Visiting Chris Ann 1/8/2013

Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:30-31 NKJV

After writing – and deleting – at least a dozen opening sentences, there seems to be nothing for me to do but forget the technical aspects of writing and just speak from my heart.

The first question Chris Ann asked, after we hugged for a full minute and after we were seated in the Nelson’s cozy living area, was – “How did you make up your mind to come?”

I stammered a bit trying to explain, but finally what I said was this.

“I made a list of pros and cons.  The list of cons was long – filled with dozens of excuses that ultimately just boiled down to “stepping outside my comfort zone”.  The list of pros had only one entry:  Spending special moments with a dear friend – one who has always inspired me to try and be a better person.

It was a no-brainer.

My trip began with Ted driving me into Albany to the airport.  We left the house around 4 a.m. My plane to Atlanta left at 6:00, and 45 minutes later I was at Hartsfield-Jackson.  With an almost 2-hour layover, I had time for a little breakfast and two cups of coffee, which I ate seated at a little counter looking over the Delta arrival gates.  Leaving from Albany had spared me from the terror (my own) of going through Atlanta security.

I called Terry Conlon ( Terry and his wife Sue had invited me to stay with them on this visit) as I was boarding for Flint, MI and found him already on the road.  It was a three-hour drive from Black Lake to the airport, and it was snowing.  He assured me though he would be there ahead of my plane.  In retrospect, if he had known he was going to be babysitting a forgetful, air-headed Southern belle senior citizen, he may have turned around and just driven back home.  But that’s a story for another day.

The first face I saw after leaving the secured section in the airport at Flint was Jill’s.  She had driven over from Lansing just to meet the plane, and she immediately told me my coat wasn’t heavy enough.  We found Terry waiting at Baggage Claim, and when he snagged my super-big checked bag off the carousel, he accused me of packing Ted inside.

“How long did you say you were staying?” he asked, and I couldn’t tell whether he was kidding or not  :).

Outside it was cold (20-something), snowing, and very windy.  We said our goodbyes to Jill (who would be coming up to Mackinaw City later in the week) and began the 3-hour trip north.

Outside it was cold (20-something), snowing, very windy, and . . . my coat wasn’t heavy enough. We said our goodbyes to Jill (who would be coming up to Mackinaw City later in the week) and began the 3-hour trip north.

Determined not to fall asleep and snore in front of Terry, I proceeded to talk his ears off (I’m sure he wished I had gone to sleep).  We stopped for lunch along the way, in Gaylord for some goodies, and arrived at Black Lake outside Cheboygan around 3 p.m.

It had snowed on us the whole way, and I know I exclaimed, “Terry, look at that!” a hundred times.

“What?” he’d say.

“That red barn against the snow.”  “That white farmhouse against the snow.”  “That tree against the snow.”  “That cow against the snow.”

You get my drift (no pun intended).

The Conlon's home-away-from-home is beautiful (looks great against the snow, doesn't it)!

The Conlon’s home-away-from-home is beautiful (looks great against the snow, doesn’t it)!

Black Lake is totally frozen over

Black Lake is totally frozen over.  It’s hard to tell where the yard becomes the beach, and the beach becomes ice.  Everything is all white – as far as you can see.

Terry and Brinkley are walking on the beach.  The wooden trough is where deer come every night to eat the corn Terry puts out.  From the house at night - with the help of a strong spotlight, we watched two, three, and sometimes as many as five deer eating contentedly in the dark.

Terry and Brinkley – walking on the beach. The wooden trough is where deer come every night to eat the corn Terry puts out. From the house at night – with the help of a strong spotlight – we watched two, three, and sometimes as many as five deer eating contentedly in the dark.

Sue - watching Terry and Brinkley.

Sue – watching Terry and Brinkley on the beach.

Needless to say, I love Brinkley, who could be Bear's twin sister.

Needless to say, I love Brinkley, who could be Bear’s twin sister.

Terry, Sue and Brinkley - the wonderful family who helped make my visit so special.

