My Kimmy Gibbler

Yesterday Facebook let me know that Kimmy Gibbler and I became friends 8 years ago.

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We actually became friends earlier than that.  In September 2008.  Bryon and I had been dating for 6 weeks.  I came out to Albany and it was the weekend of LarkFest.  I was impressed (and intimidated) by her Chanel eyeliner and her fancy sunglasses.  Bryon and I had not had that awkward “what are we” conversation yet and she referred to me as Bryon’s girlfriend.  From that point on, Bryon referred to me as his girlfriend.  She saved us from having to have that conversation.  

Through the years, we were friendly.  We’d see each other at various parties and sporting events.  But she was closer to Bryon, but most people were.

17903440_10155479994597841_7088198661435851561_n We had our kids 18 months apart.  She was at my daughter’s Christening.  

She was at Bryon’s 30th birthday party.  It was a fun night with hibachi.  We did not know that it would end up being his last.

Then Bryon got sick.  She came by the hospital.  She made Bryon laugh and she brought me coffee.

Then Bryon died.  I forgot to wear my pearls that Bryon got me on our honeymoon in St. Thomas.  She offered me hers.  I didn’t take them, but I told her that she reminded me of Robin Scherbatsky and how she was Vice-Girl at Marshall’s father’s funeral.

She was there for me through those rough early weeks.  She stayed with me when I started crying after having too much wine.  She never once told me how to grieve or how to feel.  She just listened.  And she listens to hear what you have to say, not just to respond.

The Sunday before Christmas I woke up feeling sick.  I couldn’t get myself off the couch.  Not the best position to be in when you have a two-year-old.  But she came over and made me drink apple cider vinegar tea.  She swears by apple cider vinegar.  It didn’t taste good, but it made me feel better.  It is now my go-to when sick.  That and coconut oil.  Kimmy Gibbler loves coconut oil. 

People may see our banter back and forth on Facebook, but people don’t realize that that is actually a small amount of our interaction.  One time we had three different conversations at once, one on Facebook, one on Facebook messenger and one via text.  And it wasn’t on purpose.  

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I can message her whenever.  It can be when grief is hitting me hard or if I just want to randomly (but passionately) say that I don’t like the Uncle Jesse/Aunt Becky storyline on Fuller House.  And she will respond thoughtfully in each scenario.

She understands my humor, which is some weird combination of cheesiness, sarcasm, and being wildly inappropriate.  I have never once shocked her.

We know to adult and be good moms.  But at times we act like two teenage girls.  We might be known to giggle and tee-hee at times. Especially when we hear Bryan Adams.

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We work well as a pair.  I am the visionary and come up with the crazy ideas.  She is the planner and executes them.

She is always up for an adventure, even with the kids.  We are both history geeks and we took the kids to Philadelphia (I will write about that trip soon, I promise).  

I found out that there was an Amato’s in Ticonderoga and she was crazy enough to take a road trip with me.  With our two kids.  I was so scared that the Italians were not going to be as good as I remembered them but they were.  We then drove through Washington County (I think) and then over to Vermont to look for a cheese shop and a chocolate museum that I remembered visiting with Bryon.  We found a cheese shop, but it was closed and we couldn’t find the chocolate museum.  Luckily we found a chocolate shop in Bennington.  The kids seemed just as excited.

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Sometimes I curl my hair like DJ on Fuller House.  I don’t do it every day like DJ because I am a real person, not a TV character and I do not have daily access to make up artists and hairstylists.  I told her that I am like DJ because we are both widows, except DJ has amazing hair and a hot boyfriend while I have neither.  I told my friend that would make her my Kimmy Gibbler.  She accepted her new role (as if she had a choice!)

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We sat at Bryon’s grave yesterday.  She brought him a Stewarts Mountain Brew Tall Boy (which still does not have rugby listed as one of the activities you can enjoy while drinking a Mountain Brew).  We talked about how it sometimes it feels like yesterday that he died and other times it feels like a lifetime ago.  We talked about much we miss him, but we know we wouldn’t be close friends If he were still alive.  She also told me how much I have changed since Bryon had died and how she never knew who I was before.

