carol program shot

When we moved to Rose Valley in the winter of 1995, we knew exactly nobody.  Ian was 3, Hugh was six months old.  Chris and I were still in a fog from the death of Hugh’s twin Graham, not to mention the stress of the move and the sleeplessness of the baby. 

Taking Ian to his new nursery school the first couple of days, he would hesitantly walk into the new classroom while I looked around for a friendly face.   The other moms would glance over, maybe smile briefly, then rush to talk to their friends.  On the third day, there was someone I had never seen before.  She had a cute little boy Ian’s age, and she made a beeline for me.  “Hello, I’m Carol.  This is Alex.  You must be new here!”

She had me at hello. 

Such a simple gesture, and yet nobody else had made it.  Instantly, my loyalty was pledged to this adorable friendly woman with the cheerful smile and bubbly style. 

As the years moved on, Carol and I did a lot of stuff together.  I loved her for asking about Hugh’s twin.  She had the rare courage and courtesy to talk about death with those who were bereaved. 

When I got pregnant with Malcolm, she was very excited and full of anticipation.  This was all the more poignant because, although Carol would have loved to have had a shoe-full of children, Alex turned out to be her first and last baby.  She did a beautiful job of raising him and his step-sister, Erin – and she loved showering attention on all the children of her friends.

Here she is with Malcolm.

march 214

Carol founded our book club in 1996, still going strong.  She always had several books on her nightstand at one time, plus a stack queued up in the on-deck circle.  Our love of reading was a strong bond between us.

But over the years, all was not completely rosy.  Carol and I buddied around with first one group of women, then another.  Both groups formed alliances and voted us off the island.  We went through something like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.  When it came to “Survivor:  Suburbia,” we were hurt, then angry, then bemused, then just plain amused by the petty politics swirling in our extended neighborhood.  

Anywhere there are humans living in close proximity, we realized with resignation, there will be maneuvering for power, popularity, and position.   Count us out of that competition.

 Our compatability extended to liking and disliking not only the same books and movies, but also the same people.  Carol liked sushi and I hate it, but that was one of our few differences of opinion.

We had some minor spats with each other a few years back, quickly patched up.  Life was too short to nurse over trivial slights.  We were loyal to each other, and to those friends we truly liked, respected, and chose to hang out with. 

In the past few years, Carol and I went to two funerals together – one for our book club friend Wendy, who passed away of cancer just after her baby’s first birthday, and the other for a teenager in our community, who died from a five-story fall.  We wept into vintage hankies,  held hands, and paid our respects.

Carol and her husband rang in the New Year with us a few months ago:   Frank & Carol

 Carol and I complemented and complimented each other.  Last week, the last time I saw her, I took her to her doctor’s office,  in agony with kidney stones.   

As we sat in the waiting room, Carol looked at a picture on the wall and commented on how much she liked it.  The stone Pennsylvania farmhouse scene was Wyeth-esque.  She liked the house and the woods, but she would get rid of the  horse and rider.  And the long, skinny horizontal shape was great.  I wondered how she could think about such things at this moment.  

An hour later, Carol was admitted to the hospital for pain management, and I helped her get settled in a room with two empty beds.  Should she choose window or bathroom?  Bathroom.

Despite the agony she was in, Carol checked out my outfit.  “I love those boots,” she said. “Where did you find them?  Who made them?  Is that suede on the back? ”

 I answered, “Macy’s.  Tahari.  No, it’s just fabric.  Do I look stupid with my pants tucked into them?” 

“It’s the style now!  You look great,” she said simply.  Emphatically.

We made plans to go back to walking her dog Mollie and heading to the gym together, just as soon as she recovered from the surgery she was scheduled for at the end of the week.  She was still trying to talk me into trying zumba class with her at the Y.

Other plans involved driving Alex back to college after spring break.  We would make a weekend of it, and go antiquing in central Pennsylvania.  Always persuasive, Carol knew that the antique shops were the perfect bait for me.  Last weekend, she  said “This will be the summer that you and Chris go out on our boat with us for a weekend.”  In the hospital she said “Chris and Frank have to go to Phillies Spring Training in Florida next year.  That would be fun.”

Carol was not snarky, nor cynical, nor jaded.  She adored her family above all else.  Ordinary things never lost their luster for her:  knitting, snowshoeing, travel, friends, babies, boating, rugby, restaurants, movies, plays, the Phillies, music…endearingly, she waxed rhapsodic about them all. 

On Carol’s second day in the hospital, Anne from book club visited and entertained her for an hour or so.   Anne emailed everyone the status report and Suzanne was lined up to visit the next day.

But the next morning, we got the unfathomable news that Carol had died before dawn - cause as yet unknown (so out of respect, please consider this subject closed).   It was her 21st wedding anniversary.

Unimaginable grief and sorrow consumed her family, with mourning friends attempting to help.

The funeral was beautiful.  The outpouring of love and honor from the community was huge.  Our book club wept into vintage hankies.  The letter Frank wrote about Carol was stunning.  The comments from her friends and family made everyone cry, even the funeral singers, who, let’s face it, go to a lot of funerals – and  had never met Carol.

One singer emailed, “In listening to all those eulogies, Carol Ann became an inspiration to me.  I wish I had known her.  Of course, if I had, everyone in that church would have been wrong, because she REALLY would have been MY b.f.f.!  Thank you for allowing me to share in such an meaningful  event.” 

Here is the song that Becca and Chris, the funeral singers, performed so beautifully at the end – one of Carol’s favorite pieces of music.

Down in the River to Pray

I will never forget that first hello from Carol.    

And I will never forgive the fates for denying us all the chance to say goodbye.

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