Remember last year when the endless winter got me down and I asked you all to tell me what you’re grateful for to cheer me up?
I need that again, if you don’t mind. I woke up to a text this morning that Meredith Byrne passed away. 50 years ago, I was named after Meredith. Not in a sentimental-she-was-my-mother’s-best-friend way. In a sweet, small town way. Meredith was a classmate of my uncle and my mom loved her name. She wanted to name me Marcella and my dad said “anything but that”. Meredith is an old Welsh name and we’re Welsh so there it is.
Growing up in Gridley, every time I saw Meredith, I was excited. She was like a movie star to me, simply because she was the only other Meredith I knew and she was the one I was named after. Years later, when she grew up, she worked at Sycamore with my mom and they became good friends, as adults. When my mother died, too suddenly, and too soon at the age of 64, it was Everett and Meredith who made her funeral meal of trip-tip so special. Mom always said, “nobody really remembers anything about parties except how good the food is” and they made that a reality for her.
A few years ago, when Meredith was diagnosed with ALS, I was at the wedding of one of my BFF’s, when the bride’s cousin whispered to me, “how are you feeling?”. I said “fine” and wondered why she asked with such concern. She later told me she heard I was seriously ill but wasn’t specific. Her aunt overheard and said, “NOT Meredith Carlin, Meredith Byrne!”. That was how I got the news that Meredith had ALS. It was a nasty juxtaposition of emotions as we were relieved that I didn’t have ALS at the same time as being so sad for Meredith to have such a dreadful disease.
Less than a year after that, I got a few voicemails asking me to call back right away. The friends sounded strange so I called back but couldn’t reach them. My husband got similar strange calls but he was able to reach some of his callers.
Then I got a call from one of my BFF’s explaining it all. It turned out that colleagues of my husband were in a panic, thinking my husband had died suddenly. They were calling his offices in Sacramento, Minneapolis and San Francisco trying to covertly find out if my husband was in fact, dead or alive, because of the simple statement from my friend that “Meredith’s husband died suddenly”.
My husband experienced the surreal experience of realizing how much his friends love him in their pursuit of the truth of his death (or aliveness for lack of a better word) and I was left with the same juxtaposition of joy that my husband was still alive and intense sadness for Meredith and her children, that Everett had passed away just as suddenly as my own mom.
I’m so happy for Meredith that she’s out of the pain of her illness and reunited with Everett but her children, Mindy and Brannon, are alone now and that breaks my heart. I feel like a bit of a dork sharing this publicly, because it’s not like Meredith and I were close, but I wanted to reach out and count my blessings at a time when my own chronic disease is getting me down.
Relapses suck, but life can be short, so I’ll start this gratitude chain by saying I’m grateful for my family who sticks by me even though my fun moments are not as plentiful as my sick ones. I’m grateful for my friends who remember to text me the sad news as well as the good news, knowing that I hate to feel so far away. I’m grateful for a town like Gridley where we got to grow up in the security of a community that takes care of us in good times and bad and who I know will rally around Mindy and Brannon right now. And I’m thankful for all of you who may actually read this (much too lengthy) post and actually post your joy with me to live vicariously through. Thank you! Rest in peace, Meredith Byrne. God be with you ’til we meet again.