In September I visited my childhood friend in Chicago. We didn’t do much other than hang around. The first evening of my visit and the next day involved going to the hospital because she was dehydrated. She constantly dealt with nausea, vomiting and dehydration as a result of the chemo.
I wrote in my previous blog about the fact that we had planned a safari to Africa and she was determined to go when her body regained some of its strength. That was not to be.
I received a call on a Tuesday in November from a mutual friend saying my friend’s colon had perforated and she was taken to the hospital. She was not expected to live more than 48 hours. When I spoke with her sister on Wednesday evening, I was told it was a matter of hours.
The doctors, after all this time, still were not fully aware of her willingness to fight. It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that I was called again by her brother-in-law saying she had passed at 11:55 pm Saturday night…the very time I woke up. Most of the time she was heavily sedated but she did wake occasionally between Tuesday and Saturday. The pain must have been unbearable. I can only imagine the level of morphine needed to relieve it. I was told later that before she drew her last breath her temperature reached 108 degrees from the infection.
Her sister wanted her to have the colostomy which would have stalled the inevitable for maybe a couple more months. She declined saying she was ready to face whatever.
Saturday morning I received a call from another mutual friend. She has been the primary person to watch over my friend since this all began. She and our friend struck up a friendship more than twenty years ago which lasted throughout this whole ordeal. She surprised me by offering to pay for a plane ticket to Chicago for me to say good bye. My friend had included this other friend in her will because of all the constant companionship and the willingness to care for the dog she took in and adopted. This woman voluntarily drove halfway across Chicago in order to walk the dog on days when my friend was in the hospital or just didn’t have the strength. This friend was willing to share so I could be there. That’s just the kind of person who was drawn into my friend’s life.
It was an anguishing decision, but after a couple of hours and a futile attempt to find someone to watch my dog, I called my wise friend Maxine who brought me back to reality. Maxine asked me who I would be serving if I flew to Chicago. She was right. I had already said good bye, my friend was surrounded by relatives, and she was not even very conscious when I received the first call. I returned the call and declined.
The flight I would have been able to take would have gotten me to the hospital around 9 PM or later Saturday night. The trip would have not served any purpose other than to share my sorrow with her relatives.
I’ve tried so hard over the years to figure out our friendship. We were close in middle school. We drifted apart in high school until we finally had one class together our senior year when we reconnected. We shared the same lab table. She was there for me in high school when I almost broke down in class after my suicide attempt. She just showed up at the door. Her reason had something to do with the school newspaper of which she was editor and I was a columnist. Her timing was perfect.
I visited her and we wrote several times throughout college. She was the one I stayed with in her sorority house when I attended the winter formal with my first true love. She was the one who offered me a place to stay when I spent a few months in Washington, DC before I started teaching. I went out there for a few more weeks with my fiance (who by this time had canceled the wedding due to Viet Nam). She was going to be a bridesmaid for me. She moved to Chicago and I to Peoria. We both became involved in our careers and our single lives. We drifted apart again.
I married and started my several moves. The one year we were back near Chicago I once again saw her several times. I was able to attend her wedding when my son was one month old. My husband and I were invited to the Chicago Cubs game and dinner party for her 29th birthday three weeks before we moved again to Texas.
We once again led separate lives. I got divorced. A couple of years later she mailed me a Christmas card and signed her birth name. I knew what had happened. We reconnected again in the 80s. Over the past 25 years we saw each other every couple of years and talked a few times a year on the phone.
When I told her I had to have heart surgery, she didn’t ask if I needed her. She said “I’m coming down,” There was no question with her. She was in my home the day of my release from the hospital and stayed a week before my cousin took over.
I explained to someone that, except for my cousin, I am not really close with any relatives. My cousin, Maxene, and this life time friend had formed the legs of my stool that were my support system. I almost felt the ragged sawing of one of those legs throughout all of this. Now I feel wobbly and not as secure.
Due to the loss of my mother and aunt in my early childhood, my father, my first fiance, and then my ex, I have not had an easy time opening up to receive any kind of relationship anymore. I feared the pain of losses. There had been so many I felt myself becoming more robotic with each one. Most of the time I have turned myself numb to avoid the pain. This time, I can’t stop feeling it and tears spring to my eyes readily two weeks later if I allow them, but somehow I know in a way it is making me more connected to something rather than cut off. At least I know I’m not a robot this time. Maybe that is good. Maybe I’m getting better.
My friend had bought me a Christmas ornament which was found when her family and friends were cleaning out her apartment. It was mailed to me a couple of days ago. The ornament was a Susan G Komen angel. On the pink ribbon are the words Love, Beauty, Strength. Those three words couldn’t sum up my friend any more succinctly. She was a treasure.