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,