Terry, Sue and Brinkley – the wonderful family who helped make my visit so special.

The Conlons made me feel immediately at home.  I love visiting with folks who just say, “The cups and glasses are here, the cereal is there, there’s berries in the frig . . . . . make yourself at home.”  So comfortable.

After a great night's sleep, we left the next morning for Mackinaw City. Sue had made a big pot of soup to carry to Chris Ann and Burton - along with some fudge and fruit.

After a great night’s sleep, we left the next morning for Mackinaw City down county roads lined in snow and slush.  It had snowed all night, and there were still flurries, which were forecast to last all day. Sue had made a big pot of soup to carry to Chris Ann and Burton – along with some fudge and fruit.

As long as Chris Ann and I have known each other, I had never visited her at home.  I’d seen numerous photos of the Burton Cottage – inside and out – and was as familiar with their view of the Mackinac Bridge as I am with our view of Surrey Hill.  Chris Ann posted a photo of the sunrise from their cottage every morning this summer on Facebook.  The photos did not even begin to do real justice to their home and what they looked out on every day.

Looking through the big picture windows that flow around the front corner of their home out onto their yard, the beach, and the ice-packed water of Lake Michigan is

Looking through the big picture windows that flow around the front corner of their home out onto the snow-covered yard, the frozen beach, and several hundred yards of  ice-packed Lake Michigan water nearly takes your breath away.  The Mackinac Bridge in the distance completes the picture, and at night that bridge is aglow with colored lights from the Mackinaw City side all the way across the Straits of Mackinac to St. Ignace.

The Conlons and I found Chris Ann and Burton waiting for us with open arms – literally. I hugged Burton tightly and squeezed Chris Ann as tightly as I could.  Chris Ann’s wonderful friend, Mary Saul, had been there several days and nights, sleeping on the sofa next to Chris Ann.  She left us to have lunch with another friend, but returned later that afternoon and spent Thursday night again at their cottage.

When I walked into Chris Ann’s home with a camera in my hand, I felt like an idiot.  Months before, Chris Ann had given me permission to tell her story, but now I didn’t feel comfortable invading her privacy.  I was there to see her and talk to her, not to write a story.  I planned to take a few snapshots of the bridge from their window and that was all.  But after I’d been there about an hour, she asked me if I wanted to take photos.  I looked embarrassed, and said, “I will do whatever you want, Chris Ann.”

Her answer was, “Your readers know the story up to now.  Don’t you think you should tell them the ending?”

From that point on for that day and the next, I had my camera nearby.


Burton and Hank, their little Terrier.  Burton made the beautiful stained-glass wreath hanging in the window.

Hank's favorite nap spot.

Hank’s favorite nap spot.

Checking Facebook.

Checking Facebook.

Thursday was not really a good day for Chris Ann.  Every hour or so she would glance at Burton, and he would rise and measure out liquid morphine for her to swallow.  She told me she was also on morphine in pill form and had a morphine patch.  Although she tried to hide it, she was obviously still hurting, even with all the meds.  As long as she was interacting and talking, she seemed to be able to force her way through it, and she postponed medicating several times I felt she really needed to.

We ate the soup Sue had brought for lunch, and I later looked through photo albums filled with family pictures.  She shared a book with me that a neighbor from their home in Florida had just published and dedicated to her.  The amazing photographs in the book of herons and other birds were taken in Chris Ann and Burton’s backyard.

Sue and Terry came to pick me up around 3 p.m.

Mary called me early on Friday morning.  The Burton’s daughter and son-in-law, Cheryl and Kevin, were coming in Friday night, and Mary was going home.  She had an appointment that morning and asked if I could stay with Chris Ann and Burton until another friend arrived later in the afternoon.  I planned to be there most of the day anyway, so all was good.

When Sue and I arrived at the cottage around 10:30, we all chatted for a few moments, then walked outside with the dogs.


While Sue threw Kong toys for Lily and Hank to chase, Chris Ann walked around the yard.  We kept saying we’d get her coat, but she said she was fine.  “For the first time in my life, I’m hot-natured,” she said, smiling.

