The Promise

I sat in the restaurant feeling nervous. She sat across from me. I with my long auburn hair, she with her long blond hair. I already knew she and I were the same age. I knew that she had lost her mother same as I had. I didn't know at the time, though we lived 800 miles apart, our mom's had died the same week, the same year in '82.

My future husband's brother sat next to her. I watched as her eyes shone as she looked at him. I remember thinking, they have a "special" thing going that has lasted a good many years. I knew her name was Sharon Lyn Bryant. Same height as me, same weight. I finally got the "microscopic" test she'd done on me, neither one of us saying a word when I said, "Do I pass?" She asked what I meant and I told her she'd been scrutinizing my whole body and soul and I wanted to know if I passed to marry her brother-in-law. She laughed heartily and a friendship was formed that night that would last a lifetime.

Sometimes no matter how hard we try, life doesn't always go the way we hope and dream it will. Just three years later, my phone rang one night with Sharon on the other end. "He left me" was all she said. I told her that no matter what, I was here for her and we'd see this through.

The next five years were spent with visits from her quarterly as she would fly to Michigan to spend a week or 10 days with us. Each time, we did crazy things, and I would take her to places she'd never seen before. I remember her seeing her first big snow fall. She told me she wanted to go out in the woods and scream to the top of her lungs. I told her to go on, it was too cold, I'd stay inside. I watched as she put on my boots and my heavy coat, throwing the hood up over her head as she trudged off through a foot of snow out back to where my woods started. I heard her scream. I stood in the doorway and heard her scream to the top of her lungs and I heard her laugh. Laugh at snow? I thought she was crazy. I saw her heading up towards the house a while later then disappear. I went outside looking for her to find her laying on her back, with her arms outstretched flapping her arms up and down. I bent down and said, "What on earth are you doing NOW?" She replied she was a snow angel. She'd never been a snow angel in all her 43 years and she wanted to be one then. I left her out in that bitter blowing wind thinking Southern girls definitely WERE crazy!

Through the years we traveled places. We sat in a little Waffle House in Atlanta once when she started laughing so hard, she wet her pants right there in the restaurant. We laughed the years away. We shared birthday gifts through the mail, and I'll always remember the year she sent me a Honey baked ham all the way from Alabama with a little card saying, "Wish I could be with you, but I always am, in heart."

She's the one who came up with the crazy idea in 1988 to get me to move to Alabama. I told her I has a business I owned in Michigan and how could I just up and leave? She said, come, live near me, and we will live a life of laughter and enjoy life to the fullest and you can start another business in Alabama.

I made that move in '92. She bought 7 acres out in the country, I took one, she took 6 to put her 3 girls on, an acre each. Life was very different for me, moving from Detroit to a little tiny town in the middle of nowhere. But I adapted. I got used to wearing shorts in November and February. I adapted to seeing scorpions crawling into their hidey holes. And how we laughed as we walked on nature walks, seeing baby animals playing with one another. We had dreams of starting up a catering business. We agreed that me with my Northern cooking and her with her Southern cooking, the two of us could knock their socks off with down home cooking.

I remember a year ago July when she was out on a job and she had to catch a plane home quickly. She was rushed straight to the hospital, unable to walk, the pains were so bad in her stomach. I was there in the room with her when the doctor came in and said, "It's cancer." We looked at each other and I saw the tears begin under her glasses. I grabbed her and told her we'd get through this, we always had and we always would.

I sat with her evening after evening when the pains were bad. I watched as the chemo ripped her body apart. I held her. I told her we'd get through this. I believed that. I was there the day her hands went through her hair and a handful of hair came out. She looked at me and tears started welling in her eyes. I jumped up and said, "Who needs hair?" I told her I loved her bald or looking like a lion, it didn't matter to me. I was there when something went wrong and her body filled up with fluid, making her 40 lbs. Heavier. She took one look at me and said, What do I look like?" "A clump", I said. We nicknamed her Clump after that. Oh, how she'd laugh.

I'm the one who got her the glitter butterflies one year later, this past July when she started bleeding again. We decorated her head for her next visit to the hospital. I was there the night she got the x-rays out and told me FIND THE CANCER. I am not a doctor, I told her, but I found a basket of fruit, a kitten, a heart, and oh how we laughed as we both looked at all those x-rays and found animals, food, even a genie bottle! It felt SO good to hear her laugh. So good. I was the one she begged to get hold of my "Internet buddies" and find Amazing Grace played by bagpipes. She made me promise that they would be played at her funeral service. I promised.

