Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Trails to You

On March 11, I attended a celebration of life service for my sweet friend, Bonnie Ferguson. Although she'd passed away on the first of January, her last wishes were for her family to hold a service to honor her life when the daffodils were in full bloom, so they waited. I was hesitant about going to the service because I knew it was going to be difficult. Bonnie and I had shared breast cancer. I had a touch of suvivor's guilt and didn't quite know how to deal with it. Why was I still here and she was not? I may never know the answer to that, but God, in His sovereignty, does.

Bonnie and her daughter
My husband and I drove down the long gravel road to Bonnie's house. As we bumped over the road, I couldn't help but think about Bonnie. She was quite a lady. We'd first met her almost three years ago when we'd moved here. I remembered, as we were unpacking our car, how she had pulled up along the side of our house in her little golf cart. It was warm that day and she'd driven down to the corner veggie stand to pick up some tomatoes. We walked over to the cart as she spoke and I laughed when she introduced herself. We shared the same first name! After a few pleasantries, this fiery redhead handed us three huge ripe tomatoes and drove off down the road. It would be weeks before I saw her again. Although I didn't know it at the time, Bonnie enjoyed a reclusive lifestyle.

A few months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In talking with one of the neighbors, I learned the other Bonnie had dealt with breast cancer 22 years earlier but was in remission. I was given Bonnie's phone number and called her often for advice in dealing with my own cancer. Bonnie was happy to offer helpful tips and advice. Soon we became good friends and Bonnie was inviting us to her home. We spent many evenings sitting with her on a large, wrap around porch talking. Bonnie loved being outdoors and spent much of her time working in her yard or just sitting watching the wildlife.
Some of the attendees at Bonnie's service

I went through a very difficult year of cancer treatment and as I was ending my radiation treatments, I learned Bonnie's cancer had returned. She was dumbfounded but went bravely forward. She began chemo treatments at the new Cancer Treatment Center of America near us. She fought hard but continued to grow weaker. We had no idea how things were going for her because we didn't see her much but I continued to call, email, or send her cards. Near Christmas we heard she was in hospice care and had round the clock caregivers. Our hearts broke each time we received an update. Bonnie's life was drawing to a close.
Places she traveled

In mid January, while talking with my mail carrier, I became worried. The mail carrier told me Bonnie's mail had been piling up and it looked like the house was no longer lived in. I contacted the gentleman who cared for Bonnie's yard and asked if he knew anything, that's when I learned of her death. Mr. Herschel explained she'd died peacefully on the first of January with all of her children around her. I wasn't expecting to react to the news like I did. It hit me extremely hard and I spent the rest of the day crying. I wasn't necessarily crying because Bonnie was gone, because I knew she'd suffered terribly those last few months, but I guess I was grieving over what cancer does to a body and how sneaky it is in subsequent attacks. I wondered, if sometime in the future, I might experience a recurrence as Bonnie did and that scared me.

About a week after talking with Mr. Herschel, I received an email giving me the details of the celebration of life service. In the email, attendees were instructed to wear happy attire because Bonnie didn't want there to be any sadness at her service. Those who wanted to speak were encouraged to share special stories of times spent with Bonnie. There would be a big barbecue afterwards for those wishing to share more time with Bonnie's children.

When the day of the service came, my husband and I chose brightly colored clothing. It was chilly that day so we bundled up and headed toward Bonnie's. It didn't take but a few minutes to get to her house. She lived directly behind us. We traveled down her winding gravel road onto her heavily wooded property.  Bonnie had the most perfect piece of land and a beautiful house. She'd chosen it over thirty years earlier and had instructed the architect to build her house where it was partly underground. She not only wanted it to be a constantly cool home but wanted protection from tornadoes and other kinds of storms.
Kim opens the service

We were surprised by the number of cars on her lawn. Bonnie had always seemed to live a quiet life and we hadn't expected to see so many people in attendance. We exited our car and walked to the large barn where the service would be held. Bonnie loved her barn and often threw parties and hosted weddings in it. There were folding chairs lined up in rows and on the back of each chair was a Hawaiian lei. We found out later, as one of the guests spoke, of Bonnie's love of Hawaii. The leis represented that love and her family wanted us to understand how special the state was to them, too. As we took our seats, we placed our leis around our necks and waited for the service to begin.

Bonnie's daughter, Kim, began the service. She spoke in a quiet voice as she tried hard not to cry. My heart went out to her. I could only imagine how difficult it must have been to speak about one's mother so soon after her death. After Kim spoke, she invited others to come to the microphone and share their stories. My husband and I were amazed to learn of Bonnie's zest for living. She was spontaneous and had traveled all over the world! We learned she was very generous and often would pay for friends to join her in her travels. We were shocked to learn she'd even traveled to Antarctica!

Gift photos for attendees to take
One after another friends and family spoke about Bonnie telling funny stories or about how determined she was to have her own way. It was good to have a lighthearted gathering to remember her and it helped to take the sadness of her leaving away.

Just before the service ended, we were all asked to stand and sing "Happy Trails to You." I thought it a very fitting choice and knew it would have made Bonnie smile. The gathering was a wonderful way to honor Bonnie and I know one day, we'll meet again.

Bonnie's family had her cremated and intends on taking her cremains back to her beloved Hawaii where part of her will remain forever. She was a remarkable woman and I only wish I'd had time to know her better.

Listen to Happy Trails to You here.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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