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I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most;

'Tis better to have loved and lost. Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am feeling a mixture of emotions today. Tomorrow I will attend the funeral with full military honors for my 97 year-old friend, Tom. I’m sad because I will miss my dear friend, but mostly, I am filled with gratitude that our lives intersected, and my granddaughters and I were able to know and to love him for so long.

My dearest friend, Tom.

Through the years I have had many adopted grandparents as friends. My granddaughters, Hadleigh and Miller have accompanied me on these visits since they were infants. Five years of so much love and laughter. There is something very special about the elderly and children. If I had to explain it, it would just be plain and The years on their faces melted away as they watched the girls toddling around from table to table, or when holding a little baby in their arms. It has been magical.

L-R: Me, Tom, my husband, Scott and Carolyn

One very dear friend of mine was Carolyn. When I came to visit her at lunch one day, she introduced me to her new friend Tom. From that time on, during our lunches, I sat at their table listening to Tom’ stories (many long and grand) and watched the love between my granddaughter’s and Tom grow.

When we arrived each week, they would run right over to Carolyn and Tom’s table and Hadleigh would sit up on his lap. He loved introducing Hadleigh and her new baby sister, Miller to anyone who passed by as his “adopted granddaughters.”

Hadleigh and Tom

Hadleighs sister Miller and Tom

One of his favorite things to do was to ask the waitress to bring a dish of strawberry ice cream for his little friend. Hadleigh and Tom would sit quietly like two little children, savoring the cold sweetness together. Tom and strawberry ice cream became forever entwined in Hadleigh’s mind. Each week the same scene played out over and over again.

Strawberry ice cream with Tom

After Tom’s fall, he was in a wheelchair. Hadleigh would “help” wheel him where he wanted to go. In the activity room, they played catch with the beach ball or tossed rings at pins or spent quiet time putting puzzles together. Tom became part of our family. The memories of these moments we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Hadleigh helping Tom

Playing ball

When his friend, Carolyn moved to a nursing facility and eventually passed away, it was a hard time for Tom and for Hadleigh and I. But our friendship continued. Sharing our stories of times with Carolyn helped us both through the grief.

Tom and Carolyn

Carolyn meets Hadleigh for the first time.

During the pandemic, I would come and sit on the patio outside the activity room window and visit with Tom at a safe distance through the screen. During this long year, Tom missed my girls and they missed him. I remember one visit when we sat outside on the front porch. Tom didn’t seem to recognize me, but once I brought out pictures of Hadleigh and Miller, he knew who they were and really got a kick out of seeing the recent videos of them playing. When he saw my granddaughter Ella‘s red hair, he launched into wild stories about his brother in Scotland and all of his escapades and seemed confused when I tried to steer the conversation back. So, I figured maybe it was time to go.

When I grabbed his hand and said “Tom, I love you. I’ll be back to see you soon,” he said, “wait a minute there’s something I have to tell you.” I thought it was going be something confusing, but instead he looked me right in the eye and said “I want you to know that you are my family and that I really love you.” My heart burst open. What a gift that was. Over the years and many visits, we had gone from total strangers to family.

Our last visit with Tom

Our last visit was a few weeks before he passed, when I was finally able to bring Hadleigh to see Tom again. She was so excited to see him and hoped strawberry ice cream was on the menu :) She opened up the box of her favorite mermaid puzzle and she and Tom sat for an hour putting pieces together and talking. This was followed by splitting a homemade vanilla cupcake I had brought. I will cherish the picture I took of the three of us forever.

To read in his obituary what a full and long life he had is amazing. I feel so grateful for the time we spent together and that my granddaughter’s now have a wonderful, adopted grandfather to remember sharing strawberry ice cream with. God bless you, Tom. We will miss you.

Tom and our dear friend Scotty, who also passed this month. Hadleigh and I will miss them more than I can express. So blessed to know and love them both.

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My story on World Mental Health Day.

During my journey caring for my mother, who suffered from malnutrition, I learned a lot about the brain. This magnificent organ is the conductor in the symphony we call our body. All functions are connected to it. How we see, taste, feel, hear, smell, maneuver around our environment, digest our food, grow our cells… everything. The brain beautifully knows each instrument’s part and just the right flick of the baton that is required to initiate something the body needs. And if that was not enough, it also cares for our thoughts and emotions. What a miracle!

Your brain is no different than any other organ in your body. Your kidneys, lungs and heart need good nutrition, exercise, and hydration to serve you well and occasionally, a checkup to help make them healthy again. Why would your brain and mental health be any different?

Today, I ask you to take a closer look at your brain and how you are feeling.

Several years ago, I knew I was feeling overwhelmed after a long string of losses. Much like I could not just “suck it up” and get over a strep throat, I knew I could not feel better emotionally on my own. My brain was asking for additional support, and I am so grateful I listened. For some reason society sees needing mental health help as a weakness. This is wrong. I would say it's just the opposite; by acknowledging my need and seeking help, I was being brave. Reaching out to get a referral was one of the single best and bravest things I have done in my life for my own self-care.

