Angi Sanders Painter
Passed away. Left this earth. Went home to be with Jesus. Died.
Cancer sucks. That’s not news to anyone. All of those phrases fail me. There’s no sufficient way to convey the rending I’m experiencing losing my friend Angi so unexpectedly, but let me try.
There’s hemorrhaging in my heart and I can’t staunch the aching flow. My stomach is twisted and I yearn to curl up in my bed and cry myself out. My throat is clogged with unspoken words and questions…so many questions. I have phantom limbs burning to hug her once again. The pounding rhythm in my head cries out that life is not fair. It never was. It never will be.
Outwardly, I’m placing one foot in front of the other, keeping my chin up, and plowing through my to-do list. I have a family to take care of, a conference to prepare for, and a life needing to be lived. I cannot change my circumstances this week and won’t be gathering with the rest of her loved ones (Oh, how she loved me, and I her) as they honor her life, so I’ll do that here, with my words.
She loved my words and never stopped telling me so, especially when I couldn’t seem to string them together in a coherent thought without chasing them down rabbit trails. My words are wild things I’m still learning to capture and contain, but she never stopped telling me I could do it. She always believed in me. I’m sure she still does.
We met fourteen years ago at my son’s first birthday party. We became great friends, though she told me later that I scared the crap out of her. She was on the quiet side while I only visit there occasionally. ;) She embraced me and my family and loved us well. We spent hours shopping, creating, sipping, laughing, and lounging. We helped each other pack and move, got lost in long theological arguments discussions, held each other during the painful parts of life, and when we no longer shared a city, made sure the phone lines between us worked properly.
I can still see her blush as she told me about meeting Kyle and hoping he was “the one.” I can hear the laughter and conversation around our dinner tables as we spent time in each others homes after they were married. My mommy heart remembers the love I felt towards him as he hoisted my little Max into his fishing boat and handed him a wrench, setting him to “work” with him and calling him “little buddy”.
It was a Sunday morning when my friend Angela called to tell me Angi and Kyle were in a terrible car accident and Kyle was killed. I flew back to Indy as fast as I could to trudge through that nightmare with her. We slept a little and talked and cried a lot. We found ways to celebrate our togetherness while grieving such a terrible separation from him. It was horrible and beautiful. I remember lying next to her on their bed while she dialed his number over and over again just to listen to his voice mail message, tears streaming down both of our faces.
She held me through some terrible losses of my own, making sure my family was fed when I could barely function, gifting me with things I couldn’t buy for myself, speaking encouragement to me even when I didn’t want to hear it. Always loving me and thanking me for our friendship.
She was a teacher and amazing with children. She changed the lives of lots of little people and their families. When I decided to homeschool, she not only supported me but told me, “If anyone can do it, it’s you.” She helped me figure out my kid’s learning styles and gave me lots of recommendations. She called me to lament over some of her student’s home lives and wanting to take them all home with her. She had a big heart and a certain grace for parents even when she wanted to wring their necks for not seeing the treasure they had in their children. I loved that about her.
I’m good at a lot of things, but my kitchen skills? Not so fabulous. I’m a follow-the-recipe kind of girl, but Angi was one of those annoying people who throw things together and voila! It’s a gourmet meal. Angi taught me a few things about southern cooking and we had lots of crazy discussions about the way to a man’s heart. I teased her and made her blush when I told her us Yankee girls had our own suggestions on how to get that done. Ha! She patiently showed me how to make her Chicken and Dumplings, and it’s her mama’s sweet potato pie recipe that I’ll bake (with pumpkin) next week for Thanksgiving, as I do every year. I taught her how to make Beer Brats, so I think we’re even. Wait, that wasn’t me, that was my husband. Never mind.
Angi drove all the way to Oklahoma City to surprise me at a Ladies Retreat I was speaking at. On one of her trips to visit me in Colorado, she held my hand while I got my first tattoo, though no amount of cajoling could make her join me. She took me to a traveling Lord of the Rings exhibit and bought me a Galadriel ring, only making fun of my nerdery a little bit. She taught me how to make jewelry and I taught her how to get organized, something she told me she’d get around to someday. We started and failed in a business together. I shared my beloved mountains with her. She went to summer camp with me for several years as my nanny – the best one my kids ever had. She loved all of my children, but had a special bond with my Zoe. Maybe it was a girl thing. Maybe it was a Zoe/Angi thing. I loved watching them together.
When I started blogging back in 2004, Angi called me and said, “I just found you on the internet! Well, it’s not you, but this lady could be you, you’re so similar.” And that’s how I met my friend Pam, a kindred spirit on the other side of the country. Angi brought us together. She was good at that.
A few years ago, she called me and said, “Let me tell you about Toby!” I giggled as she gushed about this man she had met and how sweet he was. She felt so lucky to have found love again, something she had always doubted she would find in the first place. She was so happy to have such a great love and sang his praises about his care for her. Because life is complicated, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him face to face, but I love that man for loving my friend! I wish they had been able to make the trip out to Colorado like they had repeatedly tried to plan.
Then there is Holden. What a beautiful little blessing he is! Angi was heartbroken over not being able to have children, but she and Toby began preparations for adopting that sweet little guy before he was even born. He changed everything. A lot of my current agony is for him. He’s got an amazing daddy and I trust that he’ll grow up hearing stories about his sweet mama and how much she loved him.
Back to the “C” word. The first time Angi told me she had ovarian cancer, it took me about 5 minutes to go through all the stages of grief. Then I became Warrior Niki. I prayed with her and for her. I told others to pray for her. I took on whatever role she needed me to take on while we talked. I became loving mother, encouraging friend, ass-kicker, and grieving sister. Many of our phone conversations took place while she was lying on a hospital bed with a tube in her arm, or in the middle of the night when she knew I’d be awake to talk with her through the nausea and insomnia. I tried to be there in spirit during the good days and bad. I didn’t get the chance to be there in person, but she never held that against me.
A few weeks ago she texted me:
I’m a writer. I can’t believe my last words to this woman I love were, “Awesome!!! :) I’m so glad!” I have so many other words I could have chosen, but I didn’t know. I thought we’d have several thousand more exchanges. I wish we had. By the time I found out she had been given two weeks to live, she was already gone. It was another shocking Sunday morning. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I’m terrible at goodbyes, but I would have found a way.
I am awed by her life and so very grateful she shared it with me. She was strong and weak and real and bursting with love and faced everything even when she wanted to run and hide. I am devastated by her death and healing will be slow, coming in waves, because that’s how I do things.
A well-meaning friend posted something on my Facebook page about not grieving because I know I’ll see her again. Yes, Angi and I shared our faith too. But friends, while I am confident that we will meet again someday, that sentiment doesn’t do me a bit of good today. It’s not comforting at all. My deep sorrow is not indicative of my level of faith, it’s a testimony of my overwhelming love and compassion, something gifted to me by my heavenly Father. This sucks, and I think God thinks so too.
For those of you reading this that knew her too, I say grieve how you must, without guilt or platitudes or rushing through it. Now is the proper time for that, so do what you have to do. No matter where you are, be thankful for the ways Angi impacted your life. Speak or write the words you’re choking back as you relive the memories you made together. Honor her.
For those who didn’t know her, I hope I’ve given you a glimpse of who she was. She was a beautiful soul and she will be greatly missed.