One of my very best friends died this past week and I have no words. I also have too many words. I could write for days about her and not adequately describe her, at least not so you would know her like I did. I’m going to do my best though, because she was one of the best people I knew and she deserves to be remembered.
I met Dawn about 17 years ago. I had just transfered from WMU to U of M- Dearborn and I needed a part-time job. My mom worked with Dawn’s mom and she knew Dawn had an open position at the optical office she worked at. And so it began.
I remember the interview I had with her being intimidating- but then again, I was intimidated by nearly everyone back then. I remember her taking her job seriously, later realizing she took it seriously not only because she worked for her father, but because she loved what she did.
We weren’t immediate friends, Dawn and I. It took us time to get to know each other. When I graduated college and found a corporate position in telecommunications, I left her office. I really didn’t figure we’d continue to be in contact after I left, but she kept in touch and we started hanging out. We’d go to dinner, go to the Detroit Institute of Arts, we painted pottery together, went to the movies, and took a truffle making class. More than anything though, we just talked. About everything.
Dawn was safe for me. I knew whatever I said would stay with her. I also knew that whatever I said, she would give me honest feedback on. That was hard sometimes, to hear her be straight with me, but she always was and I appreciated that more than she’ll ever know.
She helped me see through my problems, helped me see myself sometimes when I couldn’t find myself through the drama of it all. Dawn helped me believe in me and I wonder now if that was why she was here. Selfish and egocentric of me perhaps, but she did wonders to boost my confidence and give me faith in myself.
We did the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day walk together…twice. The irony that we both raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research and got sunburned on the walk and she dies of melanoma is not lost on me. I’m going to be angry about this for a long time I think.
The first walk we did in 1999 started in Wisconsin and took us to Chicago. This was before I was a runner or triathlete or active at all. The moral of this story is that neither of us trained enough to walk the distance we did that first day. They said it would be 20 miles and I think we walked closer to 30, though it felt like 50. The last couple of miles I wanted to quit or rest or sit or do anything but walk one minute more. But Dawn kept walking and so I followed.
I was nearly in tears and maybe she had had enough of my blubbering, but seeing her walking, just a bit in front of me, kept me going. The next two days were much easier and Dawn and I experienced such an amazing sense of camaraderie with all the other walkers. We had never felt so connected to strangers before, never new it was even possible for that to occur. It was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before.
When the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day walk came to Michigan in 2002, we knew we had to do it again. So we committed and raised funds and then I got pregnant with my first little man. We still did the walk. I didn’t walk all 60 miles, I was 6 months pregnant then, but we did a lot of it, then rode the sweep van together when we got tired. I told Dawn she could continue on walking, that I supported her and didn’t want to hold her back. But she didn’t want to leave me alone. This walk wasn’t nearly as amazing as the first, sometimes it’s hard to recreate those kinds of things. But we did it together and we were happy that we did.
The year after I had my son, she had hers. We were each busy learning from our sons how to be moms. I had a very easygoing kid who slept a lot. She had a pretty laid back kid who didn’t. I passed along my sleep book and she laughed at it. Then she had another boy and then I had my second. She always gave me a hard time about being so lucky that mine went to bed so easily…and hers still don’t.
Feeling a little tied down as mommies, we resolved to go to dinner once a month so we could have hot meal and a drink or two and not be interrupted. Sometimes life got in the way and we’d miss and try to make it up the next month. We’d go to Outback Steakhouse and we’d drink. I’d get a beer and she’d get a Wallaby Darned. For dinner she’d get the Victoria’s filet and I’d get the ribs and if we weren’t too stuffed we’d share the Chocolate Thunder. All the while we talked about our families and friends and work and everything.
Mike was always happy when we went to dinner, then he could make fish for himself- something Dawn wasn’t a fan of. I’m kind of hoping he does a big “fish-a-palooza” one night soon. Anyway, we didn’t always go to Outback, we’d mix it up sometimes and head to Macaroni Grill. Sadly, that was where we had our last dinner out and we ordered our favorite Leaning Bellinis- unfortunately they changed the menu and some of the recipes and so they just didn’t taste the same. We got cups once though, when they did taste good.
Somewhere between each of us having our first and second sons, Dawn introduced me to Take My Bagel. It was an online forum that Mike started. I remember that Dawn’s user name was fungo…a type of baseball bat. Mike and Dawn are baseball fans and I believe the forum was made up of baseball friends they had.