I was there with her again in the hospital room when they told her, "The cancer is back and it's aggressive." When she started to cry, I hugged her and told her we'd beat this together. I was there September 25 when the bleeding started at home. Rushing her back to the hospital, we were told there was nothing else that could be done. All they could do was make her comfortable. I held her as the sobs came from her heart and body. My own heart was torn and yet I had to be strong for her. I tried with all my might.

I was there September 26, 2001 when something told me to go up to her house early in the morning. I found her lying in bed, her father shaking his head saying, "She won't go to the hospital and she's bleeding badly." I sat down on the bed next to her. Her eyes were closed. I waited. I watched as one eye opened, then the other and I reached out and rubbed her arm. She just looked at me. But what I saw in those eyes.........will be in my mind the rest of my life. "I'm dying." She said. The sobs came so hard, so fast......I reached down sobbing myself and said, "No, we're gonna beat this, you and I." "Say good bye to me", she said. I said no. She said, "You better or it's going to be too late." I told her we had to get her to the hospital and we had to move quickly. She shook her head and said she didn't want to die in the hospital. Then she said something I will never forget. She said, "I never got daddy's Christmas gift finished." She looked up at me, and I softly said, "it will be finished." She said, You promise?" "I promise," I said. She softly said, "I never got the baby blanket finished for the baby." Her youngest daughter is expecting a baby in March,2002. Oh how she tried to crochet as sick as she was. I myself do not crochet, I can only knit.

I was there when the blood started. I watched in horror as it came. I remember grabbing her and telling her we were GOING to the hospital NOW. She fell into my arms. I couldn't carry her so I had her wrap her arms around my neck and I dragged her into the living room. Her father was getting the bed made in the van for her. She was so weak. So Pitifully weak. I got her outside to the van and gently lifted her onto the back seat in the van. She asked for the angel bear I'd gotten her. I had it tucked in her arms as I stood with tears streaming down my face as I saw her father race off towards the hospital 32 miles away.

I was doing the dishes when the phone rang. One of her daughters choked as she said, "Sharon, you better come fast, mama isn't going to make it through the night." I didn't want to go. I didn't want to see whatever God had in store for her. I waited. I sat and cried and begged God to let her live. Let us fulfill the dreams we had planned. Let us have a friendship that would go into our 60's and 70's.

I was there that night as she lay in the coma, her heart rate slowly leaving her body. I sat next to her and again held her hand. The doctor told us she would pass without pain. I held her hand and rubbed her arm and I spoke out loud as I said, "Sharon, I'm here. I promised you I'd be here. Her father sat on the other side of the bed, her 3 girls at the foot and my husband to my right. I bent down and softly said, "Sharon if you can hear me, squeeze my hand." We all watched as her fingers grasp my fingers. We all cried. For the woman we all loved who could hear us but could not respond back to us. Yet, she knew we were there. I lost my best friend and sister-in-law that night at 11:05 P.M. I lost my hopes and dreams of the things we had planned. Now all I have is the memories she and I made in the past 17 years.

I was there when the funeral parlor man said the casket would be closed. Her father stood beside me and asked if I was ok. I shook my head no. Sharon's one daughter came up to me, bent down and told me that her mama loved me as much as she did her own "family" that was blood. She told me mama left me a message and that was, "I'll be in touch. Tell Sharon I'll be in touch." I asked the family if I could have 10 minutes alone with her. They closed the door. I stood with tears falling down my face as I said good bye. Good bye to a very special person who I love.

I was there when the service started. I remember the words. I remember when Amazing Grace started by bagpipes and I stood up, looked at her family and ran outside. I'd heard it 50 times every time on the Internet when she wanted me to play it over and over for her on her computer. She wanted to be cremated. And her ashes thrown to the wind in Puerto Rico.

I found someone who crochets and the baby blanket is completed. It is wrapped and will be given to the grandchild she had prayed she'd live long enough to see wrapped in that homemade blanket. The baby is being born today, August 14, 2002.

I was there Christmas morning with her father. I had a package to deliver. It was finished soon after that last night that I made the promise. The blanket material she picked out, the satin binding, with the colors of autumn, was placed in her father's arms along with a very special poem that was written in memory of his daughter on her birthday.

I promised.

In memory of my sister-in-law, Sharon Lyn Bryant December 25, 1945 - September 26, 2001

Forever friends through eternity Sharon Jean Bryant

Sharon's grandson was born March 8,2002. Though she cannot be here with him....I know her love is around this child.

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