Teddy bears and rainbows

I was doing all right until I dropped the sugar.

We'd gotten the bad news at church Sunday morning: Candace had taken a turn for the worse. Candace Sauermann, our dear friend and long-time church family member, who had been battling her third round with cancer when she caught pneumonia. But we thought she'd been doing better.

Candace, who a mutual friend once described as the sweetest, kindest woman in Edwardsville and who my son once described as "teddy bears and rainbows." He knew her better than most of my friends in our grownup-y world, because Candace was his Sunday school teacher from the time he could walk. Her unfailing patience and dedication to the kids of St. Andrew's is reflected in every child who passed through our red doors for the last two generations.

Candace, the engineer who dedicated many years of her life to designing the roads and bridges that carry us through this metro-east, working for the state department of transportation before moving into the private sector.

But she eventually gave it up, because she found more fun in working for a vacation travel company. Helping families plan and pay for Disney vacations didn't pay anything like what a project engineer can make, of course. But Candace told me her bouts with the Beast taught her that we should strive to do the work that makes us happy and gives us time with our families, because we never know how much time we have with them.

Candace, my dear friend who was so excited when I started dating Jim, and scoffed at my protestations that I was never going to marry again. She could be fierce even when she was teddy bears and rainbows, and Candace didn't hold back from guiding you away from your own bull - in the nicest possible way, of course. Sure enough, she read lessons at Jim's and my wedding, and her husband Frank stood with the ushers. They are family.

Candace, who walked by my side at Relay for Life for the past ten years or so, who always showed up when I needed another pair of hands, who manned the table to sell cookies at bake sales and glow necklaces at the big event. Candace came up with idea after idea to try to raise money for cancer research. She was passionate about it, even before she herself fought off the Beast again and again.

The third time she was diagnosed, she told me she was a little frustrated. After all, hadn't she had her fair share?

Damn straight she had, and I find it very hard not to be angry. I seem to get angrier every time I lose another friend to cancer. It seems to haunt us, striking so many around us over and over. So many friends and family members have fought it off - at least seven, just in the last year. And those we've lost. David Black. Rachael Wise. Jayne Matthews. Shorty Bergman.

Candace Sauermann.

She died in the wee hours of January 1, barely making it into 2018. Her husband held her hand and kissed her goodbye. Her son James and other family members were with her, and she was no longer in pain. We should see these things as blessings, because they are.

But I find that hard to see. I had been mentally preparing myself since we heard about the pneumonia, since we got the news at church about the DNR. Jim saw Frank's post about it early this morning and came in to tell me.

And I was doing fine until I was preparing some batter in the kitchen and I dropped the sugar canister painted with cow-splotches onto the floor and it broke and I remembered that Grammy bought me that cow-splotch kitchen canister set when I moved into my first apartment and I burst into a ridiculous bout of tears.

Because we simply have lost too many people. Rudy and Grammy and Neal, all at once in this awful fall. Our friend Miriam lost her husband over the Christmas break, and now Candace. It's too cruel, and it's too much and it's not damn fair. Life may not be fair, but dammit, Candace deserved more life. She deserved to watch her son finish school and get married. She deserved to be a grandmother, because Candace would have been the world's champion grandma.

I'm angry, and I'm heartbroken for Frank and James, who have lost their light. All of us in the Donald-Smith-Gillentine household keep hugging each other today, and I wish we could spend the day snuggling each other because Candace was right, we never know how many days together we get. Alas, I have to go into work today, and there's no calling in grief-stricken on a holiday.

But still I find myself thinking of Candace, not just Candace dancing at my wedding or leading my toddling son through one of a dozen Christmas pageants or cheerfully helping me plan our Disney vacation. Instead I think of Candace telling me about spending your life doing the things you love and making time for the things that are important. Because you don't know how long you have.

Candace, I can't even say how much we're going to miss you. My words aren't sufficient to the cause. I seem to be writing a lot of obituaries in this blog lately, and more and more I find that no matter how much skill with words I may practice, they cannot fully capture the wonderful people we have lost. They cannot fully capture you, because you were more than teddy bears and rainbows, even though that's how a ten-year-old boy once described his teacher and I thought it was the best possible description of you, of how you loved, and how much you were loved.

In the face of your loss, I am simply without words.

Frank and Candace, dancing at the wedding.
Photo credit: Tom Atwood