…whose gifts of love, humor and honesty inspire me every day.
She taught me so much about living. When I first met her nearly thirty years ago, I was struck by her “anything is possible” attitude, her decisiveness in knowing what she wanted, and her joyful pursuit of making it happen. She was beautiful, exotic, gregarious, and initially, even a little mysterious. What was that accent? European? Latin American? I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if she had told me she was a princess from some obscure island kingdom off the coast of Spain or something. Turns out she was from south Louisiana, brought up amongst the large Chenevert clan in the small town of Napoleonville. If there was such a thing as a Cajun princess, she was it– without a doubt.
New Orleans was the beginning. Our husbands were in law school together at Tulane and we quickly became a foursome. The years spent there with Michael and Elizabeth were as good as it gets. Everything was so new–the exotic flowers, corner bars, streetcars and smells, the climate, the history. It felt like a foreign country, and we loved it. Exploring this unique place and all of its food, culture, and traditions created memories–and a lifelong friendship. One particular memory is of a beautiful spring evening when she rushed back from a Good Friday service to prepare an elaborate Sedar dinner, just for the four of us. It was so reflective of her generosity and love, and fitting that she would introduce me to this merging of traditions, she who created her own rules, who relied on her own purpose and intent over convention.
Time moves along, and after law school we moved to different places–yet our lives remained strangely parallel. The babies came along within a few months of each other, first two boys and then a girl for each family. Those young years of small children and then the blur of activity as they’re all growing up didn’t offer us a lot of chances to see one another, but we always kept up and snatched whatever visits and phone calls we could. Then suddenly, in what seemed like a blink, the kids were grown and we moved to Washington, D.C., once again living in close proximity to our dear friends Mike and Elizabeth.
These last few years have been the other bookend of this precious connection. When Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer, there was the sudden clarity that we didn’t know how much longer we had with each other. It struck me then, and now, that we never know how much time we have with any of our loved ones, but somehow it’s the diagnosis that changes everything, that makes you appreciate every opportunity to enjoy one another, to grasp the moment, do things while you can, to forget the small stuff and laugh as much as possible. Even in the shadow of her illness, we had so much fun together, so much like before. There were lots of long meals, often one of Elizabeth’s unforgettable culinary creations such as corn soup or seafood gumbo, accompanied by plenty of wine and conversation that made the hours fly by. After a New Year’s Eve party at their house one year, when we were too tired to drive back home, we decided to stay over. The next day, our “morning” coffee turned into a kitchen table marathon, where we talked and laughed and enjoyed being with each other until about four o’clock the next afternoon. That’s quality time–and those are the memories.
As Elizabeth moved into her final weeks, she didn’t want to spend a minute in regret. She created an atmosphere of celebration, with a house full of friends, family, food, tears and laughter. As always in life, she said what she meant and what she wanted. She even hosted a quilting bee, soliciting any and all to help her create seven baby blankets as a gift to her future grandchildren. As the time grew shorter, she brought her circle in, making sure every single person knew that she loved them and that she was at peace with the way things were.
On the day of our last visit with her, as we were joined in surrounding her by Michael, her children, and her beloved sisters-in-law, she was lying on her back, too weak to sit up, with barely even enough breath to speak. “I’m just having so much fun,” she said. “I’m so happy.”
That was Elizabeth, and it is with great love that I dedicate my new book to her, a novella entitled All the Pieces. (more about the book) She taught me so much about living–and dying–and living again in the hearts of everyone who knew her.