Today would have been my friend Gaelle Spence’s birthday. I know she would have wanted to spend the day celebrating in the company of friends and caring for her beloved horse, Flirt.
Seven months ago, Gaelle passed away suddenly. I received the news on Christmas Eve after returning home from a holiday dinner. Reading the words was excruciating — the pain prevented me from comprehending the meaning. My eyes flooded with tears and my heart sank – all I could do was sob for the rest of the evening and the coming days. Gaelle was the first friend I had lost and I came to understand the rush of emotions that occur in a time of grief.
I met Gaelle at the barn ten years earlier. She was an avid equestrian who enjoyed immersing herself in the sport and acquiring as much knowledge as possible…about everything. She was incredibly intelligent (dare I say brilliant – she was a member of MENSA), gregarious and compassionate. She was also a kind soul who loved animals and a reliable friend. I was lucky to have her be a constant presence in my life, and I was looking forward to many more years together with her.
We became close during my gap year after high school. I was unsure of where I was headed with my education, and Gaelle became a trusted confidante for all of my thoughts, fears, and doubts. She encouraged me to pursue an education regardless of my indecisiveness and assured me that I would eventually find my stride. She was right – after two years at Dowling College, earning mostly A’s, my confidence grew and for the first time I enjoyed school and was excited about my courses. When I was accepted as a transfer student to American University in Washington, D.C. Gaelle was cheering me on.
On May 9, 2009 I walked across the stage on Graduation Day to receive my diploma and I thought of Gaelle. I knew she was proud of me, but I was even prouder of myself. She taught me throughout the years always to believe in myself, never to stop learning and most importantly, never to let fear stand in my way.
I miss our long (and sometimes spontaneous) dinners at our favorite restaurant. We would spend hours at Umberto’s in Huntington talking about everything and anything. The night always ended with Gaelle ordering a cannoli for me for dessert! I miss calling her in the middle of the day to check in, and I certainly miss stopping at the barn with her and watching her fuss over her horse.
I am thankful to have had Gaelle as a friend. Whenever I met her, I always learned something new, or left on a mission to acquire a new skill (like taking an HTML class). Gaelle frequently encouraged me to nurture my creative side, and I talked to her about my interest in starting a blog after recovering from thyroid surgery. Even though she never got to read any of my posts, I hope she would be proud that I have found my voice.
If I have learned one thing in these past seven months it is this: Never put off telling someone how you feel about them. I regret never expressing to Gaelle how much she changed the direction of my life, how grateful I was for our friendship and how much I appreciated that she supported my endeavors.
Gaelle was a happy, positive person with a wonderful sense of humor, and I know that on her birthday she would want her friends to remember the good times they had with her. So today, I am thinking about all of our adventures and conversations with a heavy heart and a smile.