Colors, Cars, and Clothes: A Conversation with Sydney

Sydney Boone Gaylord

April 13, 1976 – August 29, 2011

Today, on August 29, 2011 at 3:04pm my beautiful friend, Sydney Gaylord passed away from an almost 3-year battle with brain cancer. We thought were going to lose her in December, which was when I wrote this post. 

I’ve been comforted by the prayer I prayed in her kitchen in December. I prayed that my friend would walk again.  Paint again. Dazzle again. Obsess again. Glow again.  God answered that prayer.

She did walk again.

In late March, she walked into my birthday celebration and later found herself passing a driver’s test on her 35th birthday a few weeks later.

Today, this prayer has certainly been answered in a way that I can only dream of but one day will see with my own eyes.

I love you, Syd. So much. And I miss you already. 

December 2010

Two weeks ago, we had a prayer meeting for our friend, Sydney. She’s been struggling since the summer with complications from the swelling in her brain caused by a tumor. She is young, vibrant, and beautiful.

As people began to share updates on her so that we could pray more specifically, I became overwhelmed. Not only because she is suffering, but according to those closest to her she has had only two days in the last 8 weeks where she seemed very much like her real self.  The tumor is robbing us of her in many heart wrenching ways. Her husband described it this way on her most recent Caring Bridge Update:

“Because of her lack of recovery, the doctors are concerned that her brain may have been injured beyond its ability to regenerate. This is not common in young people, but it does occasionally happen. Additionally, the doctors are beginning to put her tumor in the camp of gliomatosis cerebri, rather than just an infiltrative astrocytoma. This type of tumor is very rare and frequently pervades throughout the brain in a way that cannot always be seen on an MRI. This type of tumor would be more able to traumatize the brain.

In any event, while she is not in any real physical pain, her anxiety, agitation, and delusional state are by far our biggest challenge right now. Effectively, she is suffering from mental illness and addressing this is our first priority.”

It turns out that her two ‘good’ days were on December 22 and 23rd. The same two days that she had asked me for some music, and I went to give it to her.  It was as if a dark cloud went away for an afternoon so that you could finally catch a glimpse of the sun. You know the sun is always there even if it is hidden, but you miss it all the same.

As I sit and think on it, I am unsure why I was given that gift of “seeing” her again. I am not her closest friend in life though we have been connected on a deep heart level for several years.  Lately, the thought has occurred to me it could have been so I could record it for others. For all of the people in her life that love and miss her so much, because I am one of many.

On December 23, 2010, I stood on the front porch of my friend’s house bearing gifts. I looked at the colorful wreath hanging on the door and remembered walking into the same house a year ago with over 70 other ladies for our church’s annual Christmas party. It was a night alive with people, activity, and chaos. Exactly the way Sydney likes things and is, amazingly, able to thrive.

I knocked gently on the front door honoring the handwritten sign tapped over the doorbell. Though cautioned of her current state, I was still stunned to see her lying in a hospital bed. As I peaked in at her, she saw me. She got very excited and perked up. I sat down in the wheelchair next to her and positioned myself to see her better.

Of all things she asked me how I was doing, inquired after my husband’s schooling, and our new church. As we sat talking and catching up, her husband brought in a hot, steamy bowl of pepper and olive oil linguine. She insisted that she and I have lunch together. He smiled at her and said, “I’ll get Carrie a bowl, but first I want you to taste it to see if I’ve gotten it just right.”  Picking up a wad of pasta with her fingers, she took a bite and confined he had.

As we ate, I looked up at a painting that hung on the wall beside us. I asked, “Syd, did you paint that?”

It was an enormous starburst of bright, bold color. She told me that she had painted it last year while taking a class. Then she said with a smirk and a shrug of her shoulders, “He said you could not do a painting with a putty knife.”

I laughed out loud as I assumed she was referring to the teacher and noticed the thick, blunt streaks that were clearly made with such an instrument.