She was the one of the first people to help me embrace my new self and grow as a person.  We will never know why Bryon had to die, but I truly think that my friendship with Kimmy Gibbler is one of the biggest gifts that Bryon gave me.   I can’t imagine my life without my Kimmy Gibbler.

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All that remains

I am going to preface this post by stating that Bryon and I did meet through politics so politics plays a role in our story and it may come up from time to time.  However, this is not a political blog.  It’s a blog about grief, life, love and resilience.  There will be no political commentary from me.

* * *

A seer sucker suit hanging in the closet.

A vintage briefcase bought at an estate sale.

A shelf of books.

A pair of size 13 Aldens in the closet.

A whole bunch of Brooks Brothers bow ties.

Bryon’s Albany Law Rugby sweatshirt with “Shrek” embroidered on the sleeve.

Several copies of Smithsonian Magazine and The Economist.

A lot of political memorabilia.

His coat hanging off the back of a dining room chair.

A six pack of beer in the back of the fridge, untouched after 14 months.

His laptop bag filled with a folder of travel documents from our last cruise 15 months before.

One voicemail I found in the deleted files on my phone.

This is a list of items that remain from Bryon.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list. These items are reminders of who he was and the life he lived.  The capture aspects of his personality and his passions.  These very reminders sting whenever I look at them, but at the same time, I can’t get rid of them because they are all that remain.  Every time I get rid of an item that belonged to Bryon, I feel like I am getting rid of a piece of him.

But so much more remains of Bryon’s memory than the items that clutter up my house.

This weekend I had the honor of co-presenting the first ever New York State Young Republican Bryon McKim Alumni Award.  I was touched, but I wasn’t expecting to get as emotional as I did.  Bryon and I hadn’t been actively involved in this organization for a couple of leadership cycles.  There were several old friends but most of the faces in the crowd were new to me though they welcomed my daughter and I as if we were old friends. This organization had played a large role in our life for several years, both at the state and national level.  I was reminded that this was our beginning.  Our love story started at a New York State Young Republican Event.  If it wasn’t for the Young Republicans, Bryon and I would never have met, fallen in love, gotten married or had our daughter.  It was almost as if I was in the part and present at the same time.   Being at that meeting brought up all those emotions because even though it had been years, once I was sitting down at that dinner, it almost felt like I was reliving those memories.

I just think about all the ways the people who knew Bryon have chosen to honor him. The Bryon C. McKim Memorial Derby Party.  The Bryon “Shrek” McKim Albany Law School Memorial Alumni Match and the Shrek award.  The New York State Young Republican Bryon McKim alumni award.  People don’t choose to honor your memory if you hadn’t made some sort of difference in their lives.  Bryon touched so many lives and I appreciate that his memory being honored.  So many people die and ultimately become forgotten and it is comforting to know that Bryon won’t be forgotten.

It means so much when the recipients of these awards say wonderful things about Bryon in their acceptance speeches, though as time passes, I expect that the recipients of these awards will remember Bryon decreases.  Eventually they will only know about Bryon through his legacy that is passed down by others in the respective organization.

Everytime I go to an event that honors Bryon, it still hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks that I am attending a memorial event.  Memorial events are to remember dead people.  Bryon is dead.  Gone.  He is a memory.  But I will show up because it is important for me to honor Bryon’s memory and honor those who choose to keep his memory alive.

Bryon has left behind a legacy of friendships.  Bryon had built relationships with so many people from so many different areas of his life.  But his legacy of friendships isn’t just with those he had relationships with, but also with all the people that have been brought together because of Bryon.  Bryon was a really good mediator which was a talent that could be a headache for him at times, but he took the responsibility of this talent seriously.  Many of my friendships are the result of the bridges that Bryon built between others.

