Goodbye GiGi

Today, we will have the first of two memorial services for my son’s great grandmother, Barb Friend. He is eight years old. Between the testosterone and the inability to stand still for five minutes, I knew that I had to have a conversation with him about how he should behave during the services. As I began to explain that he is the very embodiment of his great grandmother’s pride and joy, I began to cry. People who know me well know that I don’t cry.

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Imagine a morning like any other, as Chaos leaves the quiet shadows of your home where he’s been resting as you sleep. The dog’s tail wags a breeze in front of you as he leads you through your routine, waiting patiently for the tasks that include him. Chaos then rouses your child, whose little voice blends into the symphony that accompanies a day’s first hours. Cereal sh, sh, sh-ing out of the box and into the bowl. Silverware tinkling. Water rushing into the sink. You check on your love, who lies still sleeping. Rest keeps her well. She seems cold, you think, so you cover her with blankets and return to the kitchen to finish her breakfast.

But Chaos is often restless, and a normal day’s routine is just not enough.

The morning of November 23rd, holding a tray of muffins, Todd Williams walked into the bedroom he shared with fianceé Lindsey Winchester. He touched her gently and called her name. In that fraction of a second it took to realize that she was unconscious, Chaos tightened his grip and began orchestrating what became the worst day Todd had ever known.

Hours later, agonized, having watched as doctors tried to determine if there was any hope for her, the rhythmic sounds of the breathing machines machines stopped. The monitors beeped and clicked with less frequency until finally, Lindsey passed quietly at 2:25am, at 26 years old, exactly one year to the day that Todd knew that they’d become a family.

“Why?” Because that is the question one asks when a young person dies. After a loss so shocking, there is a period of time during which real discussions should be avoided as a matter of respect and compassion. Friends, family, strangers needing to rationalize the shock, unintentionally contributing to the emotional drain of reliving those moments over and over again, with each recount of all of the details. In the beginning the waves of tears outlast the conversations, but each day, the number of words increases in between the waves until, eventually, a week has passed, the memorial service is over and the new normal begins to take shape.

When he came to me and asked me to tell this story, I wasn’t sure I could. I knew I would have to ask questions that were still difficult to answer through the raw wound of his broken heart. Along with several of his other friends and colleagues, I watched the private Facebook feed moment by moment, praying that she would recover. Every time Todd posted a comment for us, we cringed until finally we received the one we’d all been dreading. “Lindsey passed at 2:25am.” And then, we wept. We were spread out across the globe, but together we watched our friend suffer through the only medium he had to get to us all at once. We had started the journey with him in the morning, and were stunned and heartbroken for him as he helplessly watched his love slip away. I knew this conversation was going to be hard.

They’d met because she had been searching for a photographer for her wedding. Todd is an exceptional and highly respected photographer but wasn’t available that day. Eventually, the wedding was cancelled, but Lindsey called Todd again asking him to shoot family portraits for her. This time, his schedule was clear. The session was a success, and before they parted ways, Todd and Lindsey scheduled their first date. It began as a bit of a disaster. The conversation was awkward and they didn’t seem to have much in common. But after he left her at her door, something compelled him to call her and ask if they could just take a walk together. The next time they parted was November 24th, the morning she died.

Lindsey suffered with progressively worse and eventually uncontrollable migraines and seizures. She’d seen doctors, who labeled her symptoms as psychosomatic, and had visited ERs in excruciating pain, where they released her claiming she was only after pain medications. The medical community had failed her, repeatedly. So, Todd and Lindsey adapted their lives together to minimize triggers and easily respond to episodes. During that year, Linsdsey began to share bits and pieces of her life, slowly shedding light on the probable cause of her suffering. She had experienced the kind of trauma that leaves behind a trail of psychological and neurological damage. More and more, Todd understood her pain, and with each new detail, loathed more strongly the people who had caused it.

Eventually, our conversation took on the rhythm of healing. After sharing Lindsey’s history and her last hours, he chortled and broke into an inspired story of her mirth, kindness and generosity. It made me realize that she was well-suited for her career in nursing. He told me how, when he returned home from the hospital, he took a few moments to look through her phone. There he found text after text from her to friends and family, inquiring after their health or some ailment they were experiencing, crying with them, laughing with them. She was empathic and understanding, all while she fought demons that few people could see.

He shared quite a few stories in those two hours and his vivid detail not only let me get to know her better, but also laugh with him as though I had shared the experiences myself. Two of those stories stand out because they illustrate not only the sweetness of his “fragile angel” but also her sense of adventure.

