Penny Schrader and Agnes Bellinger at the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego in November 2005

This evening I discovered a dear friend, Penny Schrader passed away in August; she was 57.   I thought I was going to continue weaving on this Chilkat robe this evening, but I cannot.  I’m distracted; I’m distraught.  I had to find anything and everything that I had on my laptop regarding Penny.  I re-read every email between Penny and I over the past 5 years.  The last time we saw one another was last year, just briefly at Rainbow Foods where she was working – we promised one another we would get together for tea before we each headed back to the Southwest.  It never happened; we just continued to email one another.  Last year she looked as she did in these old photos I am including in this blog entry.  However, I discovered that her health failed drastically the past year.  She is another person in my life who has been claimed by cancer in the colon.  I am @#$%^&*! pissed off at this colon cancer crap.  Can you tell I am angry?  And  I have been so caught up in my own dramatics, I didn’t even know there was a memorial service held for her here in Juneau on September 4th – like where the heck have I been?  Obviously, with my head up my own ass!

Meredith, Penny and I in the garden at the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego, November 2005

In November 2005, Penny was a lifesaver during the 3 weeks where Agnes Bellinger and I were going through the raw foods ordeal cleaning ourselves out of toxins and old crap at the Optimum Health Institute.   It was not an easy “vacation.”  Far from it.  Ridding one’s self of 50 years (me) and 75 years (Agnes) of eating habits and old patterns of thinking and doing was a huge challenge.   It takes a lot out of you when you are detoxing.  (Have you ever done it?)  We did it for three weeks!   There were a couple of days where Agnes and I did not have the energy, nor the will to even lift up our heads.  Penny was doing a residency there at OHI; she came to us like a wilderness angel full of spunk and fed us food she had created from scratch.   Her roommate, Meredith, was trying to overcome Lyme’s Disease, which is what I also had at the time yet not discovered until a few months later.  I lost track of Meredith.  I do not know if she survived Lyme’s Disease.  Both Agnes and Penny did not survive their colon cancer.

Meredith, Penny and I - Optimum Health Institute, San Diego

I recall one day when a friend of Agnes’ and a Chilkat weaving student and fellow clan member, Elaine Etukeok came to visit Agnes while we were at OHI.  I have not found the photograph of Agnes, Elaine and I, taken by Penny.  But if I do, I’ll post it here.   It is odd, now that I think of it. All three of these women, Penny, Agnes and Elaine have all passed away in the past 4 years. First Agnes in February 2006, then Elaine in August 2008, and now Penny in August 2010.  It looks like I am next?  Of course, I’m the last one left of these 4 women of that particular day; and like everybody else, we’re gonna die, get used to it.   Life is short, folks.  I have been stepping on the gas most of my entire life.  I’ve got lots done with a few more things to do.  However, if I go tomorrow, just know I’ve lived a very full life.  And I am very sorry to hear a lovely love has passed away; she enjoyed life like a flower, soaking up all the rain and sun there ever was!

I’ve included the following obituary posted from the Juneau Empire:

Former Juneau resident Penny Lynn Schrader passed from this world surrounded by family on Aug. 16, 2010, after an extended illness.

Penny was born on Aug. 1, 1953 in Bakersfield, Calif. and blossomed into a gentle spirit in love with nature. She first came to Alaska to work in a cannery, then returned south. But the lure of the wild drew her back, and when she found the fjords and islands of Juneau in 1985, she put down roots and made it her home. There she birthed a lovely girl into the hands of a midwife. Two years later, a boy completed her family and she immersed herself in the ever-learning and growing experience of parenting.

She shared her connectedness with the natural world with her young ones through camping, gardening, berry picking, mountain climbs and endless beach walks. She always prioritized making herself available to them in their formative years, working selected hours at the Silverbow and Fiddlehead Restaurants, where she made many close friends who widened her web of caring. Later, she shared her love of children by working in the schools, then joined Catholic Community Services, helping young families with their many challenges.

As her own family matured and her daughter moved into the wider world to explore and get her education, Penny began to look for how to take care of herself and her changing health needs. She received extensive training about raw foods, and returned to the land of sunshine, settling into the cozy community of Patagonia, Ariz. This was an excellent move for both her health and her son’s education. They thrived there for many peaceful years until her illness’ discomfort became more than all of everyone’s efforts could relieve.

Penny was a creative spirit. She performed in the Perseverance Theatre production of “The Birds,” sang in the folk festival and made paper from natural materials. She sewed for the theater and had a small seamstress business.

One of her most exquisite pieces she displayed herself in the 2005 Wearable Arts Show, entitled “Turning 50, Shedding the ‘if onlys’ and Heading Towards the Light.” She was carried on stage attached to a sculpture of driftwood, wrapped in a cocoon made from grandad’s drapes, and emerged dramatically, spreading wide wings of recycled wedding dress lace, embellished with giant fall ferns and delicate seaweed and swept toward a firechild friend, in love with life and full of hope.

Her quote, read as she danced down the runway was, “If only there weren’t any ‘if onlys.’ You are invited to participate in the shedding of your ‘if onlys.’ If only I could get out of this tight spot, and spread my wings and fly.” Penny has finally flown free. Those who loved her will miss her dearly.

Penny is preceded in death by her parents and sister and is survived by her beloved children, Shalom Schrader of Juneau and Philip Cahill of Tuscon, her husband Brian Cahill of Juneau, and numerous friends and relations who will long remember her loving soul and sweet spirit. A gathering of Juneau friends will be held from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Sept. 4 at the home of Frances Still (364-3406) with a beach fire, weather permitting.