My pretty friend Wendy with her son Doug, on the left, and his friend Will.

She was a rugby mom like the rest of us, standing on the sidelines watching her son the same way we all watched our sons – hands over our eyes, fingers parted just enough to be able to see.

Rugby is so tough (as evidenced by the sport’s tagline: No helmets. No pads. Just balls.), that it’s nothing short of terrifying to watch the child you’ve spent your life protecting hit that pitch and the opposing team unprotected. Maybe it’s different for dads, but for moms, that fear bonds us. None of us knew Wendy (or each other) that well, but gathered there together (and occasionally hiding behind each other’s back when the fingers over the eyes thing wasn’t cutting it), we were friends. Friends united in pride for our sons (“Go Doug! Go Mikey!), fear they’d get hurt (“Who’s down? Is that Will? Cuyler?), and the delectable bloody Mary’s somebody’s boyfriend whipped up surreptitiously on the sidelines. We loved seeing each other during the season and relished our role as the Mount Saint Mary’s University Men’s Rugby moms.

And then she got sick.

Esophageal cancer.

At a match shortly after her diagnosis, Wendy turned to Coco, our blonde, beautiful, hysterically funny and fearless head rugby mom whose husband coached all our kids until, surprisingly and not so surprisingly, they each ended up playing for Mount St Mary’s and said,

All I want is to see Doug graduate.

Wendy and Doug
Wendy and Doug walking the wintery grounds of Mount St, Mary’s.

She got sicker and we didn’t see her for a long while. A few of us tried to visit but, God bless her husband Steve, when he felt Wendy needed rest, no one was allowed in. I don’t blame him one bit; he knew we’d sneak in our bloody Mary bar and then God knows what kind of rugby mom mayhem would have ensued. So, we didn’t see her for what seemed like months and then, suddenly, one Saturday, she was there, at a match, not just cheering the boys on, but having made the most delicious Chinese food for them to enjoy (and us to sneak tastes of).

It was May of this year when Wendy went into the hospital for the last time. Her son Doug came home from the Mount. His best friend Will did too. Doug, Will, Coco, all of Wendy’s dearest friends, her husband Steve, their son Steven, converged in her hospital room. Steve wanted Wendy to rest. He wanted her to be done with the pain and to be ale to let go in peace without others around her crying, praying, and holding on. I wasn’t there, but I heard. Steve wanted Wendy to go unencumbered. Yet no one left her hospital room. At two o’clock on Friday afternoon, May third, I got a text from Coco.

Beautiful, loving, effervescent, petite-as-my-pinky but larger-than-life Wendy was gone.

My heart broke then, and it breaks now writing about it. We didn’t have to be best friends for me to love her. Wendy was light, and joy, and goodness, and she was so damn funny. She adored her sons and when she looked at Steve, you could see that despite all their years together, she was still smitten with him. She loved us rugby moms and we loved her. And she is gone. Taken by cancer too fast, too soon, too young.

I’ve experienced loss. Painful, heart wrenching, terrible loss. Loss that was expected, and loss that came out of the clear blue sky, and I still can’t believe that I’ll never see Wendy again. She’ll never again hide behind me on the sidelines, giggling and watching Doug through her fingers right up until the moment he’d catch that ball like his hands were made of glue and take off down the field for the try. You should’ve seen her then.

She’d go racing down the sideline with him, screaming her support, watching her baby score. I will never see her do that again and, far worse, neither will her husband and sons.

I just don’t get it. There are so may truly terrible people in this world that – forgive me – deserve truly terrible deaths.

But Wendy? Stu? My brother David? What could possibly be the reason for their lives to be cut short?

There is no reason. In some cosmic spot they rolled the dice and Wendy lost. Stu and David lost, too. Victims don’t get to sit at the table and place their bets. The game is going on someplace else without them.

How long before the cosmos plays the hand that determines my fate?  

Wendy, I’m so sorry we never got to know each other beyond the rugby sidelines, but I want you to know that I loved you. All the Mount St. Mary’s University Men’s Rugby moms loved you. This fall, when we’re watching the boys through our fingers, you’ll be in our hearts (which, frankly, might be a safer place to watch from) and thinking of you.

And Wendy, you have my word:

When your baby gets the ball and he’s flying down the field to score, we’ll be running along the sidelines with him, screaming your support.

For someone so petite, Wendy (center, in the yellow cap, her husband Steve is on the left), was larger than life.