The first time she was to meet Mattson, Todd’s young son, was on a road trip to the Georgia Aquarium. It was only a two and a half hour drive, but that is a lot of time for a little boy to be strapped into the back seat of a car. When Todd and Mattson arrived, Lindsey climbed into the back seat with Mattson, rather than sit in the front with Todd. “Aren’t you going to ride up front with me?” Todd asked, confused.  “No. I’m going to ride in the back with Mattson, and we’re going to build a blanket fort and watch The Croods.” In that two and half hours, a beautiful friendship was born between Mattson and Lindsey and it wasn’t long before Todd learned that sharing his loves with her would be a way of life.

It is a feat for a woman to charm an animated, adventurous boy into sharing his father. But it was a shock for Todd to watch Story, his pibble, quickly become Lindsey’s dog. At her mother’s, Lindsey was accustomed to her small Westies, whom Todd affectionately called the “angry marshmallows.” In stark contrast was Story, an eighty pound pit bull rescue that hides in the closet at the sound of the doorbell, and a tough nut to crack. Todd was sure that there wasn’t any way that “the cowardly lion” would accept Lindsey. Yet, after Lindsey came to live with them, every moment that Lindsey was home, Story was glued to her side. Todd and Story became a team in comforting her. Todd had learned her triggers and found that baking her cookies, sometimes as often as three times a day, was enough to stop the seizures. If she rested, Story wrapped himself around her, no matter where she lay. If she bathed, Story tried to bathe with her, failing miserable and accepting a position next to the tub. Todd quietly accepted his role as a spectator in the love affair between Story and Lindsey. He couldn’t begrudge that kind of devotion and in a single year, he shot hundreds of images of Story comforting Lindsey as though it was his singular purpose.

Lindsey and Story

Todd’s passion for rescuing pibbles is legendary. He has always been outspoken and crystal clear in his opinions about unchecked breeding and the deplorable treatment experienced by many dogs. He is a pibble hero, actively involved in rescue, and Lindsey was happy to join the fight. One morning, a few months into their relationship, Todd told Lindsey that he’d learned that one of the dogs he’d been following had been returned to a shelter ten hours away and was on the kill list for 5pm that day. She listened quietly, nodded and then left the room. Confused, he followed her into the bedroom to find that she had packed a bag and her pillow. “It never occurred to her that I wasn’t going to go,” he told me, “and she was going with me.” Ten hours on the road with Story in tow, and then ten hours home with two stinky dogs in the back seat. No complaint. No argument. A sidekick in the fight for the animals they loved. The moment he knew he was happy could have been that moment, or one of a hundred others. There were so very many.

We, his friends, watched their love grow through from all over the world through our social interactions on Facebook. After the news came that she had passed and we recovered from the initial shock, the seventeen of us in his peer group decided that we had to do something to give him hope. We were determined that it should be something that immortalized Lindsey and their passion for rescues. I can’t remember which one of us said it first (I know it wasn’t me), but what began as a donation to a rescue organization became the Lindsey Winchester Animal Rescue Memorial. It took only seconds for all of us to agree that it was the ideal way for us to honor Lindsey and comfort Todd. Robin Bakes set the wheels in motion and did all of the heavy driving. She built the Facebook page and stayed in touch with Carmen Klapper, the founder of Carmen’s Rescues and the beneficiary of the fund. Meanwhile, in the wee hours of the night when the house was quiet, Story would search for Lindsey incessantly, keeping Todd awake. He reached out and someone answered, all of us watching to make sure that our friend was able to function. While Todd suffered through first few days and then the closure that follows a memorial service, we watched as hundreds and hundreds of people responded to the page and to the memorial fund. But the best, most hopeful part, is that thanks to the fund, within 48 hours Carmen had rescued a beautiful pibble now named Lindsey.

On Monday, December 1st, Todd got to meet Lindsey’s first rescue and her namesake. The very talented Tawnya Evans[1] captured these precious, intimate moments with genuine, heartfelt compassion. While exchanging the photographs with me, she wrote “On the way home as I was sobbing. I thought, ‘It just amazes me how each person finds hope in so many different things. Some are our God, some are in people, some are in prayers, some in friends, but it was so wonderful to see the hope shine just a little in Todd when he saw the first rescue Lindsey. His passion for saving dogs is Todd’s HOPE.'” I had been wondering how I was going to start this particular piece, because it was so personal, but Tawnya not only gave me beautiful images, she gave me my inspiration.

Hope. That is where the healing begins.

Both Lindsey and Todd waited to meet for the first time. Lindsey, happy to be in a loving place and Todd, still mourning the woman whose name she bears.

Both Lindsey and Todd wait to meet for the first time.