Checking the birdfeeder.

Checking the bird feeder.


Looking across the Straits.

Back inside, glowing from the light coming in off the snow .. . . and from within.

Back inside, glowing from the light coming in off the snow .. . . and from within.

Sue left to run errands and eat lunch with her son, Patrick.  Not long after that, the Hospice nurses arrived, and while they visited with Chris Ann and Burton, I sat in the dining room and tried to find a few pieces to fit into the jigsaw puzzle set up on a table there.  It wasn’t long after the nurses left that Jill arrived, bringing Chris Ann some cookies and a Wendy’s Frosty . . .


. . . which Hank helped himself to.

People have been bringing food in since Chris Ann and Burton arrived back in Michigan, so lunch was easily prepared.  Cathy Klea, a special friend of Chris Ann’s, arrived to visit for a few minutes, and Jill and I volunteered to take Hank and Lily for a long walk.

And then the most amazing thing happened.  Chris Ann said, “I want to go with you!”  Burton and Cathy both looked on amazed as Chris Ann walked to the hall closet, pulled aside several hangers of clothing and pulled out a stunning, full-length mink coat.  While Chris Ann donned the coat, a matching hat, and her boots, Burton told us the funny story of how he had purchased the coat decades ago.  He kept looking at Chris Ann in amazement (we found out later she had not walked more than a few feet in a couple of weeks, and that was inside).  I grabbed my camera, and what happened next was 30 minutes of sheer magic.


Dignity and grace . . . .

. . . and everlasting love.

. . . and everlasting love.

Some serious posing . . .

Some serious posing . . .

. . . with a  little fun thrown in.

. . . with a little fun thrown in.

All ready to go outside - that's Cathy on the right.

All ready to go outside – that’s Cathy on the right.

Cathy and Chris Ann.

Cathy and Chris Ann.

These next photos need no captions . . . .





After these glamor shots, Jill and I anchored Chris Ann between us, and she walked about 25 yards up the lane in front of the house.  Then we returned her to the warmth inside and took the dogs for a good run.

The rest of the afternoon was spent inside.

Sharing with Jill the book  of birds that were photographed at their Florida home.

Sharing with Jill the book of birds that were photographed at their Florida home.



Ellen joined us later in the afternoon.

Ellen joined us later in the afternoon.

Two friends - just being silly.

Two friends – just being silly.

We stopped in one more time on Saturday morning, before we left for the Island.  Chris Ann and I hugged for a moment, and I whispered in her ear, “We’ll be back in May.  If I don’t see you then, I’ll see you in the sky, my sweet friend.”

As I finish writing this around midnight on Monday, I’ve just received word that Chris Ann is having a really bad night, and Hospice was called in earlier this evening.  Her Michigan family is on the way back, and her daughter in Oregon flies home on Tuesday.  Please join me in praying for Chris Ann – for her pain to ease, for her family to surround her, and for her passage into Heaven to be a peaceful one.

What a celebration there’s going to be when this Angel arrives.

I love you, Chris Ann.  I love you.


45 thoughts on “Visiting Chris Ann 1/8/2013

  1. What an amazing trip you had to visit your dear friend. I am so glad that you could make this trip. You and your friend must’ve had the best visit. So glad you went and all those wonderful friends to help you. Prayers for Chris Ann and her family. You are so blessed to have her for a friend, as she is to have you.

  2. Your photos and writing of this story have nearly brought me to tears ( and I am not usually one to cry!). I am very touched. I pray that my own passage one day will be in such a beautiful place, with such beautiful people. You can feel the love in these photos. Thank you for sharing Brenda and Chris Ann.

