Don’t ever doubt there are angels among us. I know that fact from personal experience. I’ve seen it all my life. I’ve had people pop into — and unfortunately — out of my life just when I needed an extra word of encouragement, push or outright shove.
But a very special angel was Mary Lee Hendrickson Sampson, more affectionately known as Sonni. She earned her spot in heaven three years ago and, like my wife before her, is missed every day.
I first met Sonni over 20 years ago. When I merged my Between the Lakes with the existing Reveille, somehow Edith Delavan thought we should have an open house. She marched into the office on Routes 5 & 20 in Seneca Falls one day with Sonni in tow. Karen was also on hand and the three of them immediately took over. Karen was an A personality. Sonni was an A personality. And, of course, there was Edith — an AAA personality. It took me about 10 seconds to recognize my role was simply to step back, nod periodically and let the ladies weave their magic.
Over the next 15 years or so, our contact — Karen and I and Sonni and Scott — were casual. We might see each other working in the yard and stop for a conversation, but we typically swam in different pools. Karen and I were on a long weekend when we heard about Scott’s death, and Sonni was at Wildwood when Karen died. All we did was exchange sympathy cards.
After Karen died, I got this brilliant idea about writing a memory book for my children detailing our life together. What I thought would be a week or two exercise swelled into a bittersweet six month project. And, as all writers know — although we don’t like to admit it — the written word is only as good as an editor’s pen. I reached out to Sonni, asking her to proofread the manuscript.
She graciously agreed. As payment, I promised her dinner out. She chose McDonald’s. We were sitting at the corner table talking about the project when she suddenly got up and right in the middle of McDonald’s gave me my first real Sonni hug. It came from her soul … as it always did for all she came into contact with. Then she gave me the manuscript … and I never saw so much red ink in all my life!
In my defense, there were a few misspelling and a couple of phrases out of syntax, but most of the red were questions about who was who, what was going on, when it happened, where we were and why it was important to the story.
It was after that incident Sonni and I developed a special bond. She decided, as a seasoned widow, she was going to take me under her wing to try and help me avoid the traps of widowhood. She was the salve that helped heal a broken heart — not repair it, not fill it, not replace it. I like to think we were helping each other get through the days of widow- and widower-hood. But deep down I knew I was the beneficiary in the relationship. We talked just about every day — if not directly, then certainly by phone or through messaging and e-mail. I knew when something was troubling her. She knew when I got into my “moods.” We had so many memories packed into a relatively short time.
When I took her for her pre-surgery doctor’s appointment visit a couple of weeks before, she told everyone she saw she didn’t want an x-ray. All day she fretted about the x-ray — it’s going to give me breast cancer … I’ve had too many … Why can’t they look at my last x-ray — until she was told no x-ray, no surgery. In the waiting room she continued to worry about the x-ray and was sharing her anxiety with me … within earshot of two women waiting for their husbands to return from PET scans. Next thing I knew the four of us — okay, mostly the three women — were engaged in a conversation about anxiety, x-rays and their spouses’ conditions. Sonni went in for the x-ray — only about two minutes — and returned a little relieved and continued with her conversations. One of the husbands returned from his test and before we left we all were laughing and joking. And we had to participate in a group and individual hug.
That was Sonni. She believed in the therapeutic magic of a hug. I wish I had one of them now! In her memory, right now, stand up, turn to someone and give them a hug … not a small hug, but a deep down, from your soul hug. A Sonni hug!
Her son Scott so aptly says, you never just met Sonni, you experienced her. When she said “Thank you God and Jesus” it wasn’t a catchphrase, but a prayer from her heart. She knew where she was going and this life was just temporary. She missed C. Scott every day but she was ready to live every day to the fullest and was not afraid of death. I know. We talked about it often.
As I tried to move on after Karen died and took my trips to Maine, Sonni would always challenge my motives. Why did I choose Maine? And invariably it would all come back to Karen. It’s what she wanted. It’s what she would have loved. And she would just say, “Uh huh.” No wagging finger. No extended conversation. Just a simple “Uh huh.”
When I told her about the mill apartment in Maine, she asked the same question. This time, however, I gushed about the view, the high ceilings, the old wooden beams, a brand new kitchen with all the necessary equipment and no maintenance inside or out. In short, I told her it was what I was looking for. In fact, I don’t remember mentioning Karen once.
We were again discussing the move on the way back from her surgery. She grabbed my hand, squeezed it and said, “My job is done.” Two days later she suffered an overnight stroke and three years today she left this world a little brighter.
In so many ways, Sonni and Karen were cut from the same cloth. They were both strong-willed, independent, organized — yet so very fragile and too stubborn to ask for help. Often those traits got in the way of them enjoying life. They both could come up with a thousand excuses why not to go out, to go on that trip, to just stop for a minute to smell the roses. But they were always there for you when you needed them.
As I was driving and mentally preparing her eulogy, the sky was cloudy, except for two beams of sunshine. I envisioned in my mind’s eye Sonni with her Diet Pepsi and Karen with her water turned into exquisite wine toasting each other on celestial lounge chairs. I can see them laughing at the foolish things I say and do without their physical sphere of influence. I see them taking turns proverbially whacking me in the back of the head when I REALLY do or say something foolish. I really miss them — both of them — every day.
Yes, God sends people into our lives. There is no doubt in my mind, God placed Sonni in my world.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: It requires a lot of effort to be a good friend. Do it anyway.