Today marks four years since I said goodbye to my dear sweet friend Gloria Strauss. My heart is heavy for her family but my heart is also full of so many wonderful memories of the experience of getting to know Gloria through camp and then being invited into to Doug and Kristen Strauss' wacky, amazing, loving and forever chaotic family during the most difficult of all possible times. A 10 minute visit to their house would quickly turn into 3 hours and I'd leave with my arms filled with food and my camera being filled with hundreds of photographs...a few of which I actually took myself. Usually, Gloria's little sister Maria would steal my camera and just fire at will at anything that flew past her during the daily kid tornado in their home.
In 2007, Gloria was too sick to come to camp but was able to come along on cruise day. I held the boat at Pier 55 waiting for Doug and Kristen to bring Gloria and Maria and a few of their other kids down to the pier before cruising to Vashon to pick up the campers. The Strauss clan was late (for a change), I waited and waited, saw their jumbo van make the power turn onto Alaskan Way, the kids piled out, I tossed the car keys to an Argosy friend to move the car, Gloria stepped into her wheel chair and I pushed her at full speed to the boat. Some of Gloria's counselor friends, who hadn't seen her in a while and who were coming along for the ride, gathered on the boat rail and watched as I wheeled Gloria down the pier. They looked very concerned because they hadn't seen Glow in quite a while and didn't know that she needed a wheelchair. I then stopped, Gloria jumped up out of the chair and yelled, "A MIRACLE HAPPENED...I'M WELL!" Everyone erupted in laughter. Only Gloria could pull that stunt so perfectly.
She really was very very sick though and I made her take a nap in the wheelhouse on the way over to Vashon. Kristen then told me that there was absolutely NOTHING that would have stopped Gloria from going on the cruise that day.
Once we got to Vashon to pick up the kids Gloria was everywhere and was having the time of her life. She even managed to get to the very front of the boat for the group picture. OK, I encouraged her, but she was planning on it anyway!
We stopped at Blake Island that day and I took a photograph of Gloria and a few of her dear friends, Amber and Sarah, my daughter Alex, and her sister Maria hanging out on the beach. That moment came and went so fast but I think of the photograph often and I'm so happy I was able to share it and the many others I took on that wonderful day...that wonderful cancer free day, with Gloria's family, friends, and others who never knew her but who have been so touched by her story. I'll never forget that day out on Puget Sound with Glow and her family. Gloria passed away less than three months later.
This summer all four of girls went on the Camp Goodtimes cruise again. They stopped on the same log and Alex moved over from her original spot and they all honored Gloria by posing for a photograph with Gloria's seat empty, but that moment was filled with so much love for her. I know it meant a lot to the girls, especially to Gloria's sister Maria to take a moment out of the chaos and simply remember.
OK...we had the quiet moment, but life is about living, celebrating and trying to enjoy every blessed minute of it. A few moments later we took another photo and the girls never sat still for the rest of the day.
What would Gloria want for her friends and family to do on this day? On any day for that matter? For a party to happen. For the ordinary to turn into the extraordinary just because you want it to be that way. For Gloria, a simple walk down the beach could turn into performance art. How lucky many of us were to know her.
I know I probably speak for a lot of people when I say that the pain of feeling her loss is completely worth the joy that came from knowing her.