  3. I find the internet to be such an amazing thing. How it can bring together people and form friendships between you and someone you only know through words. But, that is how I feel reading your story about Chris Ann. I have never actually met either one of you “in person” and yet I feel like I am such a part of both of your lives. Thank you so much for sharing such a special and intimate story with me. As usual, it has brought tears to my eyes and tugged at my heart. Thinking of both of you. Tina

  4. We lost Mom this past November and her last two months were spent in hospitals, nursing homes and a hospice home. As painful as it is to relive that recent passing, when I read about you and Chris Ann I feel blessed to see, and am so happy to know, that her ‘jumping off’ point will be from a much finer position. She is surrounded by a beautiful, familiar home and loved ones watching over her 24/7. Is there any better way to go? Thank you so much for sharing her story.

  5. absolutely beautiful. I am teared up and have no words other than wow and I applaud that you made the visit and posted this beautiful, soulful documentary. thank you.

  6. What a beautiful story Brenda! I am sure all of us hope to be as gracious and courageous during our life ending as Chris Ann. Our prayers for both Chris Ann and Burton – and their family.

  7. It’s 7am here in Gulf Shores, AL and I’m sitting with my laptop looking out at the Gulf of Mexico. The internet is truely a wonderful tool when a friend can write about a friend and people from all over are able to read it. Bree, I wish I had met Chris Ann as you two have such a wonderful friendship and I feel honored to know Chris through your writing. So glad you got to be with her again and your pictures are just wonderful. Take care.

  8. I am crying my eyes out. Such a beautiful story and such beautiful pictures of Chris Ann. I am praying for her and her family during this difficult time. May God bless them.

  9. What a beautiful post and such wonderful photos! I’m so choked up after reading this…..what an amazing friend you have! Hospice is such a gift to the dying and to their families. We are struggling with this ourselves as my mother-in-law declines from cancer. God bless Chris Ann, her family & friends, you and those that are traveling down cancer’s scary road.

  10. How nice you could spend such precious time with Chris Ann. She seems like a person that many of us strive to be. What a beautiful place to be! God Bless her and her family during this difficult time!

  11. Thank you for sharing yours and your friend’s precious story . Chris Ann and you are strong and amazing women. God bless both of you.

  12. Brenda,

    I know this is a blog about your trip north, but it’s far more than that, it’s a wonderful tribute to a grand lady, Chris Ann. I also know, from experience, that it was difficult to begin the trip, but it is one you will always be glad you made, maybe more than any other.

    I wish I had the words to tell you how much I appreciate what you have done and I’m sure Chris Ann, and Burton too, appreciate it far more than I do.

    Thank you, Brenda, for being the thoughtful, caring person that you are.

  13. What a beautiful visit. The pictures are awesome and prayers are with Chris Ann and her family. You do not realize what your visit meant to her and her family. (from a family that has been through this) Love ya!

  14. My tears began at “Her answer was, “Your readers know the story up to now.  Don’t you think you should tell them the ending?”” Chris Ann is so strong. She seems to glow fom within. Having had to say the final goodbye to too many people in my life I know how difficult it is the leave knowing you my not see their earthly form again. Praying for Chris Ann, her great love Burton, her family and her friends, may they find comfort in God’s embrace during this difficult time.

  15. Beautiful, Brenda….just beautiful. I have no doubt that Chris Ann’s light will continue to shine in her family and friends. Sending prayers of peace and comfort.

  16. I saw this update this morning but decided to wait to read it. I knew what would happen when I did, so instead I went through my day thinking of the wonderful afternoon Bud and I had spent at Chris Ann and Burton’s cottage, sitting on a bench on the beach looking out at the straits , the bridge and the island across the lake. Watching frighters go by and talking like we had known each other forever. Chris Ann is a very special person and I will miss her. Thinking, praying and sending love your way Chris Ann. We Love You!

  17. This is a beautiful tribute to your friend. Thanks for sharing with us Chris Ann’s story. It is so heart warming and shows how courageous she is. We can all learn a life lesson from her. Prayers are being sent to her and her family. God bless them all!

  18. Praying for this family during these difficult days, what a wonderful friend you are to them. Pray that God will confort you also.