Bryon was full of life and leaves behind so many stories, most of them hilarious.  At Saturday’s event, I was talking to a good friend.  Her father died when she was little and that she heard a lot of stories about her father through his friends and that she feels like she knew her father from these stories.  She assured me that my daughter will know Bryon from all these stories.  Many people have said this to me, but honestly, it was a sentiment that always felt hollow to me.  One of those comments that is well-intentioned but feels like it was just said to me to try to comfort me.  It meant so much more coming from someone who grew up in the same situation that my daughter will grow up in.  But my friend is absolutely correct.  Bryon has left behind a legacy filled with stories  and those stories will ultimately be passed down to our daughter through his friends.  And even though it’s painful to think that my daughter will not remember Bryon, I am thankful that Bryon left a legacy that includes all these stories and friends.  Not every child who loses a parent has that legacy.

On my two hour drive home, I just kept thinking about Bryon and our early years.  So I decided to end this post with pictures taken at various Young Republican events.  We weren’t good about remembering to take photos so please remember to take photos! Someday they will be what remains of you.

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Young Republican National Federation Fall 2008 Board Meeting in Nasvhille. Bryon called this our High School Prom Picture because of the way we were posed.
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New York City Young Republican Club Holiday Party, 2008.
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New York State Young Republican Convention in Staten Island, 2009
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New York State Young Republican Day at the races, 2010
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Young Republican National Convention in Indianapolis, 2009
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Young Republican National Convention in Indianapolis, 2009.  Doing one of the things he did best.
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New York State Young Republican Convention in the Finger Lakes (wine country), 2011

My friend Stephanie

I have never met Stephanie in person but we both belong to a Facebook group which was formed in 2011.  It consisted of a bunch of ladies planning their September 2012 weddings.  We discussed many things in that group such as floral arrangements, wedding hairstyles and seating charts.  After our wedding, many of us stayed in that group and since then we have bought houses, gotten job promotions and welcomed babies into the world.  We also give each other fashion advice, share recipes and we talk about a LOT of things that, like Vegas, will stay in that group.

I am the first widow of the group.

Well, sort of.

My friend Stephanie really is the first widow of our group.

Stephanie and I had a lot in common.  We are both New England girls and we love the ocean.  We both root for the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.  We have both run for public office.  Despite the fact that she is a Democrat and I was a Republican, we understood each other and we always refer to each other as our “sister from another party.”  However, I never thought we would share the bond of being widows.  At least not this soon.

While the members of our online group come from a variety of backgrounds and each had our own love story, Stephanie’s story was a bit different.  Like the rest of us, Stephanie was marrying her soulmate, Chris.  But unlike the rest of us, Stephanie had a heart breaking story that preceded her happily ever after.  Chris is Stephanie’s second soul-mate.  Her first soul mate was her fiancé Stephen and he drowned in a lake in New Hampshire in 2010.

Now, I am just going to stop here and state that just because Stephanie and Stephen were engaged and not married does not disqualify Stephanie from widow status.  As far as I am concerned, she lost the man she was planning to spend the rest of her life with and it doesn’t  matter if they had made it legal yet.  If anything, engaged widows have to deal with some major challenges, especially if they did not legally have their affairs sorted out beforehand.  And to be clear, I have no idea if Stephanie had those challenges.  I didn’t ask her because it is none of my (or your) business.

Stephanie was about my age when Stephen died.  And she had to face the dilemma that every widow must face- do you move forward or do you let this destroy you?

Stephanie chose to move forward.  She met her next soul mate Chris shortly thereafter.  Stephanie says that falling in love again was scary because you know that love can be ripped away.  Stephanie was so happy with Stephen and she never thought she would experience that kind of love again.  When she started to have those feelings again, she realized that she could let this new love pass her by or she can see where it goes.  I am sure Stephanie is glad that she decided to see where this love would go.

Chris was extremely supportive of Stephanie during her time of grief.  Chris also let her incorporate Stephen’s memory into their life.  Stephanie states that she and Chris were comfortable creating a bridge between the relationships.  It makes sense since there was not breakup.  It was more like a transition.  When Chris and Stephanie got engaged, the center stone of her engagement ring came from the solitaire from her engagement ring from Stephen.  And on their wedding day, Stephen’s dad walked Stephanie down the aisle.

If I ever fall in love again, I hope my man would be as understanding and supportive as Chris.

