37 days, 5 Monday’s & 5 Friday’s

I count because I can’t help it. I count because she was my best friend and she’ll never stop mattering to me. I count because numbers are something real that makes sense to me, unlike her absence, which doesn’t. She should be here with me on the island, but she isn’t. And all I can do is hold space for how long it’s been for me since a time when that was my reality.

I remember life with her like a dream I just woke up from- flashing details, some tremendous and metaphorical, others just inflections of scenes from every day living. I remember the sound of her laugh and the snarky jokes she always made. Sometimes it feels like a literal slap in the face- the variation is similar to how my heart being touched by her memory feels now, usually I try to just notice it and keep doing what I’m doing, but sometimes it surprises me and demands attention.

I can’t always write or share her writing because it still kills me inside in some way every time, no matter how much bigger my love than my ache. I don’t always want that visceral reality front and center to my own because I can’t function very well from my knees, which is where it brings me in every sense of the word without fail. I am trying to come to terms with vulnerability and I am making baby steps.  And I will share more of her writing at some point, hopefully soon.

I went to hang out with my parents and some friends yesterday and we ended up speaking openly about grief and loss over drinks on the beach- and I realized that that’s what my reality is now: my grief is fully integrated into my joy, and authentic life lies somewhere in between. It felt good to talk with others who have lost someone close, and to talk about memories shared. The grief in the world is exponential with each loss, and my heart is heavy thinking about all the other people out there also in their first stages of grief. I had one of the worst nightmares I’ve had last night that consisted of essentially waking up over and over again to be reminded that my closest friend had died tragically; reliving the hardest part of grieving for my head and heart on repeat.

I sent my still very alive friend a text first thing this morning, even before coffee. My best during the times when I feel helpless is to provide space for myself and other grieving hearts to say, “That is awful. That should never happen. I hear you. I’m so sorry. Life makes no fucking sense sometimes. Thank you for trusting me enough to share. I have no words that can help, but I’m here. This sucks and I hate it for you and I’m here.” And at times I need to hear those words, too.  K

I often feel insignificant -and in the grand scheme of things, I absolutely am- but that shouldn’t keep me from sharing what matters to me, just as none of us should ever hold back from doing the small things that help ourselves and others, whatever they may be– doing so is exactly how the world gets better. For me, it’s helping others, prioritize and to be kind and grateful to ourselves, our children and each other. Time is precious and finite. Hold your loved ones tight.  I

I wish you were here.
Love you most, M

Beach Time

The last two days have been wonderfully bittersweet. We all flew to the island to celebrate my dad’s 71st birthday. And we’ve been spending our time on “Island Time” relaxing at the beach, swimming in the pool, and eating ice cream at the resort. Daddy sends his love to his adopted daughter.

This is the place for the spirit and soul to be renewed.

Listening to the waves and remembering our weeks here together.

Reclaiming our island, G…

The beach will always be our happy place.

Love you most, M

One month since I held your hand

Just one month ago your body just couldn’t continue to fight against something that had become bigger than your earthly existence. One month ago today you earned every inch of your beautiful angel wings. You fought so hard to live a life that should have been rightfully yours to live and even though you knew that you would most likely NOT win the battle, you still continued to fight; believing with me that our faith and our love would let us win. I believed that if we had enough faith and love that God would see and know that and allow you to stay with us. How could he need you more than we needed you? He has a bazillion angels so why would he need you? You silently suffered with so much agony as the cancer ravaged your body and still even in your last days you told us that you “still wanted to fight…I’ll never give up…I’ll never stop fighting.” You didn’t give up but your body did. Your mind fought until the end…such a brave, young warrior. So strong and courageous and you never let your fear show. I almost – not almost – I wish you would have let your fears out but probably for you that was the only way that you could handle it? I don’t know but I do have regrets that I didn’t ‘push’, for lack of a better word, to get your feelings out in the open so that we knew more of what you were thinking and feeling instead of just touching on the subject whenever you were comfortable. Yes, there were a few times that we were able to talk about the cancer and the ‘what if’s’ but it had to be in your own time. Yes, you did say that you were scared of dying and I always felt so inadequate to try to help you. How could I help when I didn’t understand it myself? It’s something I will never understand. I don’t understand why God lets this kind of thing happen. I just don’t and I probably never will.

