A Tribute to My Friend, Sylvia Bays

It’s been a decade since Sylvia Bays came into my life—a tall, stately woman who oozed casual elegance. But after the first few meetings that persona melted away and what emerged was a strong spirit—an unfinished woman, for certain, who was quietly in search of truth—of knowing herself  beyond the roles that she played and then simply BEING THAT.

Wherever she was, be it Iona, Scotland, the Kenwood Inn in Sonoma, Cape Cod on retreat, her cozy home on Balboa Island, visiting children in Syracuse and Modesto, you could be certain she would be involved—aware that the sand moving through the sand timer never stops and thus, not a second of this precious life should be taken for granted.

Then came the dreadful diagnosis. A doctor, at his most insensitive, gave her the grim prognosis and Sylvia (who rarely felt the slightest bit sorry for herself) teared up.

“What are the tears for,” the doctor asked.

“I’m not ready to go,” she answered, promptly exiting his office with a quiet determination. She had miles to go before she slept, and so began her crusade of connection—criss-crossing the country via airplane—touching down like a fairy godmother waving her wand of love.

Relationship was everything to Sylvia—be it a friend, family member, son or daughter. She was truly a  GRAND mother to us all. And how we benefited from her quiet generosity, snippets of wisdom, unfounded compliments, and encouragement. Whenever I needed a dose of truth or a no nonsense perspective on anything I would call Sylvia. She always had a more than satisfactory answer to get me through a crisis or calm me down in the midst of one.

What’s more, Sylvia’s suggestions were always to the point. “Don’t get involved in your son’s divorce—it will eat you alive. Being alone is better than being with someone non-authentic. Make sure your grandchildren know who you are. Compliment, don’t criticize. Love. Touch. Hug. Breathe. And at the end of the day, get down on your knees and thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon you up until now.”

She also forgave herself the few mistakes she made, taking solace from the poet Robert Frost:

“Do you have hope for the future?” someone asked Frost.

“Yes, and even for the past, that it will turn out to have been all right for what it was…something  we can accept, mistakes made by the self we had to be or was not able to be.”

Fortunately, for Sylvia, she had learned a long time ago that for her, love was the ruling principle and authentic connection was a must. She stepped up her game, particularly with her grandchildren. (Even her old email address  identified her as grammy@something.com).

She hardly ever missed a musical performance or  sporting event, made it to everyone’s First Holy Communion, took her grandsons camping, and who could forget the infamous trip to  Disney World.

As for the grand daughters they went to London (probably to see the Queen), did some incredible shopping, indulged in fancy lunches, stayed in fun hotels, and always kept the room service people very, very busy.

So I am not surprised that she would chose to leave this earth around Valentines Day—she gave so much from the heart that we who benefited will be imbued with her love forever.

The Latin definition for inspire is to breathe life into. Funny that she succumbed to a lung ailment when she was a person who literally breathed life into others.

But most of all, what she insisted and taught me was the importance of being real. Our favorite verse was from the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit.

“What is REAL?” asked the rabbit of the Skin Horse.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” was the answer. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the horse.

“Does it happen all at once, or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once. You BECOME. It takes a long time, that’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to those people who don’t understand.”

Oh to have been blessed enough to know Sylvia.

Use the “F” Word

A dear friend once said we needed to use the “F” word more often.

At first I was shocked, thinking of course that she was referring to the four-letter word we all know and try not to use.

But alas, she was talking about a three-letter word called FUN!

Ever since, I try to put some of that word in my everyday—especially when I have given a lot of time and energy to a project. And so, here I am with my fabulous assistant Cathy, frolicking in the snow (in Provincetown and Wellfleet) after our retreat last weekend. We have taught ourselves to revel in giving to the women who make the trek to Cape Cod but then make sure we receive the same and have fun ourselves.

“Joy is a duty,” said my mentor, Joan Erikson. And the Bible says, “The world loves a joyful giver.” But only if we refuel will we be successful at balanced living.

I have a calendar upon which I place stars every time I do something FUN for myself. Why not kick off your new year making the “F” word part of your plan?