Todd meets Lindsey for the first time.
Todd meets Lindsey for the first time.
If you’ve ever wondered if dogs are really man’s best friend, you need only look at Todd and Lindsey rolling in the grass together. There is no doubt that Monday afternoon, Lindsey was Todd’s best friend. The unconditional love, the sweetness in this beautiful animal made her the perfect choice as the first dog rescued in Lindsey Winchester’s name. “Today, I feel somewhat close to sane after this,” Todd told me, after his experience with Lindsey and the staff at Carmen’s. I could hear it in his voice. The tiny pieces of his broken heart will eventually find their way back together, perhaps with each new rescue facilitated by the fund. Story’s heart may take a bit longer. He’s still hiding regularly in the bathtub.

Todd and Lindsey get to know one another.
Todd and Lindsey get to know one another.
He introduced Lindsey to her benefactor…

One beautiful girl meets the other.
One beautiful girl meets the other.
And for just a little while, the world seemed less like a nightmare.

Todd smiles at how something awful begot something good.
Todd smiles at how something awful begot something good.

[1] Tawnya Evans,
[2] Carmen’s Rescues, You can donate by pressing the “Donate” button on the opening page.
[3] Find the memorial page on Facebook at

300 Pound Gorilla

It was shaping up to be a good morning.

South Tampa is a thirty five minute drive without Dale Mabry traffic and could easily become an hour with one broken stoplight. I was not about to make that hike until I was certain my client was actually in the office. It just wasn’t worth it.

A delay like that always means a trip to my favorite Starbucks, not because it was physically any different from any other location, but because the people are always friendly and they don’t screw up my order. It’s a simple pleasure.

Parallel lines converge in the distance.

With coffee and breakfast in hand, I settled into one of the big comfy chairs in the back. I breathed deeply and opened my laptop to complete the only task I had for the morning. I began to enjoy the shhhhh of the steamer, the voices in varying languages, and the clinking of the tumblers against the big espresso machines. The air was thick with the smell of coffee, an aroma that has brought me comfort since I was a little girl in my Abuela’s kitchen.

I wasn’t there for more than five minutes before a man walked in that I was sure I’d dated many years back. Moments later, a loud voice infiltrated the quiet of the restaurant as another man entered, still chatting on the phone. Naturally, he sat right next to me. Mysterious ex-boyfriend sat down at the table with him. The morning was getting more interesting by the minute. I put on my headphones and buried my head in my laptop.

I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation going on next to me because it was still quite loud. Something made me look up, and when I did, I saw the ex looking at me as he recognized who I was. I caught his eye, smiled, and said, “Do you still play Scrabble?” He had been the only person to ever consistently beat me at Scrabble. I was still a bit bitter about that.

Serendipity smiled and the air in the space changed. Ex and I realized that we still liked laughing and talking together. Turned out, also, that loud phone guy was a man I’d known for twenty five years. Suddenly, I was having a good time.

Before I realized it, an hour had gone by. Fifty people came and went and still, me and my two friends enjoyed interesting, topical conversation. It became much easier to wait for my client to call.

And then opposite forces collided.

Ex had to leave for a few moments. Naturally, I saved his seat. Who wouldn’t? Phone friend had to leave as well, so I was temporarily alone.

Within a minute, I receive a text from my sister in law. My uncle (through marriage) is not going to make it. His brothers and sisters and his son agree that it’s time to let him go. My younger brother is struggling with it, too. “I’ll meet brother there,” I tell my sister in law. Things got heavy.

Knowing that ex would return soon, I wanted to wait until I could tell him why I had to leave. I decided to catch up on my reading as a distraction. Perhaps five minutes passed before a tall, handsome, older man came to sit in ex’s chair. “Someone is sitting there,” I said politely, smiling and looking at older man’s eyes. I always engage.

“Oh, alright.” He said, and turned and walked to an empty table on the other side of the restaurant.

Another five minutes passed. Older man returns. “You know, if your friend isn’t back in another five minutes I’m going to take this chair.” Rousing the 300 pound gorilla that lives in my head.

“My friend is returning, and will be sitting in this chair, continuing the conversation we’ve been having all morning.” I said, as the bass line of my heartbeat set the new tempo.

“Fine.” He said, returning to the empty table in which he’d been sitting.

“I’ll be leaving in a minute, he can have this chair,” said the voice at the next big, comfy chair.

“Thank you,” I said, returning his smile.

Another five minutes passes. Nice, other man has left the second big comfy chair and older man comes to take it.

“You know it’s not right to save seats.” He says, while planting his bony ass in the chair vacated by nice, other man.