Today the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, it was so warm out…a sign that the whole world goes on without you, my love. It stinks and I’m sad and I’m angry that life goes on for everyone else. Yes, I know you are in no more pain and you are probably happy where you are but I’m sure God doesn’t have scary movies and wine. I’m sure life is a lot better where you are and the earthly things that you loved are probably not that important to you anymore. I haven’t experienced heaven so I have no comparison. I can only hope that you are happy.

Today I am trying not to let myself go into that deep hole that I seem to fall into a lot of times these days. Things just feel so quiet and empty without you here and I find that I lack motivation for anything.

I can barely write to you today. My eyes are so over flowing with tears that I can’t see the screen. It seems like three lifetimes have passed just within this past month and I find it hard to believe that it has only been a month. I cannot imagine living to be 60, 70, 80 or more without you here. If just one month seems like three lifetimes have passed by what will one year and then two feel like? Why can’t you just come back and be with us? Why? How can there be an old lady commune without you here to commune with? It doesn’t seem right. It’s all wrong.

Love you most, M

You will not be forgotten

I feel a little lost and uncertain as to what to write some days, yet find myself here anyway. I often feel empty some days. At the end, when we knew G’s death was inevitable, I promised I would write so that her memories would last a lifetime. I promised I would have her book published. I would keep her legacy alive.

I feel so sad that her daughter is so young. I hope with all my heart I can do her justice so that she will never forget what an awesome mother she had and how much she loved her.

And although there is a big crack in my heart that will always have G’s name etched on it, I am lucky to have faith that she is in a better place. I do believe that she’s in heaven, cancer-free and pain free.

My biggest fear as her best friend is that she will be forgotten. I know she worried that she left this world before she had enough time to really make an impact on others and leave this world a better place. But, it feels like everytime that fear makes a nest in my heart, there is someone that reminds me that she touched many hearts. Divine intervention or a message from heaven – I don’t know.

I think about how she always made sure she asked about the people taking care of her. Like she wanted to know about them. She genuinely cared about the people caring for her. She would make an effort to learn about the nurses and send them fruit baskets or cookies for taking such good care of her. She would learn about them so she could talk about things they wanted to talk about. Favorite Disney character? She’d find out about it and it would come up. A nurse who loves Vera Bradley- I would walk in one day and they’d be discussing the best tote or make up bag. That was g. Maybe that’s why she was always the favorite patient. And also her cardiologist’s favorite but we joked that that was for a different reason.

When she was so sick before Christmas her daughter seemed to be following right in her footsteps. I think it was then she saw the rawness of just how sick her mom was and rather than be fearful she tried to comfort her mom. Once when G was struggling with anxiety during a procedure and her daughter was with her, her daughter gently reminded her to breathe and repeated, “mom, look at me. Look at me.” It touched the nurse so much she asked me how her daughter was doing two months later when she was taking care of G again.

I know she was a tough lady, she was. But I remember these moments of her vulnerability and I try hard to hold back my tears.I miss her so much. She was my person. She knew me. Even in a text she could tell when something was off and she’d call me out. She would know when something was wrong no matter how hard I tried to cover it up.

Everywhere I look I see the essence of her. And for that reason I know she will never be forgotten. I see her in movies, in books, in music. I see her in her daughter. Needless to say, I cry a lot. At times tears of sorrow, other times tears of joy. Tears of love. I feel so lucky and so blessed to have had her in my life for the years I did.

Love you most, M

Still missing you every minute, my warrior friend

As we approach the month mark of G’s passing, I have to say that selfishly this is the most painful thing I have ever endured.
Everything has been such a blur – conversations, activities and quite frankly at this point, the days. The last days have been ones of mixed emotions. I don’t know if I should cry, if it is right to laugh, if I should be angry or if I should be at peace. In any given minute, I can probably feel all of those emotions. Sometimes consecutively, sometimes simultaneously. I know that the numbness has not worn off and the reality that G’s absence is for a lifetime is something that hasn’t hit me yet. And, quite frankly I am petrified for the time it does. I hurt now and I can only imagine how many more pieces my heart will break into when reality rears its ugly head.  This is what therapy is for, I suppose.

I feel like G was everyone’s friend. She had the kind of beautiful spirit that radiated and made you feel like you knew her. She reminded you of an old soul, an old friend, or one you wish you had. She was kind, sweet, strong, brave and loving. She was a true warrior princess  in every essence of the words. She was true at heart.  She honestly never met a stranger, or at least not for long.  It never ceased to amaze me how she’d quickly make friends with a bartender, a pilot, or the group of middle aged women standing next to us at a concert.  And it was not just causal conversation.  She would stay in touch with these people.  She had a knack for bringing people together.

