Monday, February 25, 2013

A Treasured Friendship

Have you ever been blessed to know someone that has changed your life forever?

I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to have had a friend like Jennifer Gambardella Puglise. A wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, cousin, niece, granddaughter, aunt. An Ambassador of Hope, an amazing pilates and aerobics instructor, a tireless volunteer, thrift shopping queen, fabulous cook and impeccable cleaner, supreme craft woman, classy dresser, and my soul sister and Life Partner-in-Crime. One of my best friends. Jen...

Jen passed away on February 14, 2013 at 9:36pm after just under a 6 year battle with stage 4 colon cancer. She was only 36 years old. To say our hearts are broken, is putting it mildly. She leaves behind her husband and 7 year old son, her parents, sisters and brother and so many loving family members and dear friends.

I met Jen at a Moms' Night Out Dinner in 2009. We immediately clicked as we found out that I went to high school with her husband. We decided to spend more time together and met for coffee and tea over the next few days. I also knew about her because I was inspired by her cancer journey. She was the girl at the gym in the group exercise classes going through chemotherapy fighting cancer and living with courage and determination! Wow, it was so inspiring to see a young woman kicking ass in a kickboxing class while going through grueling treatment. She brought energy and inspiration to those around her.

All. The. Time.

I believe we became friends to teach each other about Life's mysteries. The Universe has a funny way of matching souls up to grow and make each other better. Boy, am I grateful for her Life! She taught me about the fragility of life. The treasures. The celebrations. Helped me a grow into a better mother, wife, sister, friend. She taught me to not care what others think. (I now wear my moms fur rabbit coat out of her insistence!) She also taught me courage, preserverance, bravery, unconditional love, hope and faith through her journey with cancer.

(one of many occasions her closest friends spent together celebrating her Life.)

You can't get that kind of education from school. You learn that by being loving and by being loved. Being vulnerable to all of life's ups and downs together. And keeping the friendship strong through all of that!

This summer, I repainted a table and now use it as my coffee table. I stenciled two words on it, Hope & Faith. At the time, I thought nothing of it. When I sent Jen the picture, she replied, "oh hope is me and you are faith!" She couldn't have been more right.

You see, as a cancer patient, Jen lived with hope and inspired others to have hope too. She thrived with cancer. Yes there were many surgeries, many disappointing scans, ER visits, doctor visits, and painful and emotional days. Yet, Her Hope stayed with her throughout her journey. As her friend, we talked about faith a lot, believing in God, having a plan and purpose and believing that everything happens for a reason. Even Cancer. Even Diseases. Even broken relationships. Our Faith grew as our friendship grew.

Last September, we attended a personal development conference together. Despite Cancer, she was always working on being a better person, more loving, more forgiving, and a more enlightened gal. She definitely achieved that! She had a huge support system of family, friends and a community that had her back throughout all of this! She is so loved. So special.

(Enjoying chats, lots of meals, and soaking up love.)

One of the things I loved that she often said was that she was an Outlier. When she said that, she was referring to conquering cancer. That she was different. That she would beat it and thrive! Now, I see what it really meant.

She was an outlier because she was one of a kind. You don't meet too many people that are like Jen. She was full of Jersey sass but had a heart of gold. She was an extraordinary mother that made her boy feel special everyday with her lunch notes, special mailbox outside his room filled with daily love letters, fun adventures, and lots of kisses, hugs and cuddles. She was a dedicated friend, even on days she was feeling ill, she was at your kids party or coming over for a much needed chat. She was a loving sister, sharing the joys of their new families and treating her nephew as he was her own! She was a great wife, providing for the family even when she was so sick by making sure there was food on the table and to make home life as normal as it possibly could be. Thinking of others before herself was a common theme throughout her life. She had a uncanny way of making you laugh out loud with her witty comebacks and one liners. Jen was never afraid to make fun of herself. We both shared a common trait in our childhood - the curse of thick glasses and braces during the awkward years. We would compare stories and laugh like crazy! She told you like it was - her tough love came with no malice only to help you do better. Be better.

Without our deep talks about Faith, I am not so sure I would get out of bed through this loss.

Jen was a great gift giver. I have so many treasures around my house that she gave to me. Pictures, books, wreaths, jewelry, cards, notes, inspirational items fill my home and my heart. One of the most treasured gifts I received was: THE WISH BOX.

When we went to the conference in September we were inspired by these wish boxes an artist had for sale at the show. These boxes hold your dreams, thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement and gratitude. We decided not to purchase one. To my surprise a few weeks later, Jen made one for ME with her crafty little hands! To say I was touched when I received it is an understatement. But, to top it all off, she made one of for each of my daughters. They were overcome with joy when they received one of their own from their special mommy friend! And custom designed for each of our personalities and favorite colors!

