Welcome to our CaringBridge site for Paula Winslow Briem Frye. We've created it to keep friends and family updated on Paula's progress as she fights a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. We appreciate your support and words of hope and encouragement during this time when it matters most.
I've missed writing to you! Chronicling my mother's journey has been a true joy for me, and I think I put off this last installment because I knew it would signal the end of a very special relationship between me and you and Paula.
Paula's celebrations of life were just wonderful, full of music and joy and memories. Her service at Federated Church of Orland was pure love, starting with the pink bracelets and ribbons offered to each person entering the church, to the music (thank you, Kristin Baugher, for the phenomenal version of Amazing Grace), to recited memories (thank you, Angus Saint-Evens), to the scripture (thank you, Pastor Colin, for your beautiful words), to the ukulele and bluegrass rendition of "I'll Fly Away" (thank you, Rick Maxson and the Rock Ridge Bluegrass Band, for bringing the congregation to its feet, singing and clapping), to the display of Paula photos and mementos (thank you, April Pack), to the reception hosted by the Federated Women's Groups. A simple thank you sounds so small compared to the generous offerings of love and support we received, but I'll say it: thank you, thank you, thank you.
On Wednesday after the Orland service, Tim, Kathy and I boarded Amtrak in Sacramento with Paula, who rode in her own special car, lovingly supervised by the porters. It was a fabulous trip, ending in Chicago and then continuing by car to Sheldon, Paula's hometown. Her service there on Saturday, February 9, was beautiful. It was held in the church she grew up in, with burial in the Sheldon Cemetery next to her family.
Before I sign off, I wanted to share some little stories from the past few weeks. I told you about how the two gentlemen from the funeral home in Chico came to Paula's house on the morning she died, and how we encouraged them to take the corners fast and punch it on Highway 32 on the way to Chico. When Kathy and I went to the funeral home a few days later to make arrangements for Paula, we heard that they did, indeed, take the corners a bit hard and fast, and punched it on Highway 32. Every so often, they'd look toward the back of the van and ask, "Are we doing it right, Paula?!" We LOVED that story!!
The overriding theme of Paula's services was about her spirit flying free. After she died, I got a small tattoo in white ink of a bird in flight, on the inside of my wrist. It's the first (and probably only) tattoo I'll get. I was telling Tim that my mom would likely be aghast at what I did, but Tim differed...he said she probably would've liked one herself after her Harley ride. I think he's right. I wish now I'd offered to take her to the tattoo studio owned by our friend, Dylan.
I made the arrangements for Paula's Illinois service by phone, based on recommendations of friends who live in the area. The night before the service, I had bad dreams about it. The next morning at the church, I met a man named Gary, who I thought was the pianist I hired (from six states away). I mentioned the songs we'd arranged for him to sing, and he said, very matter-of-factly, "I don't sing." My heart stopped, but I pressed on. "Well, at least you can play them on the piano and the congregation can sing them." He said, "I don't play the piano." Uh-oh. Bad dreams come to life! It turns out he was cousin Gary I hadn't met yet. Musician Gary arrived a bit later and filled the House with song. After the service, Paula was buried at the Sheldon Cemetery alongside her family. That night, Tim, Kathy, Rob and I re-connected with the adult children of Paula's high school friends, strengthening a bond that began when we were little.
We packed a little care package for Paula to take with her to her next life (coffee, chocolate, Harley Davidson bandana, word search puzzles, other little treasures that represented her very full life), and the gremlin bell was in the balance for awhile. In the end, though, it was carried with great love to Illinois, where it was given to Doug, the hero who took Paula for that motorcycle ride last May. A friend will hang it on his bike for him.
When Kathy, Tim and I returned last Sunday night from Illinois, we had a plane change in Las Vegas. Kismet! Thank you, Kathy, for making the flight reservations! Paula LOVED the slots, so we got off the plane and dove right into the Wheel of Fortune machines. Tim channeled his mother-in-law by parlaying $20 on a penny machine into more than $650! Winner winner, chicken dinner! It was, as my dear friend Rick said, a victory lap for Paula.
And little Kinlee, my mother's beloved cat, has a new home with Tim and me. She's been here for a couple of weeks and is becoming acquainted with the other two house cats, Meg and Timothy, both of whom have strong personalities. It's fun to watch Kinlee start to assert herself. I think she may end up the queen cat of the house.
The photo with this journal entry is of Paula and Marcia as they sat down on their high school steps last May for a picture together. My mom had had a bit of trouble sitting down, which cracked up Marcia. I love this picture. It is a candid look of love, friendship, laughter, and acceptance. It makes my heart sing every time I look at it.
So we come to the end. We are beyond grateful that you joined us on this epic journey with our mom/friend/grandma/neighbor. We are richly blessed by your friendship and involvement in her life, in our lives. We will never be the same. We love each of you so much, and will hold you in our hearts forever.