  19. Agreed with a previous comment where Chris Ann said “your readers know the story up to now….don’t you think they will want to know how it ends”. I was taken back by her humility, positivity and love of life. You have spoken from the heart over the months and I feel like I have gotten to know both of you and your bond so well. I feel blessed that I have been able to read your thoughts and walk along with you. I felt like I was able to visit with her and you. Her story has captured my heart, she is in my prayers as is her family. I prayer the morphine is effective and that she is at peace on her journey. I read through my tears and pray she is comfortable.

    I started reading your blog because of my love of the island which I visit annually from Canada. Through that love I have been humbled to be able to understand Chris Ann’s journey through your eyes. You are a wonderful friend and a great writer!

  20. What a beautiful friendship and story. Like so many other replies, you have me in tears. I pray that the rest of her days are just like your weekend together.

  21. When your head is filled with excuses but your heart knows the right path, follow it. You gave Chris Ann a burst of energy for that final stretch. The stories of people “holding on” for that special person to arrive – that must have been you for her! Your special friendship must have meant more to her than you have ever known.

    Prayers and love. See you in the sky Chris Ann!!

    • Oh Andrea, she’s waiting for her children to arrive – not me. Two daughters and one son there now. One more son coming this week. She’s had a busy day – even took a ride across the Mackinac Bridge! What a lady!

      • I understand. You are important too. Look at that burst of energy she got to take a walk with you!

        I just sent her a note on Facebook. Dug around there and finally found her! (my cyber stalking skills do come in handy from time to time.)

        You’re the author of her story for many of us! Your words came directly from your heart and made us all feel like we are her friends too. I know I’m not alone in wanting her to know how inspiring her journey has been.

        You have been an important part of her life and of her “crossing her bridge.”

        Thank you for sharing her story.

  22. Dearest Brenda
    when pulling out of the drive from what you thought was “leaving Chris Ann for the last time” You we”re feeling a memory rich heart because you had made the journey of a lifetime – yours and Chris Ann’s. You have been an incredible gift ……a heaven sent friend for all who could not make the trip. You have been an earrthly angel to many, and for that you shall be wonderfully blessed!
    When traveling this road it differs so much for each person…but that journey is marked by the love ones that are brave enough to look at 1 pro on the list and move forward on that heartfelt instinct. Thank you for being “Our Person-
    Chris Ann’s person. Burton know your in our thoughts and prayers for sharing your Chris Ann with us all.
    Chris Ann you are forever in our hearts and but a smile away. We will continue our prayers for you and your special family.
    Brenda, may your journey be safe ….take care of your beautiful heart dear one..
    Live ~ Laugh ~ Love

  23. Brenda,
    You are a “better” person…..we can that and what you did is a wonderful thing by making the trip to visit Chris Ann and I’m sure it meant the world to her. Peace be with her and also with you.

  24. Thank you Brenda! Chris Ann inspires me on so many levels. I love the picture of her oustide wearing her coat with her dog at her feet. Her smile warms my soul.

  25. Brenda, my heart is breaking for Chris Ann and her family. But what a wonderful reunion she will have in the Sky. You are a wonderful friend to her and God guided you there to spend those days with her..Looking at the pictures of Chris Ann, she looks so content, it is always harder for the ones left behind. Thank you my dear friend for writing this.

  26. I’m so glad you made the trip. And tears are flowing here, for you and for her and for her family. What a lovely woman. And what a gift you gave her, your visit and your photos that the family will cherish forever. Hugs to you and to them. Lots and lots of hugs.

  27. Chris Ann is truly an elegant lady. Burton a rock. Love & prayers go to both. She truly looked blessed and very happy and serene. What a wonderful person, over and over. You are truly a wonderful, close, dear friend. Your trip to see her was indeed an act of love and caring friendship. May God bless you all.

  28. Tears here too!! What a living tribute to a grand lady! It is just wonderful how friends who are suffering “perk up” when special friends come for a visit. A memorable visit for all of you. From experience, I can tell you, people do wait for special people in their lives to come and visit. Hugs and prayers for all of you!

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