Two weeks ago, I walked out of the Sacred Harp singing to head toward my car and turned on my phone to call my cousin Sheila. She had called the night before to check on me because she had heard that I was having some struggles with my basement. Water had seeped in several times in the two weeks before due to the pouring rain we've had in our area, and she was calling to comiserate because she too was dealing with the same ordeal in her house. As usual, her voicemail message was funny, and as usual, she ended the message with some encouraging words and an 'I love you.' When she called the night before, I wasn't able to reach the phone because I was in the basement working on the water problem.
The next day got away from me at work because of our company site being sold, and I planned to call Sheila on my way home from Sacred Harp. But, when I turned on my phone, the alert notified me that I had several messages. I listened to all of them - from various family members - which told me that Sheila had been rushed to the hospital that evening. As soon as I hung up from my voicemail, my cousin Bart called to tell me that Sheila had just passed away unexpectedly from heart complications.
Sheila with Bart and Mary at Grandpa's 98th birthday party.
I can't explain the shock I felt. Sheila and I have always been very close. My dad and mom have always been very close to her, too. In fact, they named me after her, so her middle name Denise is my middle name.
Some of my earliest memories are memories of doing things with Sheila. When Mom and Dad worked for some in-home sales companies and they needed to attend conventions, Sheila would always come along to babysit. We'd explore the area or play in the pool, or she'd teach us songs and poems. We used to sing "Miss Molly Had A Dolly" over and over and over, and I loved watching Sheila act out the song. She loved small children, and she ran a daycare business within her home until her passing. She would go on and on and on about each child as if each were her own, and she was so proud of them.
Sheila made several dolls for me through the years, and one even had a homemade fur coat and mittens. She went to the trouble of refurbishing a cherished doll, Susie, for my graduation, and I couldn't believe it. Sheila was always doing nice things like that.... sending a note, sending me a pansy figurine to add to my collection, or sending some Valentine's Day cookies. She had just done that the week before.
Sheila was so fun, and when there was fun to be had, I knew I always had a partner at the family events that would jump right in with me. It didn't matter how crazy it was. We'd talk and talk, and we'd laugh and laugh. But, then, when I needed someone to really listen and understand, she'd do that too and pray for me. She gave great hugs, and she wasn't afraid to say 'I love you' - both when times were tough and when I was up to something mischievous that she could really appreciate.
Sheila with Mom at Kayla's graduation party.
I can hear her voice saying, "Ohhh, Rog" or "Ohhh, Dennie" when my uncle or dad were doing something funny. But, my favorite was when she looked at her husband and said "Ohhh, David" when he was kidding her. That happened so often when I would visit Sheila and David. I remember always sitting in the backseat and leaning forward to watch them joke with each other while holding hands. It seemed they were almost always holding hands, and I loved that.
Sometimes, Sheila would say all of the "practicing" on Aaron and me in our younger years was really just preparation for her two daughters. She loved Brittany and Kayla so very much. VERY MUCH! That was for sure, and she protected them like a mother hen. When I teased her for being overprotective, she explained the girls were her babies, and the 3 of them were the best of friends. Since Kayla has moved down here to Edwardsville, their family has visited many times in the past year, and those are some special times for which I am very thankful.
It was several years ago when Sheila came to me and told me she'd just read an article about not waiting in life to celebrate. She said the story had made her think about our grandpa - whose 94th birthday was approaching - and wondered what I thought about having a party this year instead of waiting until his 95th to have one. So, Sheila and I moved forward with plans. It turned out to be a BIG party with all of the extended family invited to attend. But, that year and in the years after, some people have been mixed up at what birthday Grandpa was celebrating. They were sure that first big party HAD to be his 95th. 'Why would anyone have a big party for a 94th birthday??' I vividly remember standing in front of my family - while crying, of course - trying to explain why we decided to have a party that year. It was Sheila's idea and Sheila's hope that we would not put off celebrating and spending time and expressing our love to our loved ones because we didn't know how long we'd have to spend with each other here on earth. And, I vividly remember trying to put all of that into words while looking across the park pavilion into her crying eyes that day. What a wonderful memory and a wonderful lesson she gave me that year... along with so many others.
It has been hard to realize she is gone. In fact, even at her own funeral, something funny happened, and my initial thought was that I needed to go find Sheila to tell her about it because she'd get a kick out of it. It was quite a shock when I came to my senses. It just didn't feel right for the family to be together with her not being there because she was ALWAYS there when we had a family event. I know there will be so many more of those times of missing her in the future, and that's very difficult to think about. But, oh, what a wonderful time I've had with her thus far and what a wonderful time I've had recounting the memories. And, I imagine the experience she's having in heaven with our Lord, and, through the tears, I can't help but smile... just like I did every time I was with Sheila.