Heartbeat now blaring in my ears, I struggle between kindness and retribution. “Is it just that you are in a bad mood?” Gorilla began beating her chest.

“No. You can’t save seats.”

“Yes, I can. Especially considering that my friend has occupied that seat for the last hour and a half and is returning momentarily.” The gorilla had wrapped her big hand around my voice box and was now squeezing her way out of my mouth.

“I’m going to talk to the manager about this,” he said, folding the paper he’d been comfortably reading in the other BIG, COMFY chair for the last five minutes.

“Please! By all means, speak to the manager.” I seethed. Gorilla’s hand was escaping. I was experiencing a full-on, Hemlock Grove transformation from the petite, 110lb woman sitting comfortably, legs tucked under me, playing Words with Friends.

Older, cranky man stood up, out of BIG, COMFY chair and asked for the manager. I stayed in my chair, thinking that this was going to go away as soon as the manager told him to sit down and shut up. The first words out of old man’s mouth were, “This woman was rude,” which translated to, “This woman was demonstrative, spoke up for herself and her friend, and I don’t have the cojones to handle her.”

Transformation complete. The Gorilla got up from the big, comfy chair in which I sat and took three big steps to the end of the counter. I almost felt sorry for older, cranky man. I definitely felt sorry for the manager. Her voice was a bit deeper and more forceful than mine. “I was not rude. I was very polite. This man does not understand the concept that my friend stepped out for a few minutes to run an errand NEXT DOOR. He doesn’t seem to be satisfied with the chair he now occupies.”

The gorilla sat down. My heart raced. I was shaking in anger. Over a damn chair! I couldn’t believe it. I began thinking of my half brother and his mother’s family, waiting to find out if they could simply let my uncle die in peace. They were waiting because two doctors couldn’t decide if it was okay to let him go. Two egos were fighting over a human life, while the family paced, because that is all they had the power to do.

I could hear fragments of phases between older, cranky man and nice, calm manager. “Yes, sir, it is perfectly acceptable for people to save seats in here. Business owners sometimes save entire tables for meetings. It is our policy to allow people to meet here. They’ve been sitting here all morning.”

Older, cranky man threatens to contact corporate.

“You are certainly welcomed to do that.” Says nice, calm manager.

“I will,” says cranky, older man, again planting his bony ass in the BIG, COMFY chair that he’d previously occupied, that I would not have allowed anyone to take from him, because that’s who I am.

“You do need to understand, sir, that what she did was perfectly reasonable. She and her friend have been there all morning.” Said the manager.

“I don’t care. It’s MY opinion that you shouldn’t save seats. I’m going to ask corporate. This is about what I want.” He made sure to point to his chest, in case anyone doubted who “I” was.

Suddenly, 300 lb Gorilla got it. She was out, standing in the middle of the room beating her chest. Before I could contain her, she exploded in a torrent of psychological evaluation that would have made Freud stand and applaud. “Do you hear yourself?!” I said, rather loudly. “So, only YOUR opinion matters? No one else in this place matters, but you? So, YOU are a narcissist.”

By this time, my friend had returned to his chair and was now a bit stymied by the change in the atmosphere. He asked me what had happened. Older, cranky man had gotten OUT of his BIG, COMFY chair to continue to argue with the manager. The nice, calm manager handled it with grace as he went about his actual job, running one of the busiest stores in Tampa.

“What happened?” Asked Ex. I paraphrased. I’d lost interest in being angry. Gorilla and I realized that life is too short. Ex and I returned to our laughing, conversing and Word with Friends. Gorilla climbed back into my head and for the next ten minutes I forgot where I was headed next.

I got to the hospital and after kissing everyone, and getting details on what was happening, I sat with my brother and made him laugh. Eventually, I used old, cranky guy to make them all laugh. That’s what I do. I am, sadly, very good at grief. They’d all known me since I was a child. They were very familiar with Gorilla. They laughed heartily for a few minutes. It was rather comical to imagine me shake an intellectual fist at a man who was not only twice my size but rigid in his entitlement and his opinion of strong women. I recounted the story, sitting at a table with some very strong women.

The two egos didn’t show up to sign the DNR that day. They didn’t get around to it until the next day. Finally, the family could stop watching him suffer and start the business of missing him. Uncle Leo left the world at 5:23pm yesterday, surrounded by his family.

If I see old, cranky man at Starbucks again, which is highly likely, I’m going to tell him how, despite his best efforts, he did some good that day.

Rest in peace Uncle Leo. Have a drink with Daddy and Uncle Mike, and try your best to stay out of trouble now that the three of you are back together.