(Photo taken by my dear friend, Crystal Rings)
I was born the day after Christmas at 4:00 a.m. on a snowy Colorado morning back in 1959, just six days shy of the sixties. As a little girl I always loved having an extra day after Christmas to celebrate with more presents in bright birthday wrapping and bows.
By far one of my most memorable birthdays was when our little family moved to Brazil for my husband’s job in 1989 right before my 30th birthday. Our firstborn, Christie, was only three months old and I was struggling with missing family and not being “home” for our baby’s first Christmas and my 30th birthday.
But then there was Colette!
Colette had also just moved to Brazil with her husband and teenage daughter and she immediately embraced our little family as her own. She invited us to their home for Christmas and then took me on a shopping spree for my birthday the next day.
Colette had the kindest, most gentle blue eyes I had ever seen and a smile that lit up the room. She was one of the bravest women I had ever met, moving to Brazil while battling MS and trying to get around on cobblestone streets in her wheelchair. The heat and humidity seemed to escalate her symptoms, making it harder for her to use her hands and arms. In the four years we lived near her in Brazil, I never heard her complain.
Colette was at the hospital only moments after our Kelly was born in Brazil. She loved Kelly and Christie as if they were her grandchildren. She is the one who taught my girls to see the person and not their brokenness. Once when Christie was almost three and saw someone in a wheelchair in the airport, she asked, “Mama, do you think that lady will give me a ride on her wheelchair like Colette?” My little girl didn’t see the wheelchair . . . she only saw the person because of Colette.
My life was forever impacted by this amazing woman who bravely journeyed through MS for more than 30 years.
In December 2002, just a week before Christmas, I received a call from Colette’s family that she might not make it to Christmas. Hospice had been called and her daughter, Darci, said, “Come!” We drove from our Michigan home to Colette’s home in Ohio. I sat by her bedside telling her that she was my hero and how much I was going to miss her. She quietly whispered to me, “It’s just a matter of time!” I sensed she was saying, “I’ll see you again one day.”
One week later—on December 26 around 4:00 a.m.—my precious Colette left us. She passed away on my birthday and there’s been a part of my heart missing her every birthday since then.
I wrote a poem about Colette and read it at her memorial service. I’m not a poet, but I hope it conveys some of my heart for one of my dearest friends:
She rolled into my life so unexpectedly,
a rare and precious gift to our whole family.
We met in Brazil on a gorgeous summer day,
We were immediate friends, which is so Colette’s way.
“Come on over for Thanksgiving, spend Christmas with me!”
She said to our lonely family, then numbering three.
She pampered and fussed over our baby, Christie Anna,
saying that she was now her official, adopted grandma.
We spent hours playing Mahjongg and sipping diet Cokes.
She had a wonderful sense of humor, telling really funny jokes.
We often shared stories of mothering girls,
how they sparkle your life with giggles, dancing, and twirls.
She always thought of others, wanting to help if she could.
She did more for the Brazilian street children than anyone else would.
She raised money through starting a Christmas Craft Fair,
that would help hundreds of children receive loving care.
She was a priceless treasure, a dear mother and wife,
a grandma and best friend, who loved children and life.
She was graced with rare beauty that made people stop and stare,
with her gentle smile and blue eyes they rarely noticed her chair.
Colette fought the good fight, being brave all her days,
touching countless lives with her selfless ways.
It seems she even waited until after Christmas
to say goodbye, and then gently leave us.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8 NIV).
What about you? I’d love to hear about a friend or mentor that has greatly impacted your own life!