I asked her to tell me more about her major in college. She took studio art at Carolina, and I never tire of hearing her experiences with creating things, though she never gives herself much credit. I asked her who her favorite artist was which led her into a dreamy reverie of Vincent Van Gogh. She told me of how she fell in love with his colors many years ago.  Then almost in the same breath, she looked forward and said, “That’s Kasey Kahne in that commercial. I’m obsessed with him.”

One thing I love about Sydney is her use of the word ‘obsessed.’ When she gets excited about a new thing or person, which is often, that is her indicator that something new has been born.

I looked at the TV and laughed out loud remembering her recent fascination with Nascar. “Sydney” I said, “only you could love those two things together” as I pointed up to her painting and then to the young driver sporting the #83. She laughed.

As we sat together, she asked if I had received the email about their Christmas party that was taking place at the house that night. I was confused. She got upset thinking that my expression was one of feeling slighted for my lack of invite.  She said, “Carrie, just come anyway. It’s going to be huge. EVERYONE is invited”

But that was not the reason for my puzzlement. I took a good look at her, lying in bed in her nightgown. I knew deep down that there was no party, but I realized that if she had been well again, there most certainly would have been because that’s how she rolls. This painful reality made me sad.

I let her know that I had not checked my email in the last few days and for her not to worry. She  got really excited and told me to go into her closet to look at her “sharp, red pants suit” for the party. I mentioned I had just read an article in the paper about how they were coming back in style, as if I was any kind of authority on the matter. She totally agreed and insisted again that I go look.

I got up and walked to the closet with her back to me. I opened the door feeling a bit sheepish for looking inside. It felt too personal, and I knew that Sydney has never been one for ‘tidiness.’ I took a deep breath and relaxed when I realized that she was never one to care that she was not either.

The closet was neat which actually deepened my sadness. It was just another indication of her lack of mobility. I looked to the left for her pants suit but only saw her husband’s clothes neatly arranged.

Then I looked to the right, and I froze. I saw all of her clothes and shoes. Syd is known for her clothes; the styles and color combinations that only she can pull off with brilliance. Here she was again vibrant, beautiful still hanging and folded in her closet. I ran my hand over her lime green fleece, a favorite of mine and moved a couple of shirts to take in all of the bold prints.

I looked at her jewelry knowing this was not even half of it.  I also knew that she didn’t know or care where the rest of it was due to loaning out so many beautiful things. If you ever admired something in her presence, it quickly became your own because, she made claims on very little.

I saw my favorite shirt of hers. The last time I saw her in it was at our women’s bible study this fall. I remembered her telling me that she was worried because her right side had started to freeze up. She showed me the remnants of her coffee that she dropped and spilled because her hand had spontaneously given way. I felt sick inside.

I saw the salmon blouse that she was wearing the last time I saw her walking. We were at a cookout together in October where we sat and chatted. She leaned forward and told me that she wanted me to come over sometime. She wanted me to sit by her bed with her and pray.

I stood there taking in her amazing sense of style and relaxed beauty. My friend, Julianna and I still laugh at the time we were at a TCBY last spring, and Syd randomly walked through the door. Frozen Yogurt had become a new “obsession”.

We looked at her dressed in a cute short, brown dress, a bright pashmina, and rain boots with polka dots on them. There was not a cloud in the sky, and she looked stunning.

All of it just rushed over me as I ran my fingers across her fleece. Wondering. Just wondering.

When I sat back down, she asked me if I had ever had a certain type of cookie that she loved.  She asked me to go and preheat the oven, because she was going to get up and make some for me and my girls. I smiled and went into the kitchen.

I did not know what to do. I felt so aimless, small, and out of control thinking over the last few months.  I stood all alone in the quiet and just prayed. Prayed that my friend would walk again.  Paint again. Dazzle again. Obsess again. Glow again.

When I sat back down with her, I could tell she was getting tired. Though our talking got slower and quieter, she told me about all of the things she wanted to do this year. All of the things she wanted to learn. I listened to her idea of a taking a trip on a bike designed by a friend to accommodate her special needs. She mentioned kayaking, and a list of other things.

