Gain. Wait…Loss.

When I got to the end of 2018 (specifically, Christmas Eve), I thought, OK. I made it. One year without the Thriller. A year of grieving and learning, and learning to grieve. The day after Christmas, I woke up and took Remy out, stood on the back porch and breathed the cold air. It was a new day; a new era for me. Time to concentrate on being the best me I could be, because that’s what Michael would want.

Then, three days later, I heard that Lisa, my dear friend and partner in crimes against musical theater for the past 19 years, was having a bad week. So I texted her:

Doing the grad party circuit

New Year’s Eve was the Thriller’s and my wedding anniversary. I thought, rather than sit at home and feel sorry for myself, I’d go spend some quality time with my good friend Stoney, since she had no plans.

When I got there, her friend and caregiver answered the door — not Lisa herself. Red flags went up in my mind. She was in bed, unable and unwilling to get up. So I went upstairs, lay in her bed with her, and we laughed and had a nice conversation, although something looked strangely familiar. The only way I can describe it is that there was nothing behind her eyes. Michael had that look as well, when the disease started to overtake his brain as well as his liver and lungs. Dread crept into my heart; I knew, lying there next to her, looking at silly pictures on my phone and making her laugh, that this was the last time I would ever be with her in this world.

Theater dept. selling the basketball tickets

I was right.

On New Year’s Day, she worsened, and then was transported to the hospital, then to a Hospice facility. It all happened so fast. Yesterday morning, she died. She fought metastatic breast cancer for over 20 years, and just kept beating it back. I’m angry that most times, eventually, cancer wins.

Still…I have fantastic memories of a two-decade friendship that brought a ton of laughter, fun, learning and sweetness to my life. Not that we didn’t have struggles, especially in rehearsals. Oh my, the stories I could tell — one of the most famous being during (insert show here — I have no recollection) rehearsal one evening, when she’d had enough with lackluster acting efforts onstage.

Pondering a favorite activity we often shared

We each took turns, it seemed, ranting and raving at our casts to sing out/identify with their character/follow through/remember choreography/try harder/commune with their audience/give a dang, etc. Well, this was her night to go off the rails, and during the tirade, she threw the pencil she was holding — and it hit me right in the face. Ow!! The best part was watching the cast — silent onstage, taking their medicine — trying to decide whether or not to react. Priceless. (Of course, when Stoney laughed and apologized, the tension released and everyone had a laugh at my expense – including me.)

When it was my turn to lose my mind, she found it difficult to not laugh. So she’d look intently at her script and pretend (badly) to take notes or read while I ranted, with the cast totally seeing what was going on, but not daring to smile or react. God love ’em…I respect that. hahahaha

I could write all day about the times we sat in my room or hers, often with a small pizza to share before rehearsals, and talked about life and love and just stuff in general. We shared secrets, dished dirt, laughed (oh my, did we laugh), and talked musical theater for forever. Her love for it was as strong as mine has ever been. The reason it exists at our school traces back to early 2000, when she asked me if I might help her with the music part of a show she wanted to do (Bye Bye Birdie). I said sure, why not? From that day, we were pretty much inseparable.

We drove each other crazy on occasion, and had a couple verbal knock-down-drag-outs, but always hugged and apologized in the end. She was a sweet soul, so undeserving of the beating she took over the years with this hideous disease. I will love and miss her forever.

Of course, she would tell me that hey, the show goes on, no matter what. So I will put on the tap shoes later on this afternoon and start choreographing the production number for the show in March that will be performed entirely in her honor.

Life — as sucky as it sometimes is — goes on, despite the crushing heartbreak of losing a loved one. I’m sure you’ve known that sadness. But, as the Thriller used to say: Onward through the fog! I can’t see what’s next, but one foot goes in front of the other, regardless. Stoney would want it that way, too. I see them both up in heaven, having a laugh at my silliness.

Much love…

22 thoughts on “Gain. Wait…Loss.

  1. Mary

    Oh Linda, once again my heart breaks for you. You are so strong and your outlook and attitude is amazing.

    You are always in my prayers

  2. Ross Bonander

    That screen grab is the tl;dr to your post in the most terrible way- the dx- and the most wonderful- your friendship. Onward through the fog indeed.

  3. David

    Having just lost my best friend and Brother in Arms I could feel your heart in the midst of pain and laughter.
    Well said Dear Friend!
    Much love…

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      I remember when you lost Ted. It’s another part of your heart that’s torn up, but torn just as completely…love you Dave

  4. David Hiltbrunner

    I too can recount many stories of Ms. Stoneham particularly centered around rehearsals. I was frustrated with the lack of cohesiveness on the stage crew and how it played out behind and on stage. We all took a break and I sat at a table hashing out a plan like it was a football play. Stoney looked at me and said “David — you will get this, just breathe.” To this day I remember that and continue to apply that to my life. The world can be so cruel but it’s people like her that help us get through it and make us better people.

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Thanks, David — so glad her words gave you lasting encouragement, as they so often did with her students. She was one of a kind.

  5. Patti

    I’ve had such a hard time composing anything that makes sense about Lisa right now. This is beautiful and real. My heart aches for you, for the two beautiful souls you’ve lost in the last year, and how each one touched and shaped your life. I admire your fortitude, your strength, and your courage more than I can express. Lisa was a precious and fun soul, and we are better people for having had her in our lives. I love you, dear friend. Through the fog indeed, but please know those who love you carry a spotlight and walk beside you when you need it most. ??

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      I love you, Patti! Thank you for always being there for me and my students, during Michael’s and Lisa’s illnesses. We all appreciate you so much, and I know you’re holding the light so I can stumble forward. You lost a friend in Lisa too, and I know our SC community will surround us with love.

  6. Greg McD

    Many teachers at South Central can relate to the many great stories in which Lisa was involved. One of my favorites was a jar of Kim Chee, a pickled fermented cabbage slumgullion. I don’t know who brought it into the staff room but it sat there for days. During a lunch period, Lisa decided to try the stuff. The smell from the open jar even jangled my gag reflex. Lisa tossed a spoonful in her mouth and immediately jumped up and ran to the wastebasket. After getting rid of the mess, with arms flailing about, she yelled, “Oh, that tasted like POISON!!!!” Great times, wonderful memories and now, our sense of loss.

  7. Deb Clemons

    She was a sweet and caring soul. She taught all three of our kids and never failed to ask how they were doing after they had left SC for college and beyond.
    Lisa and i had many conversations in person and over the phone while I was walking my personal path thru the hell that is cancer. We tried to lift and encourage each other to fight on. She was the best and she will be dearly missed by her SC family.
    I am sorry for the loss of your precious friend Linda, but you can bet her spirit will always remain beside you…hugs and prayers to you and her family

  8. Darice

    I am so sorry your heart has to navigate fresh loss at the start of the new year… I’m hooked on this quote at the moment: “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ~ Jamie Anderson

    That welling up and fullness we feel makes so much more sense when treated as a thing we want to offer the world but our immediate ‘canvas’ is missing. I’m trying to take the overwhelming grief I feel and spread it thick on dear ones (as love, of course). Hugging you tight.

    Onward, pea soup and all.

  9. J

    Wow, so glad I opened the post to read more! Life is hard, we all need God and friendships like you and Lisa shared to make it through the dark days. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful reminder!


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