Remembered words of advice, support
She was not a touchy, feely kind of woman, and as far as I know, she was not prone to giving advice. In my case, however, she did both.
I often ran into Alice Coffman in the isles of Price Chopper. She was scuffling along with her cane and basket, and I would pass her, then stop, go back and chat a bit. One particular fall day two years ago, not long after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and shortly after I had started chemotherapy, I happened on Alice in a grocery aisle.
I was shopping and thinking about not buying much because I couldn’t eat much, and also thinking about what to do when my hair fell out, my skin turned sallow and I lost weight during treatments. Maybe, I was thinking, I should just quit my practice for a while. I wasn’t sure I could afford not to work, but I didn’t want to shock or traumatize a patient.
I was in the soup aisle when Alice stopped next to me. We were looking at cans of Campbell’s Soup. We exchanged pleasantries, pondered the stacks of soup and were idling like two cars at a slow traffic light.
Alice, I said, I want to ask you something. I told her I had breast cancer, was starting treatment and wasn’t sure whether to continue my private practice. I went on to say that I didn’t want to scare anyone, or traumatize anyone; I wasn’t sure what to do.
She listened carefully, thought for a while, and then said, “I would want to continue to come to see you; I would wonder what happened.” I asked her if she was sure and she said that she was.
I don’t seek advice readily. I tend to float my own boat and set my own sail. During those days of cancer treatment, though, it was not possible to entirely set my own sail. One of the decisive moments during that time was the conversation that I had with Alice Coffman in the soup aisle of the grocery store.
I have known Alice Coffman all my life; my mother and her mother Minnie Shirmer were good friends. On holidays, we would argue over the roll recipe — was it my mother’s? Was it Minnie Shirmer’s?
I know for a fact that Minnie Shirmer taught my mother to crochet lace. Alice Coffman was like a piece of lace her mother crocheted — tender and tough. When we parted that day, Alice laid her hand on my arm and said, “I want you to live. Be strong.”
I felt certain sadness at her recent death. She was a wise woman with a firm touch, whom I will miss and whose kindness I will remember. She was fine lace.