We sat together on the couch in our hotel room sipping red wine and whispering. My sister Nancy napped in an adjoining room. Four others of our group were in the lobby wandering through gift shops and purchasing tickets for a comedy show that night. It was late afternoon, the space dimly lit. A re-run of Friends flickered on the television screen.
Heads bent close, we spoke about our daughters born just two months apart. We spoke about marriage and step-parenting. The future. All our futures. And although its presence loomed over all these topics, cancer was not a part of our conversation.
What more was there to say?
Jackie had cancer. For the second time.
In 2012, it had reoccurred in her right breast and then metastasized. Liver. Bone. Still, she remained strong and hopeful, her tether to this world so very tight. She had lost some battles but every one of us believed she would win the war. We wanted to believe. We had to.
That trip was in November, 2014, and although we didn’t know it yet, everything we have done this past year was the last we would share with Jackie.
Last Labor Day concert in the park.
The last Vegas trip.
The last Christmas.
Last New Year’s Eve.
The last Super Bowl.
Her last birthday party, a surprise for our beautiful friend.
Jackie’s years of fighting were drawing to a close, the months, weeks, days accelerating faster than anyone could predict.
People flew in from Iowa. New York. England. Switzerland. We loved her fiercely. Trimmed her nails. Rubbed her feet. Changed her pajamas. We brought her mangoes and daffodils, mashed potatoes and soup. We sat at her bedside with chardonnay on ice toasting to friendship. To love. To hope.
Back in March, a small group of us had attended a dinner hosted by Jackie’s best friend, Laura. Also at the restaurant were Jackie’s mother Hilda and her mother-in-law Mary; her husband Jeff and daughter Jessi; Jessi’s boyfriend Alex. I was lucky to be included and sat at one end of the table with Jen, Rowena, Gail, and Suzie.
People call us The Karate Moms since our children trained together. It’s how we came to be. But over the past three years, our relationship has become much more than that. We’re a unit now. Smiles and tears. Sorrow and joy. We are cherished memories. Forever friends.
Driving home from the restaurant that night, the other five of us laughed and cried. We raged at the universe a little. We were, all of us, angry and afraid of losing our girl too soon. Eventually, the talk turned to how we had come together in the first place, the six of us so different from each other, yet somehow deeply connected.
What we have in common, I realize now, is Jackie. Hers was the home with the always-open door, the family who not only allowed us in but welcomed everyone.
Jackie with her beloved daughter and husband.
In her final days, we were there to share our support.
This support continues now in her memory.
On May 16th, we will be participating in the Relay for Life as Jackie’s Sole-diers. So will our daughters and sons, our husbands and friends, all of us honoring this woman we will always adore. Jackie herself joined the Relay several times. And the Avon Walk in Santa Barbara. Now we, her soldiers, will continue the fight. We won’t give up.
Jackie never did.
In her honor, we will walk for 24 hours. We will hold hands and cry and hug each other. Together, we will prove on that day and on every day after, that love is stronger than death.
If you would like to make a donation to our team, click here. And on that morning, if you would, please think of us.
We love you, Jackie.