a joy.

Here’s an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal Article by Elizabeth Bernstein:

The Secret Power of Reconnecting With Old Friends
There’s a special boost that only old friends can give us. Here’s why we need it now.
Missing old friends? You’re not alone. Pals from our past can give us a sense of stability in turbulent times.

Research shows that psychological distress often causes nostalgia. People tend to experience this sentimental longing for the past when they are feeling sad, lonely, anxious or disconnected, or when life feels meaningless or uncertain.

“Covid represents a big sense of discontinuity in our lives. We’ve lost a sense of who we are,” says Clay Routledge, a psychologist and professor of business at North Dakota State University, who has studied nostalgia for 20 years. “Recalling cherished experiences from our past can remind us who we want to be, who we want to be around, and what we feel is important in life.”

Nostalgia increases positive mood, self-esteem and self-confidence, according to studies conducted by Dr. Routledge and others. It makes us feel more socially connected and optimistic. It helps us feel that life has more meaning. And it’s highly motivating, pushing us to pursue goals, reconnect with people who were once important to us, and make new relationships.

We can become nostalgic about any period in our life. But it’s most common to feel a longing for our adolescence or early adulthood, likely because that’s when we developed our sense of identity and forged our own relationships.

Dr. Routledge says that most people feel nostalgic about social experiences, typically with family or friends. We may long for their support or feel we can trust them. Old friends—especially ones from our youth, who may also know our family—are often the people we believe truly understand us.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-secret-power-of-reconnecting-with-old-friends-11637069401?mod=hp_listc_pos3

Do you have people from your past that make you feel good when you reconnect? What do your old friends mean to you?

college friends reunited
Reunited with a college roommate.

About well-meaning friends….

black and white photo of four high school girls in 1978
Me on the left my senior year of high school when I was fearless.

What to think when well-meaning friends tell you something you don’t want to hear, but they think they’re doing it for the best reasons.

This happened to me earlier this week. I was hurt. I cried. I called my daughter and she said my well-meaning friend was coming from a place of kindness. Her intentions were good.

Does that make it okay?

I’ve been mulling this over in my head all week. It’s made me feel angry, insecure, unsure about myself. Unsure about my friendship. It’s made me doubt myself.

I spent time with this friend for the first time of any length in about 15 years. Apparently she saw something in my demeanor or how I carried myself that caused her concern. She didn’t tell me in person, but texted me a day later. She told me to make an appointment with a neurologist. And she didn’t give me a clear idea why, just asked me to do it. I would have appreciated her diagnoses or a precise description of what she saw.

Of course, I’ve changed in the last 15 years. A couple years ago I had a ski accident. My knee has never been the same and although I walk, swim and cycle — I do so tentatively, with pain and instability. Menopause has left me fearful and with bouts of anxiety. Unlike I was prior to the days my friend and I hung out. This past COVID year has knocked the stuffing out of me, too. Am I rationalizing? Am I defending myself for not being the person I was years ago? Yes. I wonder how awful I must have looked or weird or who knows??? I think I just want to hide and cry some more.

Both my kids say her intentions come from concern and just go to the doctor and find out.

view from hike at Lake Pleasant AZ
Hiking in my new state of Arizona at Lake Pleasant.

What are your thoughts of well-meaning friends telling you what you don’t want to hear?