When words are the currency you live by, there’s a lot of pressure to find the right ones — and I’ve been trying to string these particular vowels and consonants into just the right order for two and half weeks. In some ways it feels like forever.
I still don’t really have the right words to say how much this loss has crushed my heart, but I’m committing them to the page anyway, in the hopes it might make me — or one of her other loved ones — feel a tiny bit better.
What can I say about Andrea Lofthus Peterson?
I think Andrea and I were 10 or 11 when we met. Our moms set us up to play tennis. I had just taken my first few lessons and Andrea was already a demon on the court. Even though she wiped the floor with me, we still became fast friends. We were both tall for our age (for any age, really), and immediately bonded over what it was like to grow up as the coach’s daughter (a mixed bag of older boys knowing who you were and being told to act like they didn’t). We both had very strong mothers with high expectations and younger sisters who unknowingly put additional pressure on us to be the mature ones.
We bonded over a lot of things over the years, from Big Gulps at the mini-mart and listening to her parents’ record (yep, it was vinyl) of The Joy of Sex, to crushes on boys (so many boys), managing high school girl dynamics, with an amazing graduation trip to Hawaii that I’ll never forget. Then the years of balancing college classes with sorority life and boyfriends, first jobs, second jobs, real jobs … falling in love, falling in real love, young married life, being boy moms, balancing work and our families, finding our first gray hairs, dealing with aging bodies, aging parents, aging children, aging husbands, not to mention both of our moms (and sister in her case) surviving breast cancer, and worrying about them and what that meant for ourselves.
There have a been a lot of people sharing a lot of memories about Andrea in the past couple of weeks — I’ve been pouring over all of them obsessively, with each and every one bringing me a laugh or a tear, or often both — but the Andrea that I knew, the one who was one of my closest friends for almost 50 years, doesn’t quite match up with the Andrea that everyone else is talking about.
My Andrea, far more than any of the other qualities that people have ascribed to her, was fierce. She did everything, and I mean everything, with an iron will, her eyes straight ahead, focused on the prize, putting her whole heart into life in a way that made you love and admire her. Whether it was making the perfect “Sunday sauce,” cheering her kids’ teams on, running Sunshine Sales with Sandy, or laughing with the people she loved, Andrea put her whole self into it. There was no holding back with Andrea, like it or not, she told you and she showed you how she felt.
From the moment I met her on that tennis court, she was a force to be reckoned with. For me, as someone who has always felt the unavoidable need to look at everything from every possible angle, and is constantly in danger of woulda coulda shoulda-ing my life away, Andrea’s ability to quickly decide exactly what she wanted and go for it without a moment’s hesitation or doubt was a pure thing of beauty. It was one of the reasons why we stayed friends for all of these years (and why she continued to easily kick my ass on the tennis court for decades).
It was also why — still, to this day — anytime I feel shy or nervous about something, part of my pep talk mantra is always to “channel my inner Andrea,” and then proceed confidently and full speed ahead the way she always did.
Not to say she didn’t work hard or wasn’t prepared. Quite the opposite. She was always prepared, the ultimate team mom: snacks, drinks, sunscreen, advice, toys, floss sticks, recipes, playlists, more advice, oh so much advice, extra sweatshirts, socks, hats, Carmex lip stuff, every possible type of sports equipment you could want — whatever you could possibly need, she had it in her magic Mary Poppins trunk and was ready to share it without being asked.
Like I said, she was always prepared, even for her own death. Much more so than the rest of us.
Almost a year ago, she already had me helping her write letters to be given to her sons on special days. Meanwhile, over the past couple of weeks (and really ever since I learned of her fatal diagnosis) I’ve been trying and miserably failing to come up with the right words to say how much Andrea has meant to me, how much she still means to me. How much she’ll always mean to me.
She was a mama bear way before she was a mama, taking charge and mothering all us right to the very end. As I watched my beautiful fierce friend work so hard to stay strong for all of the people she loved so forcefully and so well, and to ultimately see her lose her battle against the horrible monster of a disease that is ALS, I know that if there is any possible way that she can be watching us down from on high, she’ll find it. And she’ll be smiling down on us and wanting us to remember all the good times we had together. So many good times.
Whether she’s literally up there watching, as some believe, or whether she’s simply, deeply, profoundly and forever embedded in our hearts, as seems more likely to me, I know my inner Andrea will be with me, and deeply loved forever.
Video I made for Andrea’s 60th birthday: https://youtu.be/q0YTFcTFUN4
Video Andrea made for my mom’s 80th birthday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5JUsjIp2To