Earlier this month one of my closest friends passed away. It was very sudden, very shocking. There is no known cause of death at this time, she’s simply gone. And this post is an attempt to both honor her, and our friendship, and to deal with my feelings of loss and deep sadness, as I assure you I am heartbroken over this loss.
I hadn’t known Donna long, only a couple of years, but we became close almost immediately. It was God who brought us together. We always used to smile at that, because here in Orlando I felt God pushing me to start a meet-up group for Disney Dreamers. And though the group lasted only a month, and seemed to only serve the purpose of my getting hit on, elsewhere in a Barnes & Noble in Minnesota, Donna sat and googled something that brought up my group, and she joined it.
The group was long gone before she ever moved here, but that initial contact grew into emails, a Facebook friendship, and then, when she finally arrived in Florida, a real-life friendship which was one of the best I’ve ever had. We connected over the fact that I had already done what she was just about to, totally restart her life here to be near Disney. I think in those early days when she was gearing up to leave, I gave her comfort and encouragement. I think my story gave her a push on the days it was most scary. Plus, I just understood what it feels like to make such a huge move like that all by yourself to a place you don’t really know.
As I said, we became very close friends.
After she arrived, we, of course, played at the parks all the time, which was fabulous. We mostly looked at all the shops, and we had to do the Christmas shops in each park, that was a must, and we watched people, rode It’s A Small World, ate flatbread in Epcot and Tex-Mex in Magic Kingdom, and ice cream… always ice cream. And while we sat in the foreground of “Cindy’s” Castle – as she would call it- we talked about deeper issues of life, healing, God, relationships, dreams. We talked about all of it. I am a person who treasures real conversations and so few people anymore seem to be willing to dig into deeper matters. With Donna, it was as much who she was, as it is who I am.
I loved that we shared such a similar spiritual background and point of view. I find it so difficult to share my faith with people, but she got it. We could just as easily talk about Jesus, Joel Osteen, Yogananda, and Druga, often in the same sentence. And when either of us struggled, we were there for each other with that faith.
I hit a very serious life issue earlier this year, and it was Donna who helped me through it. I’ll never forget sitting over sodas at McDonald’s and expecting a life lecture about how I live. Instead, I got encouragement and support. It was the first time in all my life when I hit a serious roadblock in life that the people around me didn’t come rushing out with their I-told-you-so finger shaking in the air. Instead, she started the conversation by saying she fully supported my writing and fully supported my choices. That allowed me to take down a huge wall and have a deep and meaningful conversation with her that included my fears and concerns for my kids. A subject I am VERY closed off to talking with people about because of my kids’ autism and anxiety issues. But this conversation gave me hope for them and made me feel for the first time in a very long time that I wasn’t alone in it.
This photo of us was taken early this year on a rare cold day here in central Florida. As we waited our turn to have our photo taken with Rafiki, we chatted with the young man manning the line. He’d worked at Sea World over the previous Christmas and was telling us about how he and his supervisor had decorated many of the park trees. It was just one of many conversations the two of us got into with random people out at the parks.
We used to often stand and watch people getting their photos done with the characters, especially face characters like Peter Pan or Gaston. We laughed watching the interaction between guest and character, but getting our photo done like this was a bit out of her comfort zone. I’m so glad I insisted on this particular day.
Our last day at the parks together couldn’t have been better. We spent the day in Magic Kingdom, which was her favorite park. I even got her to ride Winnie the Pooh! And she loved it! She wrote me early the next day to say again how great the day had been and to thank me for it. I felt the same! We’d gone to some deeper levels in conversation. In fact, it was over lunch that I finally spoke aloud the thing that had been blocking me all year, and helped me to switch my focus to this new Disney blog. She always used to tell me I needed to send my park ideas into Disney because they were so good. She always told me I needed to write about Disney because I loved it so much. But as I grew up at the other park (Disneyland) I think I somehow felt like I couldn’t write about Disney World. That day with Donna, my viewpoint on the seemingly off-limits subject started to change.
On the way out that night, we stopped for ice cream, and I was so pleased since we hadn’t done that for a few times and I’d been missing it. It was dusk, and we talked about money and dreams and she shared with me a few things she felt Spirit telling her to take care of, which now in hindsight is almost chilling. We watched a duck work the crowd for tidbits of food, and just talked about how happy we were in these new lives and how blessed we felt.
Donna was a free spirit and had made such amazing things happen for herself in the past two years. She and I even did a few crazy adventures together that I will treasure always. But it is our days at the parks that will always be dearest to my heart.
Last night I went out to Epcot by myself to “talk” with her and thank her for all she meant to me. I know she’s still with us in spirit. In fact, I’ve specifically felt her more than once since all this happened. I know the relationship has merely changed into something new. Still, grief is grief, and we mourn the loss of what we had. It will be a very long time, I think before I go into any park without tearing up some and I will definitely continue our ice cream tradition in her honor. I will forever think of her when I ride Small World when party season at WDW comes around, and of course at Christmas. This past year I wrapped her birthday present in Santa wrapping paper, she was seriously thrilled with that. I think she liked the paper more than the gift inside. lol (Not really, it was an adult Princess coloring book that she’d been admiring at the parks and I know she loved it.)
My biggest sadness is, of course, in the things planned that will now never be. From the little things like this year’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas parties, for which we already had the tickets, to even bigger things like buying houses and being there for one another when we gave up the single life for new relationships, I’ll just miss her. Every day. I’ll miss her.
