I had a nice visit with Charlie and Carol Mathis this week. We go back a few years to high school. Well, my high school years with their daughter Julie, anyways. Allow me to share about kindred spirits through the years.
Julie and I were high school friends. We clicked. We were on the swim team together, took two years of German together, dated a bit, had a lot of fun, started our separate college paths, then had a final short season of fun after one college semester.
Life went on and we went our separate ways.
Julie made an effort before the 10 year class reunion to reconnect in 1993. I’m really glad she did. She got to meet my wife, we had a great time, and caught up on memories. Fun, alive, loud, always so full of energy; Julie was a fireball of life. We all had a great time at the class reunion.
Eighteen years later, Julie reaches out again. I’m glad she did. May 31st, 2011, I received the following message on Facebook from Julie: “What can I say. I’m been in the Internet business for 13 years and I just now get on FB. I’m well. How are you and Janice? Haven’t seen you guys since the 10th High School reunion.” A smile crossed my face and a warmth hit my heart.
We shared a few messages and caught up briefly. Told her about my cancer in 2008 and how this birthday celebration this particular September was also a “cancer free” celebration. I asked her to join us that September and she responded as follows: “I know your celebration will be amazing! I know this because YOU are amazing. Sorry I can’t be there in person.”
Classic Julie. Upbeat, fun, vivacious, to the point.
We sent a few messages back and forth, then communication died down.
I received the following message on October 20th, 2012 through Facebook from Julie:
“Robert: have an out of the blue question for you…Did anyone ever ask you if you were scared, when you were diagnosed with cancer or during any of your procedures?
Please let me know.
Kindest regards, Julie Mathis”
I cried immediately. I have tears in my eyes as I type this right now. I knew where she was going with this line of communication. Julie had cancer. She was reaching out in her own way to me, a cancer survivor from 2008, and wanted to talk. Kindred spirits reconnect.
We began speaking in earnest, mostly on the phone, a little on Facebook. As I drove back and forth to work, we would share the details of living with cancer. We talked hard things, life and death issues, yet she never allowed me to be serious for too long. Our conversations brought wit, wisdom, and a snarky humor back into my life. You see, I had allowed the weight of cancer, the corresponding unavoidable deaths of loved ones, and continuing difficult life situations to drain my heart dry of humor and laughter. I was in a long dry painful season and Julie was an oasis of sorts, just her whole approach to the ordeal.
She made sure I knew I needed humor in my life too. She started in on me with stories of high school years, laughter, and so much fun. She reminded me of songs I song quietly in Herr Kleinbeck’s class (she was spot on). She brought a few memories of funny events I hadn’t thought about since they happened. Her wit and sharp take on life was refreshing. I needed humor back in my life and she sparked that kindred spirit.
I had something she needed too. She wanted to talk about the fears, the pains, and the struggles of going through cancer. I’m not sure she fully played her cards. She kept what was happening on her end guarded, at least to a point. Those who love Julie understand. Yet she opened up to me on a level that caused me to feel honored and trusted. Meaningful communication about the difficulties and fears of cancer, medical nightmares, and all it entails ensued.
Julie began a CaringBridge page to update her progress. Seeing how I enjoy typing and sharing, I decided to write out some thoughts on Julie’s page, thoughts stemming from communications that were a bit edgy for me. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, but decided to risk transparency.
Winter advances to Spring 2013. Julie did not return one of my phone calls. I took a deep breath and realized that whatever was going to transpire would find its way to me. The CaringBridge page updates began to slow down.
July 3rd, 2013, I sat at the base of Turner Falls in Oklahoma. I remember that day for a reason. I had been trying to reclaim some energy, some focus, trying to get out more and have fun again. Julie had inspired me to do so. I thought about her as I sat at the base of the falls. I thought about many things that day. I can’t say I was energetic to be honest, but I did try.
I returned home to find a message on CaringBridge from Charlie and Carol that Julie had passed that very day. They thanked everyone for the support. “ps – Robert Baxter, here is our phone number, please call us.”
Charlie and Carol, grieving parents now, shared their heart on the phone. We reconnected. They asked if I would consider attending her memorial service. Nothing could have held me back. I sensed kindred spirits.
I met the most amazing people July 2013 in New Mexico, a diverse family, that collectively represented the very reason Julie is so amazing. We knitted hearts, many introductions made, and found we are indeed kindred spirits, absolutely kindred spirits in the most promising sense.
Julie’s family is so amazing. The apple did not fall far from the proverbial tree, I tell you. I had the honor of being able to share a couple of private communications, messages Julie had shared either on Facebook or spoke to me on the phone, during the service. Julie had referred to me as her oldest friend and stated “you know you’ve always been family, just ask my Mom” in one of her messages. Wow.
Before leaving to the airport the next day, I commented to Charlie I was sorry he had lost Julie to cancer. I suppose there was a smidgen of survivors guilt that surfaced just a touch in my heart. He put his arm around me, looked me in the eye and stated “perhaps I’ve gained a son.”
What an honor.
My family and I have had the good fortune to get to know the Mathis family better since then. We’ve made it a point to visit if we are remotely close to West Texas or New Mexico. They are now stopping in to at the least say hello and check on Janice and I when they are in the area or traveling through. My recurrence of cancer this year has struck us all hard in light of the events over the years. What loving, wonderful people, supporting Janice and I as we go through our next battle with cancer. You know, kindred spirits do that kind of thing.
Charlie and Carol came by for a visit today. Charlie has a new camera and pulled a “Robert” on me, that is, he got me in front of the camera (for a change) and I got to be the fool for once. I modeled a couple of hats and decided to try on the **excellent** superman cape sent to me by my sister-in-law Marie and her husband John (thank you!).
I would normally hesitate at such embarrassing pictures, but I don’t care anymore. Have fun at my expense.
What a blessing! Mathis family, you mean so much to me. I am so grateful to be and have always been family, a kindred spirit indeed.