When I was 15 my mom and I had moved into a basement apartment with the owners of the house living upstairs. Verne, the lady of the house, had the warmest, most calming smile I'd ever seen and she did things like compost, use cloth diapers, and carry reusable grocery bags 30 years ago -- waaaay before things like caring about the planet were on any one else's radar.
And she'd come down and check on me ...often. Even invite me upstairs for tea.
I hate tea. I've always hated tea. And I never understood why she'd invite me up. I was 15, she was a mom with a couple young kids. And not only was I fifteen, but I was, what some may consider, a bit of handful as a teenager.
I drank way too much, I hated people and I was mad at the world.
But she'd come down smiling, asking if I wanted a cup of tea. I'd smile back, and go trotting upstairs to sit down and chat with her over a cup of tea. Tea, I might add, that I choked down because I never told her I didn't like tea for fear that she wouldn't invite me up for more.
I choked down all the tea she wanted to give me because I loved her and I loved our chats. And looking back, I think that's probably why she invited me up -- she knew I was a kid who needed her and caring about other people was just who she was.
We lived there for a few years and I grew to love and respect her like a mom. Even after we moved out, that connection continued.
When I was pregnant and put on bed rest for 6 weeks, she'd come to my house every day to make sure I had lunch and that my dishes were done. I never asked her once, she just did.
When my daughter was born with major health issues, she called and came in often to check on us -- always talking me off the edge of whatever cliff of panic and anxiety I was on the edge of and help give me perspective.
When we built our house, she gave me a composter for a house warming gift. She passed it to me, hugged me, and laughed that she didn't imagine I'd ever use it but she had to at least try. That was thing about Verne, she gave and shared without judgment or expectation -- just with love.
When I had to live in the hospital with my daughter for 2 months because of her health, she passed me $500 to help with expenses. Just because.
When I was struggling with my mental health and feeling lost, she'd come in with books to help. I still have a stack of her books in my room.
We moved out of her basement apartment decades ago and even if weeks or months would go by without connecting for our tea, she'd still always just be there - helping, supporting, and protecting.
We've joked over the years that she's been like a second mom to me but I don't think she ever knew how much that was true for me. My own mom has lived about 800 miles away since I was 18 or 19 - so Verne has been all I've had close by and she has had a profound role in many of the best parts of who I've become.
To this day, I don't understand why. I don't understand why she's always been there and loved me even during the times I've been the most thoroughly selfish, unlovable and difficult.
I don't know what I ever did to deserve her and I truly don't know where I would be without her.
Verne was not most people. She was... remarkable. The strongest, most resilient, most level headed and practical while also loving and giving woman I've ever met.
I loved, respected and admired her more than she likely ever knew and to this day, I'm almost 45 years old and still just want to make her proud.
I will forever be profoundly grateful she came into my life when she did, for every single cup of tea she brewed, dish she washed, book she brought, advise she gave, smile, hug, and laugh. Everything. Every single moment.
I'm sharing all that for no other reason than that she passed away last week and for the first time since I found out, I feel not only ready but compelled to tell you about the incredible lady who was, my Verne.
The last we spoke, she told me she was in hospital for some medication adjustments and not to worry, that she should be home soon. And then she was just gone.
She protected me right till the very end -- but, the one piece of advise I didn't get was, what do I do without her?