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March 29, 2018

Denise Meyer: 1950 – 2018

by Anne Paddock

The most I can do for my friend is simply be her friend.

My friend, Denise passed away a few days ago from cancer. I was going to write “after a long battle with cancer” but that wouldn’t tell the full story – words rarely do.

34 years ago, after struggling with fertility issues Denise was pregnant with her daughter, Candice when she found out she had cancer. Against the advice of doctors, Denise decided to wait a few weeks for the baby’s lungs to develop before having a c-section followed by a complete hysterectomy. Years later when I was in the last weeks of pregnancy, Denise told me how lucky I was to carry my daughter to term; she felt she missed out on the whole 40 week pregnancy experience but also came to realize she was very fortunate in other ways. In the early years, Denise didn’t know if she would see her children grow up and then proceeded to tell me how incredibly lucky she was to have raised her kids. In that moment, Denise showed me that life is lived with both losses and wins, fear and joy, grief and gratitude.

Last January, Denise was diagnosed with cancer again, the news of which devastated her family and friends. She put on a brave front but we all knew she was suffering.  Although Denise initially accepted treatment, she declined further chemo and radiation and made a decision to enjoy the time she had instead of prolonging her life with more suffering. She valued quality over quantity and clarity over opacity.

Denise told me she had a great life – a husband (Bill) who loved and stuck by her, two amazing children (Candice and AJ), a new daughter-in-law (Jess), loving parents (Betty and Jerry), a devoted brother (Randy) and sister-in-law (Moira), extended family and loyal friends. Anyone who knew Denise knew her gratitude was aligned with people  (not that she didn’t appreciate things…she enjoyed her beautiful home and the comforts of her life) but a simple evening of dinner and a movie with friends was her idea of fun). Denise also enjoyed cards, yoga, traveling, road trips (every summer she and Bill took a a few weeks to explore the country), cats, movies, anything that was creamy and delicious, comfortable shoes, working at her desk, and above all else – time with family and friends who loved and needed her because at the end of the day Denise valued life filled with love and purpose.

I met Denise 32 years ago when I moved to town. She befriended me with open arms and guided me through my mid-20’s with gentle advice like only a friend could do.  Denise would often say to me “evolution, not revolution” to tame my call for change. She believed the unjust could be moved to just, that unfairness could be gently nudged towards fairness, and that forgiveness was paramount (and this was not negotiable with family and friends). Denise never held grudges – even when someone wronged her kids – and I marveled at how kind she was to people who were unkind to her or her family in the past. She simply moved on and focused on the good in everyone because she knew better than anyone else that we’ve all had our moments.

When my husband and I moved into a new home in 1992, Denise, a general contractor who built magnificent homes, left a job site with her 4-year old son, AJ in tow and spent the entire day helping me supervise movers and unpacking boxes. When she returned to the job site the next day, she realized several costly mistakes were made because she wasn’t on site to inspect the work (Denise was a perfectionist when it came to building homes and managed by the motto “don’t accept what you don’t inspect”).

I never learned of this mishap until two decades later when Denise and I were on a road trip “a la Thelma and Louise” across the US when she joked I was her $30,000 friend (that’s how much the mistakes cost the day she helped me move in). But here’s the thing: She wouldn’t have done things any differently that day because Denise ALWAYS showed up when she was needed. Later that same year when Hurricane Andrew came through South Florida with our new home in its path, Denise opened her house to us along with our golden retriever which was a big deal because Denise was not enamored with big dogs who shed but she knew how much the dog meant to us and so she took us in during the storm. A decade ago, when my own husband was ill and I was a continent away, it was Denise who picked him up from the hospital and had him over for dinner night after night and nourished him back to health. Denise was a person who believed in putting family and friends first and she never wavered from that commitment.

A few weeks ago, Denise and I were having dinner together at her house while “the boys” went to a super bowl party.  Halfway though the meal, Denise sat back in her chair, took a deep breath and told me she had to talk to me and that she needed me to do something very important for her.  She started to cry and told me that she needed me to help her family move forward without her.  She wanted me to make sure everyone gathered for family holidays and that all their food preferences were considered (she kept a list of their likes and dislikes along with the family granola recipe).  She also asked me to be available for Candice. She went on to say that it wasn’t that Candice needed mothering for she was a grown woman but that there would be times in the future when Candice would need her and she wouldn’t be there for her. As I listened to Denise talk, my heart was breaking because as she was fighting for her life, she was consumed with making sure her family would be taken care of. That’s just who Denise was.

Of all the ways I loved Denise, I will perhaps miss more than anything her infectious laughter. For someone so organized, so picky, and so precise, she was also someone who could find humor in so many things – especially when it came to family life and it is those moments when she would deliver a one-liner  that would crack us both up that I will miss.

Denise had a wide group of friends who were as varied as the seasons. When Bill organized a 50th birthday party for Denise (her birthday was October 31st, Halloween Day) by inviting all her girlfriends to a luncheon, there were at least 50 of her nearest and dearest friends in attendance to celebrate this amazingly beautiful woman loved by everyone in the room. But, instead of a birthday party, she made the event a celebration of her friends by having everyone stand up and tell a story about friendship.  She had placed a carefully chosen jewelry pin with an engraved saying next to everyone’s place setting that said something about who we were as individuals.  Mine read:  “She didn’t always follow the recipe” while her sister-in-law’s read:  “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all” (this really made Denise laugh). Denise was able to describe all of us in just a few words and made us feel we each had a special place in her heart.  There was no engraved pin at Denise’s place setting that day but if there were, it would have said “The most I can do for my friend is simply be her friend.”  No one knew how to do friendship better. Rest in peace my dear friend. I will miss you every day of my life going forward and be forever grateful for your kindness, thoughtfulness, wisdom, unwavering friendship, and laughter. You were taken too soon.

Yes, the world is changed, dear heart, but do not be afraid. You are loved, you are loved. You will not disappear. I am here.

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