I did ask Stephanie if she had any advice for other widows.  Here is what she had to say-

  • Don’t live according to anyone else’s timeline.
  • Everyone grieves differently and no one has the right to judge any of your decisions
  • Lean on people.  Friends and family genuinely want to help you.  Take them up on offers, but don’t be afraid to say no as well.  If you are not ready to go to a movie, have girls night, etc., it’s okay not to force it.
  • People will surprise you.  You will definitely find out who your real friends are.
  • It’s okay to seek professional help.
  • There is also an opportunity to do things you might not have otherwise done that you’ve always wanted to do.  Once the “widow fog” lifts, do what you have always wanted to do whether it is learn to paint, take piano lessons or go to law school.
  • You will be caught off guard by PTSD even years later.  Stephanie states that she was watching a movie a few months ago where the husband died and the wife was in his closet, crying in his clothes.  Stephanie says she lost it.

Whether my great love story has a chapter 2 or not, I will continue to look up to Stephanie.  As I said, she was my age when she lost Stephen and she chose to be resilient.  She went on to finish her bachelors degree and she just completed her first year of law school proving that you can always follow your dreams.  I hope I can be like Stephanie.  Today she and Chris are going on a well-deserved vacation to somewhere that requires passports.  Let’s all wish for them to have a great time.

If you want to read more about Stephanie and Chris’s love story, click here.

If you want to read more about Stephen, you can view his obituary here.

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Stephanie and Stephen
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Stephanie and Chris

Warm and fuzzy

Three of us girls and my daughter went out for breakfast the morning after the Kentucky Derby.  One of us had said that in the past, she felt like she was viewed as “Bryon’s friend” but after this weekend, she felt like she became part of our friends group in her own right. We all felt warm and fuzzy when we realized that.   

My friends observation hit me close to home because for years I felt the same way.  I moved to Albany in 2009 after Bryon and I had been dating for a year and he already has his social network.  Everyone was Bryon’s friend and I felt like I was his shadow.  Over the years, my friendships did start to evolve but I didn’t realize how strong those friendships were until my friends were there for me when I needed them the most.  They continue to be there for me, helping me heal.

Yesterday I wrote about all the love and friendship shared on Derby Day.  Today I feel like celebrating that love and friendship.  

In the past, I have written a lot about my girls.  But most of these girls are attached to guys. Really great guys.  These guys would drop whatever they were doing to help me with anything and I don’t give them enough credit in this blog.  Most of these guys were Bryon’s friends and many of us girls became friends through our significant others.  Now I think it’s safe to say that it is us girls who are the driving force behind the groups social calendar.   

I have realized that I have been looking at these friendships only through my own eyes and not the eyes of my friends.  My grieving process has made me self-absorbed at times.  I know my friends have been there for me and my daughter but I haven’t been able to fully appreciate that my friends have been there for each other too.  I am not the only one who has needed support during this time.  Each one of my friends has been grieving too and they have been there for each other as well as be there for my daughter and me.

So many other friendships have formed before my very eyes.  Older friendships have been strengthened. We have all been friends to varying degrees but Bryon’s death has brought many of us closer.  But we aren’t just friends, we are a family.  And we have been all along.  We just never realized it until after Bryon died. Bryon may not be able to be here for us but he gave us each other.  

We are one big, crazy extended family complete with adults, kids and pets as well as the biological families of our family and friends of friends.  I have noticed that since Bryon has passed, we make more time for each other.  Birthdays get celebrated as well as personal milestones.  We check in with each other more, even if it is just because it’s been a couple of days and we wanted to make sure everything was okay.  The ladies have a monthly brunch.  Everyone seems fully committed to be positive role models and trusted adults for the younger generation to look up to.

I love my family and I am so thankful I have them in my life.

Happy Birthday Grandma

I remember one summer day in the mid 1980s when I was in my grandmother’s backyard.  I was about 7 (and therefore my grandmother was about 73) and I was excited because my birthday was coming up.  I asked my grandmother what was her most favorite thing about birthdays and she responds “when it’s over.”  I couldn’t understand why someone would want their birthday to be over.