(Jen's beautiful craftsmanship and love was poured into these boxes! )

At Thanksgiving, this past year, my box was part of the centerpiece at the family table. Each one of us wrote down all of the things we were grateful for and put it in the box. When I go to put a note in there, I now always include Jen as one of the people I am most grateful for in my life.

I will never be the same since knowing her.

I am better. She made me better.

I will miss her physical presence through our laughs, chats, tears, joys. I will miss the everyday check-ins. I will miss our shopping excursions, Qdoba lunches, mommy and kids dates, Halloween trick or treating, holiday parties, birthday parties, family bowling dates, movie dates, girls night out gatherings. I will miss her hug and her smile. Her laugh! But all of that remains in my heart. I treasure the time we did have together and am grateful for every SINGLE second.

I love you my dear friend. I miss you already.

"Try to never miss the opportunity to tell these people how much they mean to you." ~Positively Positive

Love and Light,


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gosh Darnit!! I am pale. My Name is Jensy, Its Nice to Meet You. :)

For writing effect, I would have liked to title this blog "G@ddamm$#it I am Pale!", but my daughters would be very disappointed in me if I used the Lord's name in vain. "Mom, that's a venial sin, ya know?" So I didn't, but you will get THE point when you read further on. :-)

This week, I went to visit one of my dearest friends in the hospital. I rushed to her side when I heard she was headed to the ER. I was dressed in my workout clothes, felt a bit greasy, and it was late. Well, sadly, 8:00 at night is late, at least to me!

I made it to the hospital in about 9 minutes flat, rushed in to see her and was relieved to see she was getting the care she needed. She was her witty, spunky, cute self.

One of her nurses came in and saw me sitting bedside.

She gasped when she saw me and said, "Wow, YOU should be the ONE in the hospital bed, are you okay? EWWWW, You are so pale!"

Uh, umm, uh, ok.

Not, Hello there, how are you? Nice to meet you.

My dear friend spoke up for me, "Oh she's just like that, she's translucent!" with a twinkle in her eye.

The nurse went on, "My gosh, wow, oh dear, are you sure you are ok?"

I am okay. Did I stutter? ;-)

Since I was a little girl, I was called Casper (you know for the Friendly Ghost! Ironically, that was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid)by kids on the playground. Every summer, I spent long days at the country club pool getting as much sun as possible on this Fair Skin to deter the snide remarks. Funny enough, I did get tan. But now, in my 30's I am paying for that with sun damage. In college, I laid in tanning beds to TRY to resemble the J. Lo Glow or the sun kissed glamour that was associated with that time.

(See the fair glory?! But I am someone's mother and that's the most important thing to me.)

Really? ME? Blonde hair, fair skinned, blue-eyed lanky girl trying to get the honey kissed skin of Jennifer Lopez?

After college, sunless tanning spray booths, became the trend. So, here I was again, trying to mask the glare of the paleness. I would strip down into my birthday suit, get into all kinds of weird angles and positions to achieve just the right tan while shivering from the cold bath of tan promoting chemicals, promising to turn me from a pasty white weed to a golden goddess! In the last couple of years, I did the research on the negative effects of sunless tanning booths and found the ingestion and application of chemicals on the skin to be just too harmful and quite frankly, not worth it.

So, I am embracing the pale. I am embracing me. And I am NOT taking any remarks about my level of paleness personally, that's for darn sure! I'm ME!

Is it ever okay to meet someone and exclaim, "Wow, you look fat, are you ok? You must be overweight by 50 pounds!?" or "Your makeup is awful, that eye shadow is way too dark!" or "EWWW, That outfit does not match!" Now, if its one of your pals or loving family members , sure, offer your constructive criticism in a loving, genuine way.

The truth is, we are all unique. We are all our individual selves expressing our likes and dislikes through dress, hairstyle, jewels, and most importantly our demeanors and the gifts we bring to the world.

God made me this way. I have grown tired of trying to fit into the media standards. I must admit, I have hope for the world that our standards are shifting. Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain (my pasty partners in crime) and other media/celebrity darlings are embracing their God-given bodies and skin tones. Lady Gaga recently spoke of accepting your body, skin, hair with flaws and all, lifting your head high and proud, and being You and only You with or without the extra 15 lbs or that crooked bicuspid.

This is all not to say, you will not catch me wearing any makeup or putting highlights in my hair. I feel I put my best face forward with a little blush, mascara, and a touch of lip gloss. Let's face it, I need makeup, you can almost see my facial bones through my skin. :) Remember? I'm translucent :)

I am happy to be my best Jensy, My most authentic Jensy and yes, even the pale Jensy.

And when you meet me I might say, "Hi, my name is Jensy. And yes, I am pale." with a sparkle in my eye and an upturned grin. "It's very nice to meet you."