by Becca Edwards
Carolyn Trosdal died July 10, 2014, but she is still very much alive in the hearts of Nancy Golson, Mary Vaux and Patsy Hodge. “Now, you know we’re not her only friends,” said Patsy. “Lord knows, she’s got so many friends,” chimed in Nancy. “And her family, y’all, you can’t forget to mention her family,” asserted Mary.
You might remember Carolyn, Patsy, Mary and Nancy as the “Glioblastoma Swim Team”—their photo in The Island Packet warmed our community’s hearts December 2012 as they cruised in a convertible dressed in swimsuits and fur coats for the Bluffton Christmas parade. “Our full name was ‘The Real Housewives of Bluffton Glioblastoma Swim Team,’” said Nancy. “We were supposed to wear our fur coats, but don’t y’all remember how hot it was,” exclaimed Patsy. “It was so hot!” Mary echoed.
Like a thoughtfully prepared sugar biscuit trifle, the luscious layers of family and friendship, joie de vivre and passing on with grace rather than fear, blended together as these Southern ladies recounted the sweet life and death of their friend Carolyn. “I met Carolyn when we needed to raise money for a new roof for the Church of the Cross Episcopal,” started Nancy. “That’s right, we ended up installing a slate roof,” interjected Patsy. “We’re getting off track here, girls. She wants to know about Carolyn,” said Mary, who went on to describe how her friendship with Carolyn began more than 30 years ago.
“I was pregnant with Anna Pepper and going through terrible headaches. Carolyn heard there was this pregnant woman down the river with horrible headaches. I always got them at nine in the morning. Well, she showed up at nine one day and said, ‘I’m Carolyn Trosdal and I understand you have headaches. I am here to help you get through them.’” Carolyn made the room dark and rubbed Mary’s feet and legs every morning for weeks until she actually got better.
That was just the kind of woman she was. “I first got to know Carolyn when we organized our church’s first bizarre,” began Nancy. “We would paint chairs, bird houses… I can’t tell you all the things we painted. It was the greatest fellowship of people being creative who didn’t think they could be creative.” “She was so creative,” said Patsy, getting caught up in the memory, “And Easter—she would dress up in a pink baby doll dress and bunny ears every Easter!” Nancy laughed, tapping her knee. “She would be at the party and then disappear and come back as the bunny… you never knew what she was going to do,” said Mary. “She had a way of bringing out the best of people,” added Patsy.
We are currently sitting in Eggs ‘n’ Tricities (Nancy's store) in Bluffton. In remembrance of Carolyn, Patsy, Nancy and Mary begin to tear because these poignant memories bring up so much about life and how they all wish they could live it—just like Carolyn did. “She has had such an impact on me emotionally, spiritually… in every way,” said Patsy. “Because of her, I do not want to miss a day. And please know she never had a 'woe is me' attitude.”
“No, from the moment of her diagnosis, she told all of us she needed to swim,” said Nancy. The ladies would take turns swimming with Carolyn in her pool to help her gain strength to do things like tricycle around her property and to help her get “solar powered vitamins.”
“When I think of her, I remember swimming in the still waters of the pool by the river. I think of Psalm 23, which reads ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’ We knew God would take care of her,” said Nancy. “She loved that water,” said Patsy.
Toward the end of her life, Carolyn asked Mary to take her to the pool. “She wanted to go to the pool something awful,” explained Mary. “I said, ‘Carolyn, I can’t help you get in that pool…” “Because at that point no one person could do it, she had lost use of her legs,” said Patsy. “So Nancy said, ‘Lets just take the pool to her,’” continued Mary. And they did. They covered her bed with a turquoise cloth and a sign that Nancy made that read, “Ool Party, notice there’s no ‘P’ and let’s keep it that way.” They donned themselves in inner tubes and funny outfits like a t-shirt with a paper ukulele. And they sang “You Are My Sunshine.”
About a week later, Carolyn’s husband Einar asked “The Glioblastoma Swim Team” to help plan her funeral. It had been two years since Carolyn’s doctors had told her she had six weeks to live and everyone was there to celebrate all the living she had in fact done.
When I asked the ladies what they learned from Carolyn and what advice they would give to anyone who was terminally ill or assisting someone who was, for the first time they talked in unison: “Share.”
Friends Mary Vaux, Nancy Golson, and Patsy Hodge (L to R).