No, I do not fancy myself a real-life (or alternate-life) Cinderella; however, I do have a fairy godmother.  Her name is Teresa Coward and she became a part of my life when I was only seven years old.  Teresa quickly became my Mom’s best friend and has forever remained a part of our family circle.  We lost Teresa last month after her very long battle with ovarian cancer.  Yesterday, Teresa’s family and friends gathered to celebrate her life with a pig-pickin’ just as she would have wanted.  I know she wanted it to be a joyous occasion but no one could hold back the tears as we remembered and shared how much Teresa meant to us all.  

Teresa’s kitchen was always filled with warmth and sweet aromas.  I could always count on her for a “real” hug — not one given out of obligation but one that was always heart-felt and accompanied with a smile.  Teresa possessed one of those hearts that was always overflowing with love and that often meant you would see tears glisten on her cheeks, no matter the occasion.  Talking to Teresa was like docking at a safe haven.  No matter what was going on in your life, she would listen and love unconditionally.  In all the thirty-three years I had with Teresa, she never chastised me or made me feel guilty about any life choice I made.  And no matter how angry others around me may have been with me, I was ALWAYS “Sweetie” to Teresa.  

My fondest memories of Teresa are when Quint, her oldest child, was just a baby.  I wasn’t quite old enough to be a real babysitter, but I pretended to be.  I became Teresa’s “helper”.  I would cheerfully lay in the floor and play with Quint.  I would try to soothe his cries and elicit smiles and giggles.  All the while, Teresa would be cooking, cleaning and keeping an eye on her baby and  “helper”.   She would patiently listen to my endless chatter and smile at my pitiful attempts to be mature.  It was during these times that I swear I could look into Teresa’s eyes and see her heart.  The joy she felt at being a Mother was all-consuming.  Her joy of motherhood increased ten-fold when little Carlie joined the family several years later.  Since I was in my teens, my time spent with Teresa, Stuart and the kids was limited.  Not because they didn’t have time for me — I was too absorbed in my own life (school, boys, boys, boys, etc.).  No matter how neglectful I became of my relationship with Teresa, she always made sure I knew she was thinking of me.  I remember a phone call I received from Teresa a few weeks after I went off to Chapel Hill for college.  She just wanted to “hear your voice”.  She listened to me complain about my math and biology classes and I could hear her smile as I told her about my English comp class.  She also told me that Quint was quite upset with me as he felt betrayed that after years of teaching him about Duke basketball and sharing my love of the Blue Devils with him, I became a traitor and attended UNC-Chapel Hill.  That made me laugh.  

Teresa and Stuart hosted David’s very first party when he was just three months old.  I think Teresa just used David’s birth as an excuse to get her friends together and eat some good food!  But regardless of her ultimate motive, she surrounded us with love that day and she was able to witness that same maternal love for my own son as I witnessed in her during my childhood.  

Just as she was present for many of my greatest moments, she was also present on my darkest day.  Teresa and Stuart were the first of family and friends to be with me after I learned of Christian’s death.  They accompanied me to Franklin Regional Hospital where I had to identify Christian’s personal effects and make the first of many decisions regarding his remains and memorial service.  Teresa was the one that held my hand as I processed that I had lost my very best friend and that I would never again hear Christian’s voice.  Teresa was also the one that assured me that David was safe and well-cared for at the preschool that day since the Highway Patrolmen did not have that information.  She is the one that called my most trusted family doctor and David’s pediatrician when I began to question how to address Christian’s death with David.  She never left my side that day until my parents and uncles were able to get home to me.  

Life was often complicated and difficult after Christian’s death and until my marriage to Wayne.  Others around me sometimes questioned my decisions and even my sanity.  During such a time, I received a phone call from Teresa.  She was calling to check on me and see if there was anything I needed.  I immediately began to get emotional and defensive as I thought that I would surely be lectured for the direction I was taking my life.  But I should have known better.  Teresa said, “No, Sweetie.  I am not disappointed in you at all.  I know you are a smart girl with a good heart.  I know that everything will be okay.”  She also assured me no matter how it seemed at the moment, my family and friends still loved me very much and with time it would all work out.   

Needless to say, I am sure she was relieved when life did indeed work itself out for me and my family.  Teresa enjoyed watching my boys grow from babies into little boys (and for David, a big boy).  She was entertained by their diverse personalities and gradually I stopped receiving Christmas presents from Teresa but that was okay, because my one present was replaced by three presents for my boys — always picked out to cater to their unique personalities.  

After Teresa’s diagnosis of cancer, I preferred to communicate with her through email so she couldn’t hear the emotion in my voice over the phone.  I knew she needed those around her to be strong and I knew I was incapable of doing that for her.  I know — very selfish of me but very true.  But I value that selfishness today as I went back and reread all the personal emails she and I exchanged over the past few years.  I will not have to rely on my very faulty memory as I have her words and many xoxoxoxoxoxox’s.  

Honoring such an amazing woman has made me recognize the need for my children to have fairy godmothers in their lives.  I believe Wayne and I have done an excellent job of surrounding our boys with friends that will give them the same security and unconditional love that Teresa gave me throughout my life.  So, Kate, Momma C. and Ms. Melissa — thank you for loving my boys.  Thank you for embracing them as your own and teaching them that no matter what is going on in life, theirs or yours — they will have their own safe havens away from home and me.  As I learned, that gift is priceless.  

Teresa, thank you for loving me, faults and all.  Thank you for the hugs, smiles, and chocolate chess pies.  Thank you for sharing Quint and Carlie with me.  Thank you for holding me together after Christian’s death.  Thank you for showing me how to live life completely, faithfully and courageously.  Thank you for being my fairy godmother.  Love you always!!  Image