Catherine Ann Donahue Sullivan was born May 3, 1914 in Woburn, MA. She was the 6th child and 2nd daughter of two Irish Immigrants, Peter Donahue and Mary Duran. She attended Woburn Public Schools (she told me that Catholic School cost 50 cents per child, per week and my great-grandparents were too poor to send 9 children to parochial school). She went to nursing school during the Depression (total cost of nursing education in 1930’s including cap=$75. Total cost of Kerry’s Psychology book, spring semester 2001=$130. The look on my grandmother’s face when I told her that=priceless).  She married my grandfather in 1946 and went on to have 5 sons.

Even though I grew up two towns away from my grandmother, I didn’t start to become close to her until my grandfather died when I was in 6th grade. After that, every Saturday was spent at her house while my father and uncles took care of tasks around the house and I would play with my younger cousins. Though I was shy in general, I was very outspoken around my family and my grandmother used to like to egg me on. It was funny. I, um, developed a lot sooner than most girls and I hated it. I was kind of a tomboy and, let’s just say, “they” got in the way. I would complain about them to my grandmother and she would just tell me that, “Someday you’re doing to be thankful…” The jury is still out on that, Grandma.  Though Bryon definitely seemed to appreciate them.

My grandmother had 5 sons and one grandson before I was born. I ended up being the first of four granddaughters. My grandmother always told me she wished she had had a daughter but I made her thankful she didn’t.

My grandmother would always give me $20 whenever I visited. It was for ice cream. Of course ice cream at the local ice cream place, Breakers, only cost about $3. She would always make sure to tell me that “When I was a kid, we were too poor to buy ice cream. And there was no one around to give us ice cream money.”  When I was in college, Grandma was always giving me $20 for gas money (that was back when you could fill your gas tank for $20.)

My grandmother taught me that you can still be a lady and use profanity. My other grandmother taught me that a lady never uses profanity. Luckily, it all seems to balance out.

My grandmother taught me that it is okay to tell guys who give you unwanted attention to “piss off.” One time, when she was in her 80’s, she slipped on the ice and fell. Another old guy stopped and tried to help her and she told him to “piss off.” I asked her why. She told me it was because he had two girlfriends.

My grandmother also taught me that I can not go wrong dating Irish-Catholic guys. She did warn me to stay away from French men. In the 1930’s, when she was in her mid-20’s, she dated a French guy. He had the nerve to ask her to move to New Jersey but didn’t want to get married. She told him to piss off. Then, at the age of 29, she met my full-blooded Irish-American grandfather and married him when she was 31.

My grandmother spent her years as a nurse and her later years in politics.  My cousin takes after her as a nurse and is a hospice nurse which I think is one of the most noble jobs there is.  I seemed to inherit the political gene although I am on an indefinite sabbatical from politics. Like my grandmother, my mouth sometimes gets me into trouble.  She passed before she could see me run for Maine State House or see me run the Maine Federation of Young Republicans.  Though it drove her Boston Irish Democrat sensibilities nuts that I was a Republican.

It always made me sad that she didn’t live long enough to meet Bryon.  They would have understood each other and appreciate each other’s sense of humor.  I think Grandma would have approved even though Bryon was only one-eighth Irish.

I remember one time during Mass back home our priest was commenting that the generations of a family are like a chain and each one of us is a link in that chain linking the generations.  I remember when my grandmother died and my father mentioned that he was the only one that remembered his grandmother (my great-grandmother) as my living uncles were either too young to remember her or weren’t born yet.  My father is the only living member of our family that is linked to my great-grandmother and he provides that link to us and especially my daughter.  One person who links five generations.  As long as my father is here, that link exists but someday that link won’t exist.  Luckily, my father has stated that he plans on sticking around until he is 120 so that link should be around for awhile.

Bryon went into the ICU when my daughter was 18 months old and passed away a month before her second birthday.  My daughter won’t remember him and it is as if there are no links in that chain.  It’s like that direct chain has been cut clean but in a way, Bryon’s friends and I will serve the link between my daughter and Bryon.