I had just finished Grad school and found my former study time was unoccupied. I posted to the Take My Bagel forum occasionally, not really finding my voice until Mike posted a writing challenge. The stipulations were an 800 word story that had to be set in Vegas and include a black SUV somehow. So I decided to give it a go and absolutely loved writing this. Mike declared me the “winner” of the handful of entries that submitted and we did a follow up competition. I enjoyed writing this so much, I kept it up.
9 years of writing (on and off) and I have nearly three books written that include versions of the character that started with that 800 word story. Thank you Mike and Dawn for helping me find my passion. I will be FOREVER grateful. Dawn has since read numerous versions of books one and two, giving me feedback and encouragement every time. I’m sad that she’ll never see it published, as she was the first I trusted with it.
Oddly enough, just two days after her passing, I was in contact with an editor who was interested in my book and asked for me to submit my manuscript. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Dawn had a hand in that somehow, I’m sure. Thanks D.
At one point this week I was worried about not remembering her. About forgetting things we did together, or things she said, but I have actually been pleasantly surprised…well I’m not sure if breaking down into tears is necessarily pleasant, but I have reminders of her all over my house. She made this bag for me that I use for my cycle class every week:
If you can’t see it well enough, there are little green clovers all over it. It fits my cycle shoes, my towel, two water bottles and the other miscellaneous things I need for class. I think of her every time I use it.
She also made this little thank you note organizer thingy:
I have a whole host of other things she had made for me for fun or as a gift, including: Christmas ornaments, coffee cup sleeves, organizing binders, a key chain wrist strap, purses, and a super-hero cape for my boys. There was no limit to Dawn’s creativity. She even had her own room for scrap-booking. She started that before everything went digital, but she had organizers for paper and stamps and markers and anything she used to craft. She called it her craft room and of it I was insanely jealous!
I’m loving that I am finding reminders of Dawn all over my house. My 10 year old found this in a basket of random stuff in my room the other day:
Dawn gave this to me on a birthday or Christmas so when my boys were pissing me off, I could pull it out and prove they were getting on my last nerve. That girl cracked me up!
Speaking of funny, look what else I found in that basket:
Yes, it is a holographic picture of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen on this locket/ring. Dawn found this in her Burger King happy meal and thought of me.
This is where I out Dawn and I.
We’re Twilight fans. I am Team Edward. Pretty sure she was Team Jacob, which is likely why she gave this to me and didn’t keep it for herself. Yes, we both read every book. Multiple times. Yes, we had a standing date for when each new movie was released. I admit it.
We learned our lesson after the first Twilight movie though, not to go to the first showing. The audience consisted of 1/2 teenagers, 1/2 30-somethings like us and about 4 dudes that we figured were hoping to score that night. The teens were loud and obnoxious and so from then on we didn’t go to the first showing anymore. Regardless, it was fun to do dinner and head to the movies, enjoying the company and escaping our mom duties for a few hours.
Dawn loved to read. We were both fans of Twilight obviously and she introduced me to Sookie Stackhouse, beyond that she was always looking for another book to read. Dawn loved music and I know she enjoyed the show Glee. Dawn loved photography and if you were ever at her house or checked out her blog, there were plenty of photos there, especially of her boys.
Dawn was an awesome gift giver, always very thoughtful and personal, if not humorous as you could tell with the above nerve cell. I can’t walk past a Sharpie of any kind without thinking of Dawn. She gifted me pens and markers regularly, which I love. That and Moleskein notebooks for, you know, book notes, to do lists and such. Sometimes she’d give me different kinds of lotions, but the one thing we would always give each other- Lip Balm. Dawn and I weren’t lipstick wearers. At best a tinted lip balm of some kind, sometimes a hued gloss, but almost always Burt’s Bees.
Today my friend Jill gave me a Burt’s Bees from Dawn. Apparently Dawn was concerned about me, how I would take losing losing her. To be honest, losing Dawn is the hardest loss I’ve ever endured. I love her very much. I’m going to be fine of course, but grief is a process and I expect some days will be better than others for me.
There are few things I wholeheartedly blame Dawn for:
- my first iPhone
- the iPods, iPads and MacBooks that followed
- my Twitter habit
- my addiction to Teva Mush flip flops
- my pining for another Harvey Seatbelt bag
- my passion for Oakley sunglasses and all things optical
Some other things you should know about Dawn:
She cared SO MUCH about everyone.
