A young man once wrote, “My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.” The response from an older gentleman is beautiful.
“……For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive. In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life…..” http://goodmag.co/BestCommentEver
This past weekend was my late friend Susie’s birthday. She would have been 48. She died three years ago, just after my mother’s death. Susie was the little sister I always wanted. I’d known her for most of my life, we met when we were three and four, played together most days well into middle school and stayed in touch until she died. Even when our visits became few and far between, it was never hard to pick up where we last left off.
Susie was diagnosed with Leukemia the summer of 2014. I visited while she was receiving chemotherapy in hospital. She said, “when I get out of here, I’m going to Disneyland”. She was relatively healthy and frustrated with being stuck in the hospital. I remember thinking, I should steal her away and just go to the magic kingdom. Instead she spent most of her last six months in hospital. I spent those six months living my life and occasionally seeing her. I regret not spending more time. mostly, I regret not taking her to Disneyland
Four months later, I visited again. I was grateful for the face mask I was required to wear. It hid some of the shock and sadness I felt seeing my friend now obviously very near death. She was done with being in hospital and wanted to be home in her remote chosen home of Port McNeil. She was done with suffering, scared and angry. So was I. I was so angry and sad my friend wasn’t going to recover. We had a short visit and I promised I’d finally take the eight hour trip to Port McNeil to see her.
I made it to Port McNeil, two towns past traffic lights. I spent a few days with Susie and her family. When I arrived, she was in the local hospital and refusing treatment. By the time I left, Susie made the choice to go home and stop treatment.
Susie was one stubborn and tough lady. She’d put up a long fight but that visit included tears for both of us. I told her it was OK to give in. I told her I would miss her and didn’t want her to die but wanted her to be at peace. Through tears she explained, “I finally got what I always wanted… a house, a husband and a dog and now I’m going to die.” I didn’t have a good reply. I wasn’t the one dying and couldn’t imagine that place. Susie died the following January.
That conversation feels painful three years later. Though Susie achieved some of what she’d always wanted, she didn’t get time to enjoy it. Nor did she get to Disneyland. I wish I’d taken her to Disneyland. I wish she hadn’t suffered for months and I wish she was still here.
For several years, life handed me loss after loss. I lost my mother, best friend and a long relationship. Life has overwhelmed me and given me great joys. I’ve moved on a bit, loved again, traveled to lovely places and lately I’ve been able to talk about Susie without tearing up. I can’t say I grew up…I’m not willing to do that, yet I changed by living through loss.
I learned life is not promised to us. I learned to go to Disneyland and I learned to love. It’s all still scary and some days I don’t love enough. Some days I don’t live enough. Then, Susie’s birthday comes up just after mine. On that day, I am reminded to live, love and laugh a bit more.