Despite having the odds against her, she never gave up. She was very brave and she will always be my hero. She was a true gift to this world, and an inspiration to many. I am proud to be called her best friend. And, while G had found her own ways to get through a moment, an hour or a day, I have needed to do the same. For me, it’s the music. As the saying goes– when you are happy you enjoy the music, but when you are sad you understand the lyrics.

When people ask me how I am doing, I have to say that two words sum it up best. IT SUCKS. Cancer sucks and it changes you forever. Every day hundreds of patients walk apprehensively through the doors of a cancer clinic to begin their treatment. They slowly shuffle in and peer around at the staff, volunteers, and dozens of bald-headed people and silently whisper “God, please let me wake up from this nightmare.” I admit I’m tired of the horrors of cancer. And from the depths of my soul, I’m angry that we are grieving the loss of our G because the horrible beast called cancer. I know that at the end, she was so tired. But she was still so brave. She tried so hard to wake up, but when she finally knew she couldn’t, she accepted it. At least she said she did, and I hope she did. I want to believe that.

Cancer knows no boundaries; it strikes without reason, it strikes without justification. My best friend was your best friend before she was attacked by the beast. She worked, she dreamed, she lived. She was strong, resilient, and one of the bravest warriors the world has ever imagined. She lived.

I ask myself why some are dealt such shit hands in this life. Why there is so much unfairness at times heaped upon some people. And the only answer I can come up with is this: we are all being tested for our will, our fortitude, our sense of compassion and humility. We live in a society of “ME,”. We need to change that thought to help those truly in need, as the real heroes are the ones fighting for their lives. Trust me when I tell you it is a good feeling to feel the love of a world celebrating the life of someone else. It is a good feeling to know your friend inspired people from across the coasts. It is a good feeling to know your friend’s strength, courage, bravery and selflessness was admired by many. It feels good to be proud of a woman that even in her death can teach us all how to be a better person. There is no better honor in this world than to have had the privilege of being her best friend.

Minutes before G became an angel, she whispered to me, I’m done. She was so tired…and she knew it was her time to go. It was so hard to let her go. I know she was ready, but I wasn’t. After she passed, I laid beside her holding her and crying. It wasn’t fair. Why should someone as beautiful as her need to leave. But she fought an honerable battle and her body was tired and now she is at peace. And I have to believe that God broke our hearts on February 20, 2017 to prove to us he only takes the best. Only the good die young.

Please, today take a moment to laugh – then take two moments to love and appreciate those in your life. Each day is a blessing. And please continue to remember the angels we have lost and to pray and support the warriors who are here today and those who are close to our hearts. And, please say a special prayer for G, our princesss warrior, now a crowned angel in heaven.

I love you most G,

It’s been 22 days since you left us

We went through so much in the years we spent together, yet it didn’t feel like enough. I got to hear her…laughing, singing, living, breathing, crying, struggling and… dying. You all might imagine – and some of you know – that this was not an easy path…But, G walked, hobbled, and, at times, crawled hers. She labored through her illness with fortitude and strength…well loved. Beautiful and breathtaking. That is how I saw her. And how I wish she would have seen herself on many days.

And I wish I could talk to her now. And tell her that again. That even though life wasn’t fair for her so much of the time, she was loved. That she did not fail as a child. And she did not fail as a partner. She did not fail as a patient. G never let go of her connection to her former therapist. And she asked for her before she died. Not her mother, but the woman she felt closest to for so many years. Possibly to bring her some sense of comfort. Or possibly just to say a final goodbye. But her answer in those final days, was also “life wasn’t fair” as she received no reply from the woman who G possibly loved and trusted the most in a “therapisty/motherly” way. And although in life I would have said no, leave it alone, in those final days, I just wished for her to find peace and comfort in any way possible.

My grief remains a huge part of me. I continue to work to make friends with it – since it is here and not leaving – but it hurts. I can allow moments of distraction by keeping busy and staying focused. Other times, I can’t think of anything except my best friend and how much I miss her. I still torment myself at times with thoughts that maybe there was another treatment, or trial, we could have tried. Or we should have spent more time together, traveled more, done more, spoke more. I try to comfort myself knowing that she had grace for me, forgave me my mistakes and loved me anyway… but I hate those things were there to begin with. Guilt is yet another painful companion to grief.