When she first tried to get me on Twitter, I didn’t get it. I whined and complained about it, I didn’t see the point. I tried it half-heartedly and gave it up. Months later, upon her urging, I tried it again and this time it stuck. Dawn was on Twitter every day and it was very easy to connect with her there. At times she would post something snarky or mundane or happy about her day. But then I would see her reply to a friend supporting them in their loss or hardship, offering advice on a problem or giving her patented Big Smooshy Hugs, virtually of course. It was then I saw the connectedness she had with all these Twitter folks that she had collected from reading various blogs or forums or special interest sites.
Some have been saying for years as technology has developed, that it would drive a wedge between people. That things were beginning to get impersonal, that people wouldn’t know how to interact with other people anymore. It’s bullshit.
Dawn is proof that you can be close to people without ever having met them in person. Dawn cared enough to connect with these people over common interests or hardships they endured. These people cared enough about Dawn to follow her journey as well. Dawn has relationships with people all over the world, from Canada and the UK, and all over the US. Tonight, a number of these people will have remembered Dawn by releasing blue and purple balloons in her honor. If that isn’t love and connection, I don’t know what is.
She was ALWAYS optimistic.
I’ve always considered myself a positive, glass half full kind of gal but Dawn took that to a whole nother level. Yes, I am a writer and just said “a whole nother”. Bite me. From her first melanoma diagnosis, she was optimistic. Through every surgery, every treatment, and every side effect, she remained optimistic. There was always another option, a next step, always something else that they could do for her. She heroically endured the pain, discomfort, fatigue and exhaustion, all with a smile on her face. I don’t doubt she had her moments of emotional release when they gave her less than good news, but she always but on a brave face for us.
I visited her at the hospital, the last time she was there. Mike was there hanging out too, her rock through it all, as always. Anyway, I was there for an hour and a half just talking about everything, her boys, my boys, our families and at one point I asked her if she was in pain. She said yes, a lot. Yet there she sat listening and chatting like we were at Outback all over again.
She was selfless and brave.
Dawn was never in denial or ignorant about her condition, I know that she knew what her diagnosis meant. I know she was hopeful and optimistic because anything really IS possible right? But she knew the score. She didn’t want any of us to worry though. She didn’t want any of us to be consumed in fear or worry about her diagnosis or her treatment. She didn’t want us to stress or be sad that the outlook wasn’t so good. She wanted and would still want us to move on, to do what we can to seek out what makes us happy and live our lives fully.
If you’re reading this and you knew Dawn, you already know all these things about her. Like I stated in the beginning, I could write for days about Dawn and her amazing spirit, yet I know I have missed mentioning things and if you want to share anything, please feel free to add in the comments. If you didn’t know Dawn, I hope you at least got a glimpse of the wonderful person she was and how much she meant to me. She touched so many lives in a positive way, including mine.
I was able to speak to and hug her family this weekend and I know they were grateful to hear from me and so many others, how well she was loved. The outpouring of love from Dawn’s friends has been overwhelming. They’ve posted about her, raised money in her name and donated to the Melanoma Foundation in her name too. Someone told me that she said she just wanted to be remembered. With all this love, I have no doubt she will NEVER be forgotten.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few things before I close this out.
- Check your skin for unusual moles regularly.
- Use sunscreen and re-apply regularly, especially if you’ve been in the water.
- Stop using tanning beds NOW and for god’s sake don’t let your kids go.
- Laundry and house cleaning can wait- spend that time with your kids or other loved ones, you’ll never wish you had spent more time cleaning.
- Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them.
- Find something to be #moarhappyer about every day. No matter how horribly things are going in your life, there is always something to smile about. If Dawn could do it, so can you.
Please spread the word about Melanoma. Skin cancer kills just like any other cancer. Dawn’s battle with Melanoma was heartbreaking for me and I didn’t see it first hand like her family did. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. Get the facts and donate to find a cure for Melanoma at Melanoma Research Foundation.
I am so sad she is gone and I will miss her terribly. I am so very thankful to have known her, to have had the time we spent together, and will remember her for the rest of my life. I will be forever grateful to have had the honor to call her my friend.
Rest in peace dear friend.
Love you always.