Long before I started my pregnancy, delivery and story of the babies in the NICU ... I knew that I had to remember my good friend Julie Maggi, on December 8th.
I met Julie my first semester in California, 1991. We sat next to each other in Geology 303 and became fast friends. When we would go on Geology camping trips, we always set our tents up next to one another and I would fall in to fits of hysterics whenever Julie would string clothes line up between two desert trees and hang her granny pants out to dry.
Julie lived on a farm with her parents, in Sonoma County. Her family raised sheep and had an impressive organic garden and as a friend to all plants and animals, Julie referred to herself as "Earth Mamma". I remember that on my birthday in April 1993, Julie informed me that one of her favorite sheep had given birth and to commemorate my 22nd birthday, she was naming the lamb Jenna. The fact that it was a male lamb was beside the point and I was deeply honored.
After I graduated from college in 1994, Charlie and I were married and moved to San Diego to begin graduate school. Even though we were separated by several hundred miles - Julie and I remained in touch. We would correspond the old fashioned way with letters and receiving mail from Julie always put a smile on my face. She would notoriously decorate her envelopes with drawings that inevitably included two desert trees and a clothes line, with a pair of granny pants blowing in the breeze.
With time, our letters gave way to e-mail ... and instead of corresponding a few times a year, we would correspond a few times a month. With all of the time that we spent writing to each other, Julie never told me that she was sick.
Last year, a few days after our babies first birthday, I received an e-mail from Julie wherein she informed me that she was battling Stage IV bone cancer, which had metastasized. What I didn't know, and wouldn't learn until two months later, was that Julie had been diagnosed with breast cancer several years before and had kept her diagnosis to herself ... because she didn't want to upset her friends and family. Always the eternal "Earth Mamma" Julie didn't want to subject her body to modern medicine, and instead, relied on an entirely holistic approach to treat her breast cancer. Unfortunately, that approach had not worked.
When I read Julie's words, it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Tears sprung to my eyes and I sat dumbfounded ... reading them again and again.
Even though it was against everything she believed, Julie started an intensive chemotherapy regiment to combat her cancer in October of last year. Feeling desperate to help in any way I could, I knit her a thick Irish-wool scarf for her to wear to her treatment sessions. I mailed her a stuffed bunny, because she had once told me that when she was a child, she had a lovey bunny - just like our Elizabeth - and her her heart was broken when it was lost. I also mailed her a package of peanut M&M's, my ultimate comfort food, and my copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Julie and I continued to e-mail each other for the next several weeks and I continued to pray that she would overcome this obstacle.
On December 16, 2005, I received a Christmas card from Julie. It was a simple card, with a picture of a wreath and three stockings hanging from a mantle. She dated the card December 6, 2005 and inside had written the following note:
"Dear Jenna - How special you are, your bright light and enthusiasm - God knows you are walking this Earth as an angel for sure. Enjoy your three beautiful blessings - how cute they are. Thank you for being such a good friend to me - I cherish you and the relationship. All the best to you. I love you - Julie."
In the same batch as Julie's card, came another card, also from Sonoma County. The sender of this card identified herself as Julie's sister and she requested that I please contact her at my earliest opportunity. Her telephone number was included. My first thought was that her sister was planning some kind of surprise for Julie. In my Christmas card, which I had sent earlier in the month, I had told Julie that I was planning a visit to northern California in January around the time of her birthday. Since we hadn't seen each other since our graduation in 1994, and I would like nothing more than for her to meet our children - perhaps we could connect.
Surely that's why her sister sent me a card - they were planning a surprise party for Julie - and the thought of seeing my dear friend again made me giddy.
For the next several days, I traded phone calls with Julie's sister. We finally spoke on Christmas Eve. Just as I was about to launch in to how excited I was to see Julie again ... her sister told me that Julie had passed away on December 8th.
I was confused.
How could she have passed away on December 8th? That made no sense. I told her sister that I had received a card from Julie on December 16th ... and the card was dated December 6th. Apparently, Julie spent her last days writing Christmas cards to her closest friends and family. Before she died, Julie's sister promised that she would mail all of the cards out - could Julie not be able to do so, herself. The handwritten note that I received from Julie were among the last words that she wrote.
That evening, once all the children were nestled all snug in their beds, I sat outside by myself. I looked at the moon and the fog that was slowly rolling in to our neighborhood on a chilly Christmas Eve. Our Christmas lights were illuminated and cast the most beautiful glow I had ever seen. I could feel Julie's presence ... she was right there with me ... touching my heart as I grieved her passing.
A year later, Julie's Christmas card still sits on my desk ... inches from my hands.
A year later, the tears still spring to my eyes whenever I think of my good friend.
A year later, Julie's spirit is still with me. She is a part of my soul.
I miss you Julie. And I love you, too.