She began to close her eyes more often, and I ran my fingers through her hair. She smiled. I said that it was so soft and pretty. Her eyes were closed as she said, “My hairdresser came yesterday, and I had it done. I’m obsessed with her.”  I smiled.

“Sydney,” I said, “I’m going to go and let you get some rest” still running my fingers through her hair. It felt like a baby chick. I stood up and heard her trying to recite the fruits of the spirit. With her eyes closed, she got stuck on one. I leaned down to give her a hug and whispered the word ‘gentleness’ in her ear.

As I was leaving she said, “Carrie, you know what verse I’m going to put on our Christmas card this year?” I stopped and turned around.  She said “what Mary said,” with her eyes closed. I asked if she meant what Mary said to the angel Gabriel. She nodded trying to recall it.  I recited, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She nodded, and I left quietly.

As I walked away, I treasured up all of the things and pondered them in my heart.

26 thoughts on “Colors, Cars, and Clothes: A Conversation with Sydney

  1. carrie this may very well be the most amazing thing you’ve ever written. thank you so much for sharing it with the rest of us.

  2. carrie, thank you for putting her beauty in to words. most words can’t come close to describing her light, love, and radiance- but you’ve come close. i miss her deeply. love you so.

  3. I think you may be on to something with the thought that your’s is to record what you’re seeing so that others can see as well. What a gift – for you and us.
    And I think these words are just beautiful:
    “She said, ‘Carrie, just come anyway. It’s going to be huge. EVERYONE is invited”
    Sounds like Gospel to me.

  4. Thanks for putting into words what just can’t always be described about our sweet friend. Tears are still falling as I write this. I especially loved your interaction with her closet. That was my favorite place to play and laugh with her when I lived there. Still praying for a miracle.

  5. Ohh..I know that lime green fleece! She bought it right before coming to my house for a shower we were throwing. Got it from Wal-mart. I make Wal-mart look like well, Wal-mart, she makes it look like Dolce and Gabbana. Sweet Sydney. Thanks for sharing this, so beautiful.

  6. This is just beautiful Carrie. Thanks for allowing us a glimpse into your heart and visit with our friend Sydney. I could just visualize everything you wrote. I’m teary eyed as I sit here at my desk, but it makes me smile too thinking of Sydney’s zest for life… bold bright colors, adventures, excitement, etc… and your accounts of that. Thank you for sharing… you are a very gifted writer! 🙂

  7. I never knew it was possible to put Sydney into words, but you’ve captured her here. I think the candor is what makes it so beautiful.

  8. Carrie,
    Read your thoughts and observations from your visit with your friend Sydney. I have heard of her through Jane. I’ve never met her. Still and after reading your words, I feel as if I know her. Your writing style is clear; your details give me a glimpse into her personality without making me an intruder in your relationship with her. Thank you for sharing, for caring and loving with transparency, and for helping us readers understand how friendship is lived. You write well. You write from a deep place. Love ya.

  9. What a beautiful and accurate story about Sydney! Thank you so much for telling us about it, it was amazing! Praise God for Sydney!

  10. wow. beautiful. and i, too, love the words:

    “She said, ‘Carrie, just come anyway. It’s going to be huge. EVERYONE is invited”

    Sounds like Gospel to me.

    So true. Such a testament.

  11. Carrie.. what a treasure to me. I have pop-in on Syd many times when we are back in the states just to get a breath of her vivaciousness. Thank you for this story of her… it is what I to have experienced every time I am with her.
    It makes the sea that lies between us not feel so big.
    thank you

  12. Carrie, while I do not know Sydney, I do know her brother Robbie and grew up with their Father in Sampson County, North Carolina. Your story was sent to me by one of Robbie’s friends in Washington that has shared information with me regards Sydney.
    A beautiful story of your visit and of Sydney. Our prayers are with all the family.

    Jim Chesnutt, Washington, NC

    • Thank you Kara:) I met a friend of your last night who knew my name through this post that you sent her. I said, “Yes!! I know a Kara Williams. She said she’d pray for me by name.” And your friends reply was, “Honey, and she means it too.” 🙂

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