This journey sucks. It remains raw. I plan to hide in my home tomorrow – look at pictures and read her words and remind myself that she was real. The joy was real.

breathe and keep going

G was very clear with me that no matter what happened to her, she wanted me to be there for her daughter. To be clear, her daughter and I have always been very close. She’s always been like a daughter to me so this discussion wasn’t even really a request on her part, in fact, I would have been offended had she not asked this of me. A is a wise, articulate, funny and smart young woman. She is caring, silly, cutting and compassionate…she is a force to be reckoned with and her debating skills are being honed as only a teenagers can be. And I am so proud of her.

As we cried together over the weekend I told her I was sad, and I couldn’t say it was okay, because it isn’t okay. We hugged and cried together and I am hopeful that she will at some point agree to grief counseling, but at this time she is not willing to go. As when her mama relapsed with cancer, she went to therapy twice then decided she did not want to talk to a “stranger” about her “problems”. As long as she continues to talk to me, I won’t push her.

She is a beautiful and kind young woman. Like the gene pool was kind to her with her curly ginger locks and her kind blue eyes. But her real beauty is in her strength and wisdom and intelligence, her compassion and passion, her endurance and resilience. She is so intelligent and wishes to be a pediatric oncologist. Of course this may change as she is only 15 years old. But at this point it is her focus and with focus, she can do anything. Channeling her pain into something positive is a good thing.

We had a good weekend together, and I’m happy I will be seeing her again Monday for a week. I want to honor G’s spirit by doing my very best.

I breathe and keep going. Even through loss.  I breathe and keep going,

A song remembers when…

This morning I had some tests done that will determine whether I am a candidate for surgery.  I will meet with my trusted doc this afternoon to review the findings and discuss the options and next steps for me.  I am welcoming spontaneous healing at this time.   This morning as I prepared for my tests and the nurses and disnostic employees went back and forth over my internal devices and what type of tests would possibly blow up a machine, and me, and which would not – a discussion much like Groundhog Day, as this was the exact same discussion that the departments had yesterday when the STAT test was ordered.  However, I assure you I am the most compliant patient (hey – they have needles….and also drugs) and I patiently waited for them to figure “me” out.

Once they made the determination and received the thumbs up, I was prepped, ready to go and finally lay down on the hard, cold, metal table.  All the wires and tubes had to be organized around my body.  And once this all took place, the technician handed me the “bulb” – if you’ve been in these rooms, you know the ones they have for testing but are much to dangerous for anyone but the patient to be in while the testing is taking place.  So she hands me the “in case of an emergency bulb” and started to walk out of the room where I was to be left with my thoughts.  Always a good thing…

Suddenly she stopped and turned around.  She walked back over to me and placed these giant fuzzy headphones over my ears (I was instantly imagining how many other ears these had been on and how exactly you disinfect this fuzzy material that looks much like the inside of a slipper) and she asked me what music I would like to listen too.  Well, I have many play lists, I was thinking, and had I been afforded the opportunity to bring my own headphones, I could have selected one, but alas it was too late for that.  I even have a “scan” playlist, more than one, actually.

Music…music… it calms and distracts us.  I love music.  I love a lot of different kinds of music. I love to sing to music. I love to dance to music.  What would I like to hear during this scan?  Not Christmas music.  While I realize Christmas is right around the corner, I feel at odds with the holiday this week, so I am not ready to relent and put on my Santa hat.  So what will it be…

So many years ago, I was working on a transition team with a group of women I still call my friends.   We traveled around the country and assessed businesses before the company we worked for would make an offer of purchase.  It was a challenging position that kept me on the road Monday-Friday most weeks.  These women became my traveling family and there were even times a couple of them would fly in early and we would spend the weekends together before heading out on a Monday for a long week of due diligence in an often hostile environment.  Many evenings after work we would go out to dinner, sometimes shopping.  The location of our work often dictated our evening plans.  For a few months we spent our time in a small town which one might now call “the rust belt”.  I had never heard that term before the election, and now it’s a catch phrase.  There wasn’t much to do there in the evenings.  One night we found ourselves in a small bar playing pool and drinking vodka and redbull from red solo cups – it was a classy joint, don’t judge me!  And an old man with a few missing teeth walked up to me as I was preparing my next shot.  He attempted to get my attention and I attempted to ignore him when he finally grabbed my shoulder and flipped me around to face him.  It was startling.  He was probably in his late 50’s, early 60’s, but years of hard drinking made him look well beyond his years.  As he spoke, his words slurred and hissed, due to his drunkenness and lack of teeth, and he said, “Do you like my shirt?”  I must have not answered quickly enough because he cackled and repeated his words, “Do you like my shirt?”  I looked down at his enormous beer belly and read the captioned phrase scrawled in white letters across his red t-shirt.  “If you lick it they will come”.   Wow! Who sells shirts like that, and where can I get one?  Again, classy joints in this town…due to the creepiness of the toothless one, we left.

