I lost one of my cheerleaders this week. Judy was a high school classmate who became a friend 45 years after we graduated. In 1962, we were majorettes together, marching in parades and at football games in short white uniforms, twirling our batons. When I got the message that she had passed away, I remembered her note: “I wish I had known you better in high school.” My first thought, after a few minutes of reminiscing, was to “shake it off,” “move on,” go about my day. After all, we weren’t close, I told myself. Not really. She did write nice comments on my blog and shared my writing on her social media: “Our classmate, bringing the memories (and tears) back through her majestic writing,” “Classmate and author Linda Wisniewski’s new piece… “Loved it. My classmate … can always touch my heart…”
I couldn’t “shake it off.”
Judy was one of the popular girls, from the top tier of kids who lived on Market Hill. Back then, our neighborhoods defined us. She offered me, after 45 years, acceptance into her circle, or maybe our ages and common memories broke through it.
My cousin Pat was also my cheerleader. She had a good life, was well-loved, and loved my writing, too. She was proud of me, laughed and forgave me when I gave her the wrong car in my memoir. No matter how busy at the restaurant she owned, she took my calls, like the older sister I never had. I still think of calling her but I can’t anymore. She died a few weeks ago at 80.
And then there was Janice, who died just over a year ago. She lived in assisted living, used a wheelchair, and threw her arms wide when I walked into her room. “Look at you!” she’d exclaim, then offer me a chair. She wanted me to tell her everything about my life, my family, and of course, my writing. We met at a writer’s workshop in Philadelphia, and it was Janice who kept the friendship going at first. It wasn’t just me she cheered for: she had writer friends all over the world.
Some people, if we’re lucky, are the “wind beneath our wings,” the ones who cheer our every accomplishment. They leave a big empty space when they’re gone, one we might attempt to fill with their stories.
Who are your cheerleaders? Share their stories in the comments. And then let’s go out and be cheerleaders for someone else.