It was an unlikely friendship.
Valerie and I met when our husbands were stationed at Quantico. Phil had spent the prior ten years gently encouraging adorable young officer candidates to come to the realization they were not fit to serve in his Corps. My husband had only weeks earlier managed to squeeze his way past his own sergeant instructors and was a new lieutenant, a “butter bars,” who was still figuring out how to get his socks on properly.
I was from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Valerie was from Baltimore, Maryland. I was 23. Valerie looked like she was 23.
And from the second I met her, I adored her. Who could not? She was beautiful, smart, impossibly generous. So funny. But what drew me to Val — what brought us all to her — was an iron core that ran through her down the length of her spine, up her impossibly straight shoulders, to that long, unwavering gaze of hers.
It was an iron core of ethics. Of love. Of loyalty and of faith. And with that elegant stride, she carried these things high for us to follow. And in all the storms and all the years, and the grief of a human life, I never saw it waiver. The iron that kept her shoulders squared, and her eyes level, and her words measured, was for many of us, the crucifer to which we could raise our own sight.
Early in our friendship, 9/11 happened. Shortly after that I lost my first pregnancy. Shortly after that, I was pregnant again, and in typical Marine Corps fashion, shortly after that my husband was deployed, leaving me at New River Air Station, very much alone and far from home.
My favorite part of the entire conversation was that Valerie didn’t ask, “Do you want me to come with you and hold your hand for the ultrasound?”
She just said, “So, if I catch the 5:00 flight, I can be in Raleigh at 7:00. Can you pick me up then? We can have dinner and get up in time for your appointment in the morning.”
I never was so terrified as I was to walk into that ultrasound room, certain I was about to again experience the loss of a child.
The doctor and nurse and I squinted at the sonogram screen. Valerie pointed to the grey blob.
“It’s right there,” she said. And we all peered in and there it was, the flickering light that was the first sight of my daughter, Mary.
Because Valerie carried her own light so high and so bright, she saw it wherever existed, helped us to raise it to each other.
“Thank you,” I bawled in the car. “Thank you for being here and seeing her.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “And thank God because I didn’t know what I was going to do with you if I didn’t see it.”
Valerie’s niece, Camryn was born just after Mary, and together we ooh’d and ahhh’d over these babies, as they became kids, grew into women.
And when news came that Valerie was going to be the first of our military spouse friends to be a grandmother, we screamed joy and asked, “What on earth is this child going to call you? Nana? Grandma? Granny?”
And I don’t know who came up with it, but the minute it was out, it was forever, completely and utterly Val. She was going to be “Grandmalicious.”
I believe “Gigi” was what was officially settled on, but to us she will forever be “Grandmalicious” too.
Valerie’s presence in Mary’s life began with her witnessing the light of creation, and it continued through the years with Valerie’s constant, unwavering love and guidance. Valerie attended plays, and graduations, and the baptisms of Mary’s sisters.She was a fixture in my family. I was so proud that the glorious Woman, this daughter of God, had chosen to by my friend. Her friendship honored and blessed me, and it will continue to, all my day. She made me a better person. I bet there isn’t one person who knew her who didn’t feel that way about her.
So it seems especially bitter and cruel that we should lose her now, in these weeks of despair and loss, so shortly after the loss of her own father, Leonard. It is close to unbearable.
But God is not cruel, and in God’s wisdom was ready to call her home. So Valerie would tell us, and so it is.
In this terrible time, she is still our crucifer, bearing us forward, leading us to light and love and goodness; to celebrate God’s love for us all. Valerie has brought us together in a time when so much is keeping us apart. We are united in love, in gratitude for this Magnificent Woman, united in the promise to her, to God, to each other, that we belong to her, to God, to each other, and that we will keep that promise no matter what comes.
Just as she did.
Just as she will do for us from heaven, in everlasting life.