When I was growing up in Lancaster, like all young people, I was carefree and never gave much thought to how death not only happens to older folks, but can rear its ugly head for anyone, at any age.
I reflected on that recently when my friend’s daughter, Anetra Alford, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer a year ago. When she was diagnosed, she fought valiantly to survive; sadly, she passed away right before Thanksgiving of last year. I loved her dearly.
Life can be so strange. We know that we will die and people we love will die. But we are never truly ready for it. Even when those we love get a devastating diagnosis, which seems likely to result in death, when it happens, it shakes you to your core.
If you didn’t get a chance to meet this kind soul, allow me to share a bit about her, which I hope will give you but a glimpse into who she was. Anetra would take her mom on trips and treat her to weekend getaways and fancy dinners at the finest restaurants.
I always told my friend Veronica that she had the best daughter since Anetra wanted to spend time with her and dote on her mom. About 20 years ago Veronica called and told me that Anetra would be taking her to a resort. I was listening and was happy for her; the coming trip sounded amazing. As she continued telling me about the trip, Veronica added: She wants you to go. I think I may have started packing my bags while Veronica was still talking!
Anetra took us away for the weekend, made all the arrangements, planned the itinerary, and paid for everything. She resisted when I insisted on paying for dinner one evening and reluctantly allowed me to do so. During our getaway, we had two separate massage and pamper packages that weekend. It was over the top and so luxurious I could barely take it all in. Anetra told me she wanted to do that for me.
Anetra included me in their excursions many times after that and would never allow me to contribute. I hung out with Veronica and Anetra frequently and we talked about everything. I had many conversations where Anetra not only shared her secrets, but I also shared mine.
She was so much younger, but somehow our connection defied our age difference. Anetra could have been my daughter, but she really felt like a friend. That friendship was birthed through her mom, but took on a life of its own independent of anyone else but us.
Anetra was an amazing cook. She grew vegetables in her garden and made her own soap. Once I asked Anetra to make her delicious salmon loaf for me to take to work for a luncheon. Everyone else in the office would be bringing homemade dishes and I didn’t want to take a store-bought dish. When I got off work the day before the luncheon, I went by Anetra’s home to pick up the loaf.
When I opened the door, the aroma of something divine filled the house. Anetra was cooking dinner. I talked with her for a few minutes and then did something I had never done before or since: I asked if could I have dinner with her. She threw her head back, laughed and said, of course! Anetra was making roasted chicken, potatoes and vegetables from her garden. I saw her throwing in coconut milk and various fresh herbs from her garden. To this day, I have never had chicken that even comes close to Anetra’s chicken. When I took a bite, there was an explosion of flavor pulsing through my mouth.
Anetra was generous and her greatest skill was in the way she demonstrated her love for others. You know someone cares when they listen and really understand what you are saying. Such was Anetra.
When my husband and I bought our current home, we really spent more than we had planned to purchase the property. The house was slightly larger than our last home and I knew I would have to use the furnishings I had as our budget would not allow me to buy new items. I was stressing about it. While I was very excited about the house, I was concerned that the furnishings would significantly detract from its beauty.
Anetra and Veronica are into decorating. I have been out shopping with them on many occasions and saw up close how they can reimagine spaces and use their creativity to make normal areas come alive in new ways. I told Anetra about my dilemma: We would soon be in our new home, but I had no more money to purchase new furnishings.
Anetra listened and then told me she would meet me at the new house to see the space. I thought Anetra was just coming to look and give me some ideas. That would have been normal and expected, but “normal and expected” was not Anetra.
When Anetra arrived, it was obvious that she came with a plan. She walked through the house and measured all the rooms. Anetra then sat down and pulled out her notebook. Anetra asked me to think about every piece of furniture that we owned and every rug. She wanted to know colors, size and textures. Anetra wrote down every item; she kept peppering me with questions to make sure I didn’t forget anything.
A few days later, Anetra called and said she wanted to come over and talk to me about decorating the house. When she arrived, Anetra had a sketchbook with her. She gave it to me. When I opened it, my jaw dropped. Anetra drew a schematic of my new house with all the rooms clearly identified. In the schematic, she had placed all my furniture in the rooms, with rugs and decorative items she knew I owned. She told me where to hang pictures. Anetra used my existing furniture in ways that I never would have thought to use it.
She answered my questions and walked me through each room. When she finished, she told me I didn’t need to buy new furniture, just use what I had according to her drawing. When she finished, Anetra said although she tried as best she could, I would have to buy one rug for the family room to pull the look together.
I thanked her profusely. When we moved into the house, I had the schematic in my hand, and I walked around telling the movers where each item should go. The movers asked to see the schematic and said they had never seen such a detailed drawing. I told them neither had I.
Anetra demonstrated that she heard me and was not satisfied to just listen. She wanted to help me, and she did.
Anetra taught me to use whatever gift or skill I may have to lighten someone else’s load. She certainly lightened mine many times in her young life. I miss her.