So Bryon, Grandma, and also Grandpa, Papa, Uncle Peter and Uncle Brian, as long as I am alive, you will live on.  I will make sure my daughter knows you.  And if I am privileged enough to live long enough to meet my grandchildren and maybe even my great-grandchildren, they will know you too.  You will live on for generations.

And Grandma, I am still going to wish you a Happy Birthday in Heaven.  Even if you wish your birthday were over.

Grandma’s Obituary

Feliz cumpleaños mi amiga

I am going to start this off with a confession.  Way back in the very early days of our friendship, you missed my birthday party.  I don’t know why you missed it.  I am sure you had a perfectly good reason but at the time, I was so mad at you. I didn’t tell you I was mad at you but Bryon definitely heard about it and he was so annoyed at me.  I have a tendency to hold onto anger.  It’s not one of my more endearing qualities. (How fitting that I am talking about my Irish stubbornness on St. Patrick’s Day?) I held onto this anger until Bryon invited you and your boyfriend, now your husband, over to our place to watch a televised Siena game and I decided I was not mad at you anymore.  

I am not sharing this story to try to make you feel bad.  If anything, I am hoping you are laughing at what an idiot I am.  I am sharing this story to demonstrate that because my own stubbornness, I could have easily missed out on of the best friendships in my life.  I want everyone that is reading this to learn that lesson and to not be like me.

Through the years, we became good friends.  You gave me a wedding planner when Bryon and I got engaged. We were at each others bridal showers and weddings.  You held my daughter when she was a baby.   We attended Siena games together.  We went on double dates, one of which involved dueling pianos and an interesting rendition to the classic “Joy to the World”.

You were present at some of my funniest memories of Bryon.  I wish you could have seen the look on your face when Bryon walked out of your wedding with a six pack of Sam Adams Oktoberfest. And remember that time when we were playing Cards Against Humanity and there was the incident with the Chinese food?  And of course the infamous Christmas Eve Mass where we broke the pew after Communion and Bryon said “We need Jesus the carpenter, not Jesus the baby” and then Bryon marched up to the altar with the long piece of the broken pew over his shoulder, explaining it all to Father Bradley who wasn’t phased at all.

Bryon and I were saddened by your father’s death and attended your father’s funeral.  We were sad that we didn’t get to know your father.  We heard the stories and realized that we missed out on knowing a great man.  Maybe they are getting to know each other now.  I remember Bryon and I discussing how your father’s death was significant because we didn’t have many friends who have lost parents.  Most of us had lost grandparents but a parent’s death was different because it was one generation closer to us and therefore it made our own mortality seem closer.  That conversation gives me the chills now.

None of us were prepared for what was going to happen.  But through those five months of hell, you were there for me the whole time.  I am crying as I type this because I don’t know what I would have done without you.  You just seemed to instinctively know what I needed, when I needed it.  Whether it was baby-sitting my daughter, or an iced coffee, or nachos or just someone to sit with me. You would sit with Bryon when I was too afraid to leave him alone so I could run home and take a shower.  You kept my spirits up which was important because I needed that hope to get through those months.  You also rallied the troops when you organized the “Double Miracle for Bryon” campaign.

You and your husband were the first people to come over to my house the day Bryon died.  You told people to bring food.  The rest of those days are a fog in my memory but I know you were present.  And when the crowd thinned out, you stayed.  You assured me that Bryon is still around and will always be around.  You still come over for #tacotuesday.  We brunch with the ladies.  You cleaned my kitchen and because of you, I can see my backsplash and all my tupperware has lids that match.  You have even offered to help me purge my house and have a yard sale.

Christmas Eve was not the same this year but we started our new tradition of Feliz Navidad Lunch and then we visited Bryon’s grave.  And instead of a broken pew at Mass, we had an epic toddler meltdown.  I don’t know which was worse…

Even though Bryon has been dead for almost seven months, you continue to be there for me.  You have taught me what it means to be there for people and how to be a good friend.  I aspire to be like you.  It’s crazy to think that we are friends because our husbands lived together during college.  And if Bryon were still alive, we wouldn’t be as close as we are today but your friendship is one of the biggest gifts Bryon could have given me.

Happy Birthday my dear friend.  I love you.