The lessons I learned from her and through her are many, but these are the three big ones.
- It is NEVER too late to start living the life you’ve always wanted. Donna was 60 when she moved down here. I was 45 when I took my big leap of faith. People say adventure and shaking things up is for the young, but it’s not until you have some true life wisdom behind you, and you’ve made some serious mistakes, that you’re capable of moving into a life that really fits you. Don’t let age be an excuse. Don’t let a settled life be enough for you. If your soul is calling for more, dig deep and find your courage to take a few leaps of faith. The adventure is never what you expect, and yes, it can be quite harrowing at times, but in my experience, it has brought more peace and joy than I have ever known.
- Do not settle for crappy relationships! All my life I’ve been the “fixer,” the doormat, the one people took advantage of and left. Just before I met Donna, I’d been doing a lot of deeper healing work on the relationships in my life, and Donna was not the only person who entered my life shortly thereafter. The timing was so perfect because Donna was one of those who helped me trust in friendships again and this time, it was incredible. If you struggle in relationships, let me assure you, there are amazing people out there who won’t hurt or abuse you. And more, who’ll love and support you just exactly where you are. First YOU have to believe that and believe you’re worth it. You change your life by changing yourself. If you’ve never been so lucky to have a friend like Donna, then now’s the time, because no matter what you go through in life, true friendship will get you through it, and it is well worth working for! Just be aware, if you keep attracting users and abusers, or if people never seem to “stick,” that’s a pretty big sign that you have internal work to do. Be brave and do it. There’s rarely a day where you’ll be as blessed as you are when a real kindred spirit and true friend walks into your life.
- Don’t wait for anything or anyone to really live! This one is the most important, and as today is also September 11th, I think all the more potent a lesson. You’ll often see memes that remind us to make certain we tell people we love them because you don’t know when it will be the last chance. The truth of the matter is that people know you love them by how you treat them, and whether or not you told them on the last day doesn’t change that. I think the bigger lesson is to live now because you don’t know how long you have.
Donna did better than most. She’d become very good about taking chances and living now, but there were still some areas that we talked about where she was holding back in fear of money, or job security, or what have you. In hindsight, none of those concerns were valid. I will always be grateful that she took that Sea World job. She and I talked about it a lot because the pay was so low, and she wasn’t sure. I pushed a bit on this because I knew how happy it would make her, and it did.
Now I find I’m going over every conversation we had where I pushed her to “just do it,” and I’m throwing that all back at myself. None of us know how long we have here, but good god, it’s too long to live in compromise. It’s too long to live without your joy. In my experience, when you do the work, hold to your faith and follow your heart, God is always there. He provides in ways you can’t even imagine and more, you experience things and meet people you just never would any other way.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means suggesting recklessness. I’m merely saying, don’t let money or society’s idea of “being responsible” ever stop you from living what you want. You know you. You know what you want… why aren’t you going after it?
Your life awaits where your dreams ignite in your heart. Find that place, go there, and never look back.
In my night out at Epcot last night, I went on the Frozen Ever After ride, and as we went down the flume, I just thought, Wow, this is my life!
In fact, there I was at 7:30 on a Saturday night at Walt Disney World, free to do whatever I wanted, riding a flume ride, and it brought me to happy tears. I felt to the depths of my soul how very blessed I am. And I know that’s what Donna felt, too, about her life. The idea of death never bothered her, she was very matter of fact about it. She simply didn’t want to “linger” in a diminished capacity. I have smiled more than once thinking, she got her wish.
We are and were two extremely fortunate women.
Here’s the thing. I’ll be honest, I was already in transition from that last Disney day we had, but her death has emboldened me to go even further down the road of my dreams. I am about to turn 50, and I’ve decided for the entire year I’m living my Disney dream. I’m not letting any worry or fear come in. I’m taking one year of my life and dedicating it to the dream I worked so hard for.
I’ll turn 50 on the 23rd of this month, and this year has been very rough on me financially, to the point I nearly gave up on my dreams. Now with Donna’s death, I am appalled at how close I got to that. I am profoundly blessed, yet I was going to walk away from my spiritual path because I was tired of being broke?
Me being me, I’ve decided to swing the other way hard! I’m still working out the details, but Starting on my birthday, September 23rd, 2016, I will begin a full year of Disney!
That means for 365 days, hurricanes notwithstanding, I will be at Disney World soaking up and sharing the magic.
Aside from this being a great way to honor Donna’s memory, and to complete a lifelong dream that I never really thought possible, it’s also a great reason to get in better shape and be healthier, something I’ve been putting off for years.
So that’s the plan, I’m living my Disney dream and sharing it here and on Patreon for those of you who always support my dreams. I’m going to honor Donna and the friendship we shared by taking one year of my life and dedicating it to the dream I worked so hard for and nearly gave up.
And I know that right this second, she’s smiling at me.
There will be a lot more on this coming in the next couple weeks as I work it all out, but this is the new adventure. I’m embracing my Disney love with all my heart, no worries about money, no worrying that I don’t belong here because I grew up at Disneyland, no worrying about anything. This has been the dream since my first trip to Walt Disney World when I was eighteen, and it’s time I do it!
So thank you for sticking with me through what I know is a long post, and for helping me honor my friend. I hope you’ll stick with me for this next chapter. I have no clue what will happen, but I know it’ll be incredible. Namaste and much love to you all… and follow your dreams! It’s always worth it.