Claire Mangum met my sister Deryn over the phone. Her family was moving to Statesville and she called about an apartment and a friendship began that lasted through the rest of her life.
I met Claire on the phone, too. A little different circumstance a few years later. The Children’s Museum was doing a Victorian Tea Party for mothers and daughters and I was asked to host the event. Only after I agreed, was I was told I needed to dress Victorian. Probably something that should have occurred to me from the start, but it hadn’t. Not exactly part of my wardrobe. It put me in a panic. I told my sister my dilemma and she said “You need to call my friend Claire. She’ll take care of you.”
I hate calling people on the phone in general, really hate calling people I don’t know….but to have to call a complete stranger and say “Hi, I’m Kim. Can I borrow some clothes?” I just couldn’t imagine. I tried to get Deryn to call for me, but she just rolled her eyes at me (anyone who knows Deryn can just see that, can’t you?) and said “Here’s her number, just call her. There’s no reason for me to be in the middle of it.”
So I reluctantly made the call….knowing that she was going to think I was a crazy person. But when I called, she didn’t seem to think it was an odd request at all. She said “Come on over tonight….I think I do have some things that will work.” My first meeting with her, therefore, was showing up at her house trying on clothes. You know it’s a good girlfriend if they let you borrow their clothes…. so we had that kind of relationship from the start! Once we figured out the wardrobe, she walked me out to my car and we spent two hours standing out in her yard talking. When I returned the clothes, same thing. Great conversation. Even years later we would bring up something we had talked about during that time.
Claire was one of those people I wouldn’t see for a while, then would run into out of the blue. She seemed to change her look a lot, so sometimes I didn’t even recognize her. She always noticed me. I’d be walking around the library, totally absorbed in the books around me. Up would pop Claire. With book recommendations if I was having trouble. Walk around town, up would pop Claire. Always, always, always, the day would be better just having seen her. Even through the worse stresses, she found the positives. I loved her dearly. Odd considering we never ever seemed to get our schedules in sync to spend much time together. Most of our encounters were by chance.
In July of 2010 Claire was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I remember when she told me. We were downtown at some event and I ran into her at Sabine’s….maybe the Art Crawl? I don’t recall for sure. But I remember looking her in the face, I remember focusing on her words, with lots of activity around me, and just being in a state of disbelief. Claire?….she apologized that she was having to give me the news!!!!! Made me sit down. Then she proceeded to tell me the plan of care, and her determination and positive attitude made me know that as grim as it sounded, that Claire was going to beat this nasty stuff. And try she did!
Claire lost her war with cancer last night, but she won so many of the battles along the way. Since her diagnosis, Claire has done a lot of living and done a lot of loving. You’d be exhausted to hear the list of things she did. She ran the after school program at the Renaissance School, and did it as long as she possibly could. It comforted her to be able to stay involved with those kids, to teach them and love on them. (What an inspiration she must have been to their lives.) She enjoyed great quality time with her family, lots of fun time with friends. Whenever I would see her, she would hug me and tell me she loved me…..and I would hug her and tell her that in return. I don’t think there was a moment through the whole ordeal where she didn’t know how very much she was loved. There is much beauty in that.
Claire would want me to encourage you to keep up your physicals, pay attention to your body, to talk frankly to your doctor about anything unusual that is going on with your health (even if you don’t think it is real important), and most importantly to get your colonoscopy (or at the very least fecal occult tests)!!!! I promise you if you take that nasty prep drink for your colonoscopy and use it as a toast to Claire and to life, it will make it go down a bit easier.
For years I have joked that whenever butterflies fly around my head, it makes me feel like a Disney princess. Claire’s special symbol was a butterfly…..and you know, she was just a Disney princess kind of woman. Kind and generous, with a beautiful smile, a contagious joy, an open heart, a willing spirit, someone who loved well and often, caring more about others than she did herself. If you were not her friend, I am convinced it was only because you never met her. And if that is the case, I am so sorry. You missed out!
Our earth is missing some extra joy today…..and will forevermore. Claire personified life. As she entered heaven, I have a feeling she already knew some of the angels on a first name basis. The others she probably knows now. And a celebration is going on…..I’m thinking it may be to Irish music.
As I see butterflies, I will remember Claire. When you do, too, know that it is a smile sent down from our own Disney princess, with great love and a hug especially for you. And a reminder …come out of that cocoon, be proud of your beautiful self, get out there and fly, and see and experience the world around you! Life is for living. Just like Claire did.