Nine years ago today, I was helping my sisterfriend celebrate her entre into the 40 club. Debbie and I were friends in high school. We lost touch during the college and first job years. When she got married and they moved to GA, she realized that she knew someone in the ATL and we reconnected. We became even closer friends than when we were in high school; she was an only child and I have no sisters, so we became like sisters.
If you met Debbie, you were drawn to her personality. She was loud, she was lovable, she was always smiling and always found the funny. And if you ever heard her laugh, you would remember her always. If there was a cultural event, we attended. We talked on the phone for no reason. We talked on the phone for every reason. When she visited she often said, “You know, you’re the only friend who always offers something to eat or drink when I come over”. She was too sick to be a bridesmaid in my wedding, but I kept her name on the program anyway. I couldn’t think of a better person to be a godmother to the boys, so I asked her first. Debbie was the first person I know who actively spoke about adopting children. Sadly, that was not to be in her future.
She and her husband divorced and her illness took its toll on her body. She left her profession as a physical therapist and reinvented herself. Her skills and talent in music propelled her to become a music teacher. She went back to school to work on a doctorate in music education. I sometimes got tired listening to her talk about her day becuase it was often full of activity. Debbie strove for and achieved so much: published author, music teacher, PhD candidate, consulting at her church, etc. She was BUSY! And in her busyness she always made time to check in, to catch up, to see what the boys were up to, to be a supporter and to encourage.
When her 40th approached, she didn’t want to do anything. I wouldn’t hear of it. Of COURSE she needed to celebrate. It’s the BIG 4-0, it only happens once. Her beloved grandmother has passed away several years before, and her father had just passed about three years prior to her milestone birthday. Her favorite aunt had just died in May and although she was more concerned about her Mom’s grief, I knew she felt the loss as well. I thought this would a good way to reminisce, laugh, get out and have a good time. She agreed and told a few of her other friends. Her mother was not able to make the trip for her birthday but she asked me to buy Debbie a bouquet of flowers. We decided to go to the hibachi grill. Hibachi is where they cook the food right in front of you. If you’re familiar with Benihana, then you know hibachi. The chefs made a big show of the presentation and really showered Debbie with extra attention. She had a blast and said to me afterwards, “I’m glad you made this a big deal. Sometimes I have to remember that I am worth the celebrations too”.
Three months later, I saw her on her last night on Earth. It was Christmastime, and we got tickets to see Scrooge at the Alliance Theatre. Her mom was visiting, my mom was attending and we had a group of six including the boys. We agreed to meet there for the performance, then go to dinner together afterwards. I remember that I saw a co-worker there, and our company CEO – his daughter was in the production. I introduced them to the family during the intermission.
My mother noticed it first. She picked up that Debbie wasn’t feeling well, and asked her during intermission. Debbie responded that she wasn’t feeling that great but would make it through dinner. Mom promptly cancelled dinner and told her to go home after the production and put her feet up to rest. We followed each other to our cars afterwards to exchange gifts and hugged goodbye. Little did I know that was the absolute last hug, kiss, laugh and sound that I would ever hear from my friend, my girl who I loved like a sister.
The boys were asleep and Patrick and I were watching TV in our room. I remember “The Jeffersons” was on the screen. We got a call around 10ish from Mrs. Williams, Debbie’s mom. She said they were at the hospital, that Debbie had some type of episode (I don’t recall exactly how she explained it), and she had to call the ambulance. Now she was calling from the waiting room at the hospital;she would call back as soon as she heard anything. I knew immediately but held out hope that I was wrong. I relayed the news, called my mother, and numbly watched more antics from George and Weezy. Just after midnight, the phone range again. I couldn’t answer it. Patrick picked up the receiver and walked into the hallway. I heard him give the greeting, pause, then say in a dejected voice, “Oh no” and I slumped over on the bed, tears already flowing. My bestie was no longer here.
It’s been almost 9 years, and recounting the main highlights has taken me two hours because of the tears. Debbie’s passing left a void in my life and a hole in my heart that has never been filled. After as long while, I did connect with another who I consider to be another BFF, who is also like a sister to me. She has her own wonderful, beautiful personality and I thank God for her all the time. Yet, each person and each relationship is unique and there is no one like Debbie. I miss her. She was a light where ever she went to whomever she encountered. May she continue to rest in love, peace, and power. And as Debbie would say, “That’s the story, Mrs. Glory”.