There’s a very popular quote that reads: Friends are the family you choose for yourself. I truly believe this because the three amazing women you’re about to meet started off as friends to Merle and myself, but have since become an integral and important part of our lives. They each support us in their own unique way and through the years have effortlessly melded into the fabric of our family.
Cereesa Lacey met Lillian and Merle at a pre-freshman Summer Science Program at Spelman college at the tender age of 18 and they’ve been friends eversince. She remembers Lillian and Merle calling her with the news of her 2nd pregnancy and they all shared in the excitement. A few months later, she received another call, but the news was dire. They’d just learned that Catherine had a heart defect and possibly Down syndrome.
“I remember just listening. I totally understood as a mother, as a friend and as a person of faith,” she remembers. “But I also understood as a doctor. It just so happens as a pediatric ophthalmologist, I see a lot of children with Down syndrome and have throughout my career. People tend to gravitate towards “Oh my gosh, Down syndrome.” But the truth about kids with Down’s is that the level of affection that these children have and the dynamic spirits and personalities they have is unique. You see them up close and see all the wonderful things they’ve been blessed with. I shared that with Lillian and told her to just wait until Catherine was old enough and she’d see that personality come through.” And she was right.
Cereesa admits that she, Lillian and Merle have done a horrible job of visiting each other over the years. She and Lillian talk or text almost every day, but she’d actually never met Catherine until last year.
“Catherine’s a whole lot like Merle. She’s silly and just funny. She’s clearly a daddy’s girl and it’s so funny when you see your friend’s children and see their personalities,” Cereesa says. “But she also has a side of Lillian that’s very straight forward. Lillian doesn’t mince words and Catherine tells it like it is.”
Murriel Webb would agree.
“Catherine has her own personality. We had an affectionate love-hate relationship that gradually changed and rolled on over to the love relationship. When she was around three or four, Lillian was still very protective of Catherine. When she’d get in a crunch, she’d ask me to keep her. I’m in Early Childhood education, so I believe she trusts me and knows that I’m very attentive to Catherine’s needs. I don’t address her special needs, I address her needs.”
Murriel met Lillian and Merle as new members of Murriel’s church and she and Merle became fast friends. Lillian was a tougher nut to crack.
“Lillian is a very private person. She chooses to let you in. Sometimes she’ll crack the door, and sometimes she doesn’t. She was kind of hesitant, but I called her and we talked. We hit it off and eventually our friendship blossomed.” Murriel recalls.
Murriel was not only a sounding board, but she became Lillian and Merle’s Girl Friday. She came to the hospital for emotional support during the delivery, transported Christina wherever she needed to go and made sure Lillian and Merle had food to eat during the countless hours in the hospital.
“I would run errands for her. Her mother-in-law and mother were there and her family unit is very strong so I wasn’t necessarily filling in the gaps. I just really filled in the cracks.”
A friend who can identify a need and fill that void is invaluable. Kenderia Miles is one of those friends.
“I have a cousin who had a baby who had the same heart defect as Catherine and that baby didn’t make it past nine months. I let my cousin talk to Lillian and she gave Lillian a lot of key pointers to talk to the pediatric cardiologist about. Like what to expect, what to look for, what kind of surgeries, all that.”
Kenderia believes God has a plan for everything. Her meeting Merle, then meeting Lillian, her cousin having her baby, then Lillianhaving Catherine. All the dots were connecting. And Kenderia’s serendipitous connections to Lillian and Catherine didn’t stop there.
“The same doctor who did my cousin’s baby’s surgery did Catherine’s heart surgery. My church’s First Lady was the surgical assistant at the hospital and was already on the schedule to be in the operating room with Catherine while she was in surgery. My mom and I asked her if she would pray with Lillian and Merle beforehand and she did. Lillian was so excited to see her. She told me that she and Merle needed that so much.”
Whether they’re opening your eyes to new possibilities, filling the cracks, or helping you replenish your spiritual well, having a strong circle of friends is a blessing.
Poet, Nausicaa Twila said it best:
There are rare people who will show up at the right time, help you through the hard times and stay into your best times…those are the keepers.
— Written by Tamara Devers