Happy Birthday, Shelley.
It’s been 209 days since you died. Not a day has passed that I haven’t thought of you, and missed your presence in this world.
I have lost many people in my life; many people who I have loved greatly. Death has been a familiar acquaintance, with no mercy in determining how or when someone’s time is cut short.
Of all those closest in my heart that I have lost, for some reason I am having the toughest time processing losing you. This really makes no sense, since we have known that every day in the 18 years since you were first diagnosed has been a gift and a miracle. But maybe this is also the reason. You defied all the odds by living for so long. And you lived each day. You were a warrior. I believed you would continue to prevail and that your amazing ‘pit crew’ – with Linda at the helm – would continue to find rabbits to pull out of hats and discover new experimental drugs that would work and keep finding creative ways to attack the monster lurking inside of you that was slowly stealing your life away.
I think one of the reasons why I’m still struggling is that I have a lot of guilt. I wasn’t really there for you as much as I should have been the last few years – not as much as I wanted to be. My life was turned upside down with the 2012 animal cruelty bust that overnight consumed my existence, and kept me from spending as much time with you.
There are so many things I wanted to say to you, conversations we never had, at least not when you were still well. I hate that I had to tell you what you mean to me, after you had already slipped away into the haze of pain and labored breathing…in a hospice room waiting to die. I love you, and you are so important to me.
The crop fights that took place in the barn aisles when we were twelve. Your Mom making us fried bologna sandwiches after swimming in the afternoon when we were done at the barn. Midnight runs in our 20’s to Sausage Deli for your favorite ‘Susie Sorority ‘ sandwich – after a night of drinking. You helping to run interference and keep the peace between me and that spoiled bitch roommate we had when we lived at the Glenn house. Man, did I want to choke her out! Drinking champagne out of a paper bag on New Years Eve, waiting for a tow truck because your car broke down. I’m not saying it was because of your driving…at least not this time!
There was a gap in time where we didn’t see each other or talk…different paths, and different lessons… You went off to do the horses, working for Betty – as I was just coming back from doing the same thing for Jerry Farmer in Chicago. I gave you a lot of my show shirts, since you didn’t have any.
We both got married…poetically at the same church! We both celebrated that marriage at the Arizona Inn…I like to think that our Spirits knew – so we could still be there for each other on some level.
I was in the process of getting divorced, on the heels of having major surgery and questioning my purpose in life…when I first heard the whispers that you had been diagnosed with mesothelioma. I also heard that your Mom had died…but I was too embroiled in my own shit to have the strength to reach out and find out more. I was very selfish, and I wasn’t emotionally prepared to deal with you dying then.
When I came back to Arizona, after getting divorced, and living in California, and then finishing law school in Washington…I went out to the fairgrounds to watch a horse show…and there you were! It was the best surprise, ever! It was like time had not passed – and we picked up our friendship right where it left off.
I never got to tell you ‘Thank you” for saving my life. You were always there for me, during some of the darkest day of my life. When I was forced to finally deal with the trauma of my past, and put it in perspective so I could keep it from literally killing me – you were there. No judgment. You just listened. And supported. You made me take a mental health time out when I needed one most, and brought me to Breckenridge with you. Some of my fondest memories are from that time – good people, good food, beautiful town, healing walks and late night talks with you. So many good memories of time well spent with you, in the last ten years.
That period of time when I was coming up to Smoke Tree every weekend to ride, and hang out with you, was the most normal and happy I had been in decades. And then Huachuca City cruelty bust happened, and it all came to a screeching halt as I became an instant trauma nursemaid to a bunch of misfit dogs.
I could spend a lot of time talking about things I wish I would have done differently, but I would rather focus on the good, and what I am thankful for.
You are the most inherently kind person I have ever known. And you have the perfect amount of salt and snark added in. I treasure every moment we spent together, because it was always a good time – all the laughs, deep philosophical conversations, scandalous horse world gossip, amazing meals shared, and of course all the cocktails. As long as you were not driving! You never got to be very good at that!
You lived your life every day to the fullest – and loved Jimmy Valdano so much as an inspiration – “Never Give Up” – you walked that out. We are all dying. You just had the nagging reminder that it was happening sooner than for most people. As a result of that knowledge, you made sure that you always did things that made you happy – because time was short.
I miss you, Shelley. I know I am not the only person who misses you. I am thankful for you saving my life, just by being yourself. I am still a little pissed off that I couldn’t do the same for you.
Happy Birthday, Beautiful. I miss your sparkly blue eyes that shone so brightly when you were happy. I am thankful that you were still sparkling, right up to the end.