On the cusp of 75, I'm at the age where losses are coming far too close together. In the heartbreaking journey of saying goodbye to one of my oldest and dearest friends, another friend (just as old and dear) stayed in lockstep with me. I cannot imagine walking into Teri's hospital room without Peggy at my side as we faced the first horrifying look at the way cancer had ravaged Teri's body. When I returned to Denver just weeks later to speak at Teri's celebration of life, Peggy's heart and home gave me the space and grace to prepare for doing such a very hard thing. The evening after the ceremony, as my stockpile of dread and adrenaline drained away, we sat quietly in her living room, talking about eulogies and the great things people have done that we hear about for the first time.
Peggy promised that no such revelations are in store when she takes the dirt nap, and I chimed in, “Same for me!" Because I had described Teri's life path as a beautiful golden straight line and my own like a Jackson Pollock painting, Peggy compared her life to a Picasso painting. Not to be outdone, I piped up with "Salvador Dali!" but she won by shouting "The Scream!" accompanied by the horrified face cupped between two hands. The two of us were already cry-laughing, but The Scream sent us into such loud howls that the reverberation probably rattled her neighbors' windows.
Let's face it. Everyone sounds more impressive on paper. I'm sure that Peggy and I could craft a story about our lives that would translate into a little worldly shine. Okay, upgrading her life resume would be easier than mine. But then, I'm the wordsmith. As one of my freelance clients said, "No one can make shit sound like gold the way Maggy does." So that's one unique skill I can mention.
In writing Peggy a long overdue Thank You, I was overwhelmed with the idea of a Living Eulogy. Why do we wait until our loved ones are gone to appreciate all the quirks and gifts of their personality and the twists and turns of their lives? Peggy's Living Eulogy would open on the page where we first met in ninth grade. We were walking those school hallways when the loudspeaker announced the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963. The next year, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the US began drafting and deploying troops to Vietnam, and the Beatles landed in America.
In high school Peggy took on a "mama bear” role based on her maturity, good sense, and courage under fire driving in Denver traffic or winding canyon roads between rocky cliffs and steep drop-offs. On the return from a ski trip in her vintage Jeep, she shouted for me to start working the windshield wipers during a sudden downpour. What? The wipers don't just turn on? What if I can’t move this thing fast enough for you to see? Are we going to die here?
Fast forward to the first year of college when Peggy was again courage under a very different fire as she and her fiancé faced a surprise pregnancy. Their hearts and other things caught fire, but their tender love and passion were immediately under siege by military, judicial, university, and (most sadly) family politics. Is there anything more we can add to the burden and stress of this fresh and promising romantic relationship? Yes! The threat of actual jail time for a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War—now viewed as the worst military disaster the United States has ever carried out, and there’s a lot of competition for that award.
The university revoked the young man's scholarship because, as we know, married students who are home studying every night are far less likely to graduate and rise to proud heights than irresponsible, partying, hungover single males. And let’s not even get into the hypocritical, ludicrous social judgment of two people in love who do the very natural thing of…. making love? Can we still publicly stone them or must we be satisfied with quietly drowning them in shame? Fortunately, Peggy’s beautiful sister Susan stood staunchly against parental protests in keeping Peggy as the Matron of Honor at her marriage, whether or not her petite little sister might possibly be sporting the tiniest of “belly bumps" by then. Growing up as a Boomer was not all doobies and rock concerts.
Despite the profoundly hurtful and sometimes terrifying journey the young couple faced at the onset of their life together, Peggy remained as close to her family as they would allow her to be. She had the grace to understand the conditioned belief system her parents were operating under. She even understood how having a higher social standing in the community, the same blessing that had enriched her childhood, could become a cold prison where “What will people think? What will they be saying?” echoes so loudly that it drowns out any whispers of “What does our daughter need from us right now?”
If Peggy ever grounded her self-esteem in family approval, acceptance, and support, those days were over. On to growing and building self-esteem and confidence as a wife and mother and the creator of a loving, welcoming home. The young man’s college education came first, of course. And eventually, the years of struggle were paying some attractive dividends. But as the young man began feeling the hubris of affluence (aka compensating for insecurities with stuff and status), Peggy failed to accompany him down that path. The distance between them began to widen, slowly but surely.
Maybe it should have been less of a shock when the young man became enamored with another woman and chose to fly away for a new life of affluence and freedom. Was he in any state of mind to acknowledge and begin repairing the fractured relationship with his daughter and face the Grand Canyon that his shift in values was carving in his relationship with Peggy? No, of course not. Those realizations and regrets took many years and a lot of suffering to surface. Off he went, leaving Peggy bereft in a sea of abandonment, rejection, wounded female ego, and feeling robbed of every good thing she had been working toward and building for nearly two decades. ALL the things.
She was also left without the nursing degree she began so many years before or the means for a now-single working mother to support such an expensive, time-consuming endeavor. Peggy made it happen anyway and surfed the tidal waves of her daughter’s rebellious teens along the journey. She made lifelong friends, including a neighbor who was in the right place at the right time to share the trials and triumphs of two freshly divorced warrior goddesses on the road to hard-won degrees.
