Three Bracelets: Past, Present, and Future

horizon ©2020LucyMathewsHeegaard
Remembering my friend Elizabeth today on what would have been her 56th birthday. That makes eight birthdays since she has been gone.

The photographs in the header of this page are from a trip we took in 1982 to Fripp Island, South Carolina. We went out at sunset to take some glamour shots, I guess. My memory is vague. It was after we’d graduated from high school. Before we’d started college. Before we had any idea what our lives would be like in the future. Before we had even started thinking of a future beyond the four years of college.

In the photo at the bottom of the page, the top bracelet is a now-vintage wrist band from the 2007 Komen 60-mile 3-Day Walk that Elizabeth and I did together to celebrate her 5th year cancer-free from what would turn out to be only her first cancer. The bracelet is nearly white, faded from its original pink, after months of sun on my wrist as I trained for the walk and then for the actual 60 miles of the event itself in humid, 90 to 100 degree Boston summer heat.

The middle bracelet is one my daughter had made for me with Elizabeth’s own handwriting etched into the metal. Sometime in the late 1980s, Elizabeth had signed a letter to me with a very uncharacteristic closing: “Always, always with you, Elizabeth.” She had never used this signature before, and she never did again. Finding this letter shortly before her memorial service, I was comforted by her closing, as if she had somehow sent a message across time to reassure me of her presence even now. Speaking at her memorial service, I borrowed words from a song by Cheryl Wheeler: “We’re just bereft, not deserted.” Elizabeth left those of us who loved her with so much of herself.

The bottom bracelet is vibrant pink, a take-away from an event last year to raise money and awareness for a cure for breast cancer in Elizabeth’s memory. Each August since her death, a team of bike riders composed of family and friends has taken to the roads around Boston in the Pan-Mass Challenge to raise funds for the endowment in her name at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The initial “Team Elizabeth” was three riders, each of whom was contemporary in age with Elizabeth or older. These days, the team has grown to as many 21 cyclists, all from the generation of Elizabeth’s two sons. The twenty-something-year-olds have made the ride and the cause their own, now calling themselves “Team E,” for short. This passing of the torch is the most fitting and beautiful evidence of Elizabeth’s continuing spirit in the world that I can imagine.

This year, the Pan-Mass Challenge will be virtual, shifting plans like so many other events have done, so that participants and communities are kept safe in the Covid-19 pandemic. In this unprecedented time, many are grieving new losses that the pandemic has caused. There are also those who have lost loved ones from causes other than Covid, and none are able to gather to mourn and remember. A sense of collective grief seems to be swirling around us all.

Grief has been a mighty teacher for me in the last eight years, and while I cannot say that I am grateful for the opportunity to walk through this grief, I can say that I am grateful every day for the continuing love and presence I feel from Elizabeth through my memories of our 31 years of earthly time together. I recently heard someone say that “grief is just love with no place to go.” It is a touching sentiment that can feel very true to me in moments of sadness. Yet, I wonder if there is a flip-side to it, as well. Love always has someplace to go, doesn’t it? Maybe grief just reminds us that when we are ready, we can choose where and how to send the love that is underneath to someone else who needs it.

This quote, one of Elizabeth’s favorites, was read at her memorial service. I take it as my marching orders from her when I need little guidance on what to do with my grief and how to use the love that is underneath it.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson*

For Elizabeth Scott Sykes Alling Sewall. Thanks for being the dearest friend.

cure cancer now


*Recently, I learned that a very similar version of these words was published earlier than Emerson’s by Bessie E. Stanley of Springfield, Illinois—a literary mystery uncovered that Elizabeth would have loved. I have kept Emerson as the cited source because it is his final wording that I used.

20 Comments on “Three Bracelets: Past, Present, and Future

  1. Your writing is beautiful as always! Thank you for this!❤️

  2. Beautiful, Lucy. You were as good a friend to Elizabeth as she was to you.

  3. Thank you, Lucy. It’s been a long time since I’ve left a reply on your beautiful posts, but I appreciate these beautiful words and memorIt’s of Elizabeth. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and channel her in my work. She is in every word I write in thanks to a donor and in the spirit of every interaction with a member of the community I serve. She is also close in my heart every blessed day I get past my own cancer diagnosis, which will be nine years next weekend. She was truly an angel and I am so blessed that she crossed my path 17 years ago. And I’m blessed that you continue to write about her so that we can remember her along with you. Thank you for your precious words and for continuing to remember such a remarkable life.

    Amanda Hale
    Lexington, Ky.

    • Thank you, Amanda. Your note moves me. It is wonderful to hear from you again and know that you are out there doing your good work. I am so glad you have nine years between you and your cancer diagnosis and hope that you are doing well. I could go line by line and express appreciation for each specific thought in your message. Knowing that you find Elizabeth in every donor thanks, every community interaction you have is further evidence of what I was trying to capture in my post. She is present, not in the way we would have wanted had we had a choice, but she is still here in ways each of us can feel tangibly and incorporate into our lives. Thank you so much for helping remember her.

  4. Oh, my, dear Lucy…..Now I have to find the Kleenex…..All love, your Birdie

  5. Oh, Lucy….I so remember working with you on your song for Elizabeth….and all the many things that came after. Sending much love as you grieve, celebrate and remember your beloved friend….

    • Thank you, dear Barbara! I remember often that moment at your piano. You said, “I think maybe you haven’t said everything you need to.” And I said, “You’re right.” And thus the real work, the good work, the heart work, began. All love to you. Hope that you are well.

  6. Thank you for this beautifully written remembrance. There will never be another Elizabeth. She gave so much and with every gift she got stronger.

  7. Lucy, What a beautiful piece. Your words are etched into my heart along with Elizabeth. Thank you for being you. Love, rere xoxo

  8. Hi Lucy, Lovely – just lovely. You do a wonderful job of keeping Elizabeth’s spirit alive. Thank you for your gift of words.

  9. I love this post, and have never heard the bracelet story. I’m also deeply reflecting on “grief is love with no place to go”. i really like that, and am curious about it as an ongoing reflection. i do hold that to have grieved is to have loved deeply. so this rings true. I know this post means a lot to Elizabeth, wherever she is. Your devotion to her over so many years – and love for her – is palpable. Love you, Gooser!

  10. Love this story, Lucy. Elizabeth and I didn’t keep in touch after high school until we connected again via LinkedIn. Of all places. She had cancer for the second time and we had a couple of exchanges. A few months later she passed away. I have wonderful memories of her, still have the needlepoint pillow she made me with all our adventures. Thanks for posting this and bringing back those good memories. Anne

    • Thank you so much, Anne. I appreciate knowing you stopped by to read the story. I love the reminder of Elizabeth’s needlepoint! I, too, have a few of her gems that she made for me. Glad to share our memories together.

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