I want to remove the stigma around seeking help.

My dream is to make mental health self-care

as common, comfortable and accepted

as calling your primary care when you have a strep throat.

I have learned so much through my conversations with my therapist, and have a deeper understanding now of situations, people, myself and my approach to life. Honestly, I think everyone can benefit from therapy at one time or another. When I felt I was stronger and healthier, I extended the time between our chats a bit further. Finally, I took some time off - knowing that my therapist, like my primary care, would be there when I needed them.

And so today, it I with pride in myself that I say, #iwasbrave and I am better for it. Let’s talk about mental health self-care and our own experiences and make seeking help as comfortable as booking your yearly physical. And if life is making you feel overwhelmed, there is help, I promise! Call your PCP, a friend, or this number. Go ahead, BE BRAVE.

Author Cathy Stenquist filling her cup in a New England sunflower field.

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Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Sunday Evening:

I browse through old pictures. My little girl, adorned in her tutus, is all grown up now, and getting married next summer. I am feeling a bit nostalgic. She is due over to my house at 11:00 am tomorrow, to begin the search for her wedding dress. How has the time passed so quickly?

Erica Leigh and her friend, Greg, "getting married."

Monday morning:

Standing in front of my dresser, I linger indecisively wondering what should I wear. The everyday leggings and comfy shirt I have worn the past year and a half during the pandemic just will not do. Opening my closet door, I slide each long forgotten dress and skirt slowly and thoughtfully to the left. One by one, they audition for a scene that I had imagined for thirty-two years since Erica Leigh was born.

The bride and I.

I hold several options up to my chest, analyzing them in detail in the mirror and scrunching up my nose to many, finally settling on a blue sleeveless dress. Yes, cool, comfortable. And if I am very lucky, the busy blue design along with the Spanx might just disguise the"covid-15"that I have gained. Laying the dress on the bed, I slide the closet doors shut and open my jewelry box.

My mother-in-law June and I on her last birthday.

On special occasions like this, my heart is feeling heavy, yearning for all the ladies in my life that I have loved and some I have lost; my sisters, my mother, my grandmothers and mother-in-law. My way of holding them close, bringing them along for the ride is to wear something of theirs. It somehow helps me feel like they are a part of it.

Immediately I know what I want to do.

My old wooden jewelry box safely cradles a variety of metal, beads and pearls lovingly passed down. Lifting the lid, I scan the velvet compartments - occasionally picking up a trinket, considering it, then dropping it back in the box. The sparkle of ocean blue catches my eye. I slide my mother-in-law June's ring slowly onto my finger. "Hi Junie," I say outloud to her sweet soul.

June's blue ring.

Next, a gleam of gold. The textured oval earrings inherited only months ago when my mom passed, will add just the right sparkle. Tilting my head to each side I place the gold posts in each ear and secure them with a rubber backing. I imagine my beautiful mother in front of her mirror with these same earrings many years ago, and I smile.

Hanging on the wall, I spy a long gold necklace with turquoise beads. I had mailed them to her in 2015 with a sweater dress as a surprise, simply because being a caregiver had taken its toll on her and clothes and jewelry always made her smile. Putting it around my neck and laying it close to my heart feels right. I love you, Mom...thanks.

L-R: My sister Diane, Me, my Mom and my sister Sandy on my mother's 70th birthday trip.

After putting on my makeup I reach toward the bathroom cabinet shelf where I keep items belonging to my ladies: a mostly empty jar of "Here's My Heart" perfumed cream that belonged to June; the bottle holding the last bits of my mother's perfume,"Jontue,"; the bar of "Sweetheart" soap whose smell brings back memories of my grandmother. I dab and spray a little on each arm and breathe in their presence.

My memory shelf.

I am now the matriarch of my family, though I still feel like the innocent little bride from forty years ago picking out my own dress. Crazy at it seems, in the middle a pandemic, world upheaval and global warming... Today I will take my ladies with me, and know we will all shed a few tears watching Erica emerge from the curtain, adorned in lace and satin. A little bit of hope, joy and connection as she thinks about saying yes.

Nancy and I waiting to see the next dress.

Post Script:

Sharing this moment with my best friend Nancy, helped to fill a bit of the hole left by the absence of my beloved ladies. For Nancy has shared the journey with me for over 32 years, watching Erica Leigh grow into the amazing young woman that she is. With the smallest of glances, Nancy tells me with out words that she knows how I am feeling. While we waited, we reminisced, laughed and welled up. The hour we spent together was lovely and it is a wonderful start to saying,"Yes!"

Mom, June, Gram, Nana, Sandy and Diane-

I am so very grateful that I got to share this moment with you, my dear sweet ladies.

We'll be together again next summer when the 'I do's' fill the air.

I'll love you forever,


My precious Erica Leigh.

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A Little Bit of This & That

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