Diane’s son remembers his mother and Peggy as his ultimate heroines, strong and fiercely independent women taking charge of their futures and forging their destinies. He recalls walking in the door and seeing them studying quietly together. But on Friday nights, the books closed at 8 p.m. and out came the libations. Hair came undone, worries melted away, relaxation settled in, and laughter rocked the room.
Peggy spent decades as a nurse, caring for patients as only she could. The best nurses are Earth Angels whose loving attention and care are never fully recognized, much less extolled—a legacy that lives on in the hearts and minds of the people they have touched. Her daughter Jill matured into a powerful gift to the world, an intelligent and fiercely independent woman whose “inner rebel” is still alive and engaged. But now, that force is directed toward social justice, equality, inclusion, compassion, respect, and humanitarian idealism. Things were going so well that Peggy might have considered giving some attention to another intimate relationship. But one family crisis after another kept her focused on caring for others.
The first milestone that captured her time and attention was pure joy. In her mid-30s, Peggy's daughter Jill discovered she was pregnant (with a boyfriend who was more boy than friend) and said Yes! to being a single mother of a beautiful baby girl. But then came the tragedies. If you tour Peggy’s front and back yards, you will be introduced to trees and greenery named as memorials to honor her family. Her brother Bruce died suddenly of heart failure. The family knew that they were losing her sister to cancer, but Susan’s sudden passing left everyone grieving not only their lost beloved but the “more time” they hoped to have. Each time, it was Peggy who had to tell her parents their child was gone. And it was Peggy who was there for them as her mother lapsed into ever-deepening dementia and her father made his last journey—weary of being old and alone but saving his worst moods and complaints for the only child he had left who was with him every moment she could be.
With the years of loss, grieving, and caretaking in the rear window, Peggy became the Grand Matriarch of an extended family. Her brother left behind a daughter who now has a step-sibling, and sister Susan had four children—some of whom now have families of their own. One glance at her refrigerator magnets shows how much her wisdom and loving presence are appreciated by family and friends. By now, you might wonder if she is one of those people who derives self-esteem from sacrificing for others. You know, the selfless givers who never take care of themselves. Not Peggy.
Her calendar is dotted with dates for exploring Colorado’s Rocky Mountain wonder, having fun with friends in groups or one-on-one and traveling to destinations from Hawaii to England. You’ll see scheduled times and appointments for everything from fitness to preventative healthcare. In planning her retirement, she followed the best tips for building the financial, social, healthcare, and psychological support needed for a comfortable, productive life. Like so many women of our generation and those who came before, Peggy has evolved from a subdued people-pleaser into a surprisingly direct communicator who has no problem speaking her truth or setting boundaries. Instagram would call her out as a total badass!
In a word, Peggy has a gift for balance. Her temperament is steady and even, her counsel is wise, and her blend of optimistic idealism and practical realism is a rare treasure. Whatever is going on in your world, you will feel a little better, a little lighter after talking to Peggy.
Her ‘spidey senses’ about the feelings and needs of others are keen. The evening she invited me to join her book club friends at a large, lively event with laughter spilling off the table, she noticed something “off” about one of the men. As the party was breaking up, Peggy whispered: “Can we lag behind? I need a minute alone with Mark.” Indeed, he had just received a troubling diagnosis and needed that chance to drop his “happy guy on vacation” mask and share the anxiety and concern that was eating at him from the inside. I would bet big Vegas bucks that no one else at the dinner tuned into Mark the way she did.
Which brings us to one of Peggy's most endearing and uncommon qualities: Reverence for the simple richness of days gone by. Everything in her home, from the tiniest trinket to larger pieces, has a story to share. Some would tell you about being owned by those Peggy has loved and lost, others would talk about the loved one who gifted them to Peggy, and still others were happily chosen for their soulful beauty or whimsical charm.
Everything surrounding Peggy is meaningful, from the Little Free Library at the edge of the front yard to the soft cushions on her backyard furniture and everything in between. Just walking through her home is a journey of the heart.
When technology took over our lives and the world began spinning at an ever-increasingly chaotic and dizzying pace, Peggy refused to buy into the noise and clatter. Don’t think for one moment that she is out of touch or unaware. Her laptop may spend most of its time in a drawer, but she is a sparkling, knowledgeable conversationalist on nearly any topic. In the rare event she needs to print something, Peggy heads for the library, home to so many of her favorite friends—books. Television shows and movies? Not so much. The words “binge-watching” are not in her vocabulary. She only joined the cell phone revolution because her daughter demanded that she have one for security and accessibility after Peggy retired. Her Sunday morning begins as peacefully as it did for her parents and maybe even her grandparents, taking the time to sip coffee over the pages of a printed newspaper.
One of her favorite terms is putter. What does that even mean? Is that a form of pre-Netflix escapism or distraction? He’s puttering in the garage. She’s puttering in the kitchen. In Peggy's world, puttering means small acts of appreciation, whether for the nature in her yard or the sanctuary of her home. Puttering means taking care of and giving attention to the things that infuse her world with comfort, beauty, and joy.
In Peggy’s world, loved ones are precious, life is precious, and time is the stuff of life. It seems that Peggy's North Star has led her to follow something Mother Teresa said: “We can do no great things…only small things with great love.”