Honoring My Dear Friend Vivian
June 22, 2020
Life is too short for friends who don’t take a stand, question your intentions or ruffle your feathers. And let me tell you, Vivian Ballard always took a stand, never missed an opportunity to pose a question and on occasion ruffled my feathers, and that is exactly why I loved her so much. Over the years of our friendship, my dear friend taught me how to be a better me in countless ways. She pushed me to grow and opened my eyes to what hid in the shadows. I’ll be the first to admit the lessons weren’t always easy or pretty, but that is true friendship.
I met her in August 2008 on Sebastian’s first day of first grade in America as I walked home through the tree-lined paths of Stacy Park. I was one hot mess, and not just from the weather. Thinking I was alone on the trail, I let all the tears I had been holding back fall in cascades. I questioned every decision that led to my bringing my sweet German husband and son to America. What a culture shock these first few weeks had been for all of us. Somehow, Vivian appeared alongside me, placing a gentle arm of comfort around my shoulder and asked, “What is it that you are most afraid of right now?” And as all my fears began to tumble out, she just listened, fully present, as she was so adept at doing.
The school year progressed, and somehow we all survived the first half year in America. And then summer arrived, and along with it a recurrence of my melanoma and several botched surgeries. For nearly a week, I had shut down all contact, refusing offers of help and wallowing in pity. I had pretty much hit the bottom emotionally by the time Vivian showed up at my door unannounced. It took Joachim prodding me to leave my room and meet her with my grotesquely bandaged face and vulnerability oozing from every pore. Her arms were laden with a meal, or probably two, fresh fruit and flowers.
“I won’t stay,” she said, “but I do just want to say this. Learning to receive is one of life’s most difficult lessons, but if you won’t receive, others can’t give. Your not receiving is hurting both of us. Can you consider allowing me to help?”
Her words cut straight to my heart with their truth, and that is when Vivian won my heart in friendship.
One of my most poignant memories with Viv was a summer evening years ago when I received a call from my brother announcing that my father had unexpectedly passed. I was filled with all the emotions that come with sudden loss and not knowing what to do in that moment with myself. I had barely hung up from my phone call with her when I saw her car pulling up outside my house.
“Get your suit,” she called from the rolled down window. “We are headed to Barton Springs.” Still in shock, I don’t really remember the short drive there. But with crystal clarity, I can still see the two of us floating on our backs, shedding tears together, as the sun set and the stars began to appear. What a gift she gave me.
There are so many vignettes that have danced across my heart and through my mind this past week. Scenes from a friendship with someone I felt I could never hold a candle to.
She was a second mother to Sebastian throughout his elementary school years, and so I hear of countless other children at different times of her life. I can’t even imagine how many boxes of gluten-free waffles Sebastian consumed for snacks at her house, or freshly baked muffins or cookies. Vivian was there for all of my children at one time or another, whether it was practical legal advice for a pending divorce or to put a roof over their heads while they looked for more permanent housing.
As both of our businesses evolved and grew, Vivian and I struggled to find time each week to check in. There were times it was in the rockers overlooking the front lawn of her B&B, or sitting in the waiting room of my practice after my last client of the day. I think our most creative, however, were the weeks she would pick me up early on Friday morning to drive out to Boggy Creek farm stand to load up on local organic veggies that we both treasured. We took turns on the way out and back sharing our family sagas of the week and any current latest business challenges, solving it all, or at least we thought so, before our return home to Travis Heights.
And this tribute would not be complete if I did not share that my friend Viv was a fighter. And she fought with all of her heart and soul. Whether it was for an allergy-free table in the elementary school cafeteria or a woman’s right to govern her body at the Texas State Capitol. She was relentless. She was also the best darn cheerleader anyone could want on their side. Vivian rallied support for countless entrepreneurs, myself included, and was the first to offer praise and support when someone took the leap to follow their passion.
As I struggle with a fitting way to close this tribute, I realize it is because I don’t want it to end. I’m nowhere near ready to say goodbye… goodbye to our friendship or the ongoing life lessons she so graciously doled out. I can see our conversations will need to carry on at another level. And so I will check in with her during my morning swims, when the sunlight dances across the river, invite her to tea with me in the afternoons, and carry her in my heart on my travels far and wide. I know with all my heart that she will welcome each and every invitation and show up with her full attention, just like always.
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