My Friend’s Story – Leukemia: In Memoriam on Her Birthday–Two Last Cups of Tea

Forever Hearts_30%  See more in Sandee’s memory here.


SANDRA CRESPY KLINE

Sandee

 12-6-52— 9-27-10

I met Sandee Crespy when we were both seven years old. We were in the same second-grade class at Ziegler Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia. Although we had almost distinctly opposite personalities and, on the surface, not much in common, we nevertheless went through four schools together–after Ziegler it was Fels Junior High, Lincoln High, and La Salle College (now University), all in Philly. Our early careers also took roughly parallel paths–she was a legal secretary, I was a medical secretary. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding when she married her high school sweetheart, Mitch Kline, and she was the matron of honor at my wedding when I married my second husband, Farok Contractor (10 years ago tomorrow). After we graduated college–it took her 18 years of night school, me 11–she went on to become a CPA, and I became an editor-writer. Eighteen years may seem like a long time to go to college, but she and Mitch had three amazing children (Alyssa [Malka], Evan, and Jeffrey) while she also pursued her career and studied–and, of course, socialized with her many friends. (My son, Matt, was born about a year after I finally graduated while working full-time, so I had it a bit easier.)

This synopsis tells you very little about how and why we managed to retain a friendship over 50 years. To give you some idea of that relationship, you can read a brief memoir I wrote about us just over a year ago as an exercise for my writing group: An American Friendship (click to read the PDF). In that memoir, you’ll see that I’ve mentioned my newly found sister, Vicki Sue, who was reunited with her maternal family 50 years after we were separated. That story is coming separately. However, the connection is very important because just about a year after we found Vicki Sue, we lost Sandee to her deadly battle with leukemia. But not before the two of them had the chance to meet the previous October. Although Sandee had two lovely sisters, Ronnie and Jackie, you might have thought she’d found another one of her own. (She also had two brothers–Scott, who is doing well, and Mark, who died very young of bone cancer.) Of everyone I knew, she was the most thrilled that Vicki Sue had re-entered our lives–particularly because Vicki had been raised Jewish!

Sandee’s Jewish background was one of the things that had attracted me about her the most when we were young. She came from a big family–Ashkenazy on her mother’s side, Sephardic on her father’s. This mix of Russian and Spanish ancestry may be one of the primary reasons a bone-marrow donor could not be found to save Sandee’s life, despite her myriad of relatives on both sides. But my larger point is that I used to love going to Sandee’s house when we were kids because of all the people—all the life and love—I found there. My family is small and had an unhappier history, so I often took refuge in hers.

In October 2009, my family had its first reunion gathering to honor our finding Vicki Sue. This has evolved into an annual Oktoberfest celebration. But on this first occasion, Sandee joined us–you can see the joy on her face, drinking her last cup of tea in my home:

Sandee Holding Her Cup_October 2009

Sandee and I did share one final cup of tea—at her home in January 2010. She had recently returned from a trip to Israel, where she and Mitch had been visiting their daughter and her family, and thought she’d contracted some sort of bug. Each afternoon she developed a high fever and became very sleepy, so much so that she had to stop working. One snowy January afternoon, I went to see her and took with me a collection of unusual chocolate teas that someone had given me as a gift that I’d never opened. We cracked open the little canisters that day and enjoyed a cup of chocolate tea together. Although she didn’t drink out of “her” cup, which is at my house, looking at that cup brings back these powerful memories of those two last cups of tea we shared:

Sandee's Cup_30%

I didn’t see Sandee again until August 15, 2010, just weeks before she passed. It wasn’t that I didn’t try–I emailed and called her family repeatedly trying to set up a time to visit. But she became sicker and weaker over the ensuing months and was in and out of hospitals, including Johns Hopkins–where our friend Sue and I went for our last girl-thing that August day. The three of us used to get together for our annual fall combined birthday dinner (my day is September 24, Sue’s is November 24, and Sandee’s, of course, was December 6). The last time I spoke with Sandee on the phone it was just a couple of days before my birthday, but she was too ill and too weak to realize it. On September 27, 2010, we got the word from her family that she’d passed away at the local hospital, which was her choice. She was surrounded by her loving family.

Her daughter, Malka, called me and asked me to be one of the pallbearers at her mother’s funeral. I’ve never before or since carried a burden that was so light in my hands and so heavy on my heart. An American Friendship explains the significance of this image:

Sandee's Heart

Rest peacefully and as joyfully as you lived, my friend.

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5 thoughts on “My Friend’s Story – Leukemia: In Memoriam on Her Birthday–Two Last Cups of Tea”

  1. What a beautiful tribute to Sandee.I sat here and cried. She waws a wondeful girl and a treasured friend to you. Thank you for writing it. I love you, Mom

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    1. Thank you, Kathryn, as always. Sandee had a gift for life that I’ve always lacked, which may be what drew me to her–and the number of hits on my blog today proves it! I feel her loss every day, and her husband’s grief is past the point of return, which is worrisome. Anyway, thank you for acknowledging my friend. Guess now I have to write that little piece about my sister. . . .

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