However, on our way back to our hotel we saw a sign for karaoke.  I love karaoke!  We entered the bar, ordered drinks, and I told my friend that I really wanted to do karaoke!  And, I wanted to sing “Girls just wanna have fun”  She said with excitement, “Awesome, I’ll sign you up!”    Once my name was called I ran to the front of the bar, in my element…drunk people happy to see me, cheering me on, I was ready!  And the words come up on the screen: I love myself, I want you to love me  When I feel down, I want you above me I search myself, I want you to find me I forget myself, I want you to remind me….   She had signed me up to sing “I touch myself”, by the Divinyls.  I was embarrassed at first…but then what else could I do in a bar full of people.  I sang the song, loud and proud.  Free drinks for everyone after that!  And I’ll never forget it….  I love girls with a sense of humor, even when I’m the butt of their jokes…

So today, when the tech said, “What music do you want to listen to?”  I lay on the cold slab ready to be rolled into a machine to read me from the inside, a little anxious, a bit afraid, and I remembered that night in the ‘rust belt bar’, and I said to her with a smile, “Do you have The Divinyls?  I touch myself?  It’s my favorite song…”  But she did not.  So I said anything from the 80’s is fine.

Time passes, but some things never change

Every day after lunch Mrs. Jones would read a chapter out of a book to us. Our desks were shaped in s great big “U” and she would pull her chair up in the center of the “U”, pull her reading glasses up, which were always around her neck, attached by a big silver chain, cross her legs, open the book and start to read. I don’t remember what book she was reading that hot, humid, Midwestern day. It wasn’t important. Charlie and the Chocoate Factory? Charlotte’s Webb? I had already read them all. My head down on the desk, my palms sweaty, and my eyes were growing heavy. I could hear the birds outside and I wondered how they had the energy to chirp in the heat. Maybe feathers were lighter than skin.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening, and a girl walking in with the secretary. Mrs. Jones stopped reading. My head shot up. And so did everyone else’s. Amidst the chatter, I studied the girl as the teacher guided her over the little table in corner with her sack lunch. A new student. It wasn’t often we got a new student in our small town. Not in the middle of a school year. I studied her as one might study an interesting painting. She was tall her a second grader, lean, and graceful. Her light blonde wispy hair was pulled up into a tight bun and was a sharp contrast to her thick dark eyebrows. Her eyes were cast down at her sandwich but they were greenish, maybe hazel. Mrs. jones has resumed her reading but I contined to study the new girl. She wore jeans and a light baby blue leotard. I thought to myself, I bet she’s a ballerina. That would explain the bun. And the leotard. Her cheeks were round, like chipmunks, but the rest of her body was thin. She had freckles. Like my grandma.

The new girl ate her lunch quietly at the little table while Mrs. Jones finished her chapter. After reading time, Mrs. Jones introduced her to the class, and she sat at an empty desk near me. At recess, no one played with her. The new girl. She was from Virginia and she had a very long name. And no dad, like me. She had a mom and grandparents. Like me. Her mother was…just not a nice person…like me! Her grandparents were wonderful! They called her “dollbaby”.

From second grade until the new girl with the long name moved away our sophomore year in high schoo, we were inseparable. And even after that, despite the lack of social media, we managed to stay close. I took my first plane trip my junior year spring break to visit her in her new home, in Florida. (Well, first plane trip since I was six months old and my grandmother had to fly me back when my mother abandoned me in that very same state).

Now, in June, I will be moving Florida, and at least I know I’ll be only 40 minutes from my childhood friend. And although our days of smoking her mother’s cigarette butts, listening to air supply on 8-track, reading her mother’s play girl magazines, walking through cemataries at midnight, taking weekend road trips 4 hours away and telling the rents we were on “church trips” are way behind us… I can’t wait to share those stories with her two teenage daughters. Okay so we also snuck out to clean yards to earn money for band trips…we were those kind of geeks, too… (And no, we didn’t inhale the cigarette butts, although my own teenage daughter claims that still classifies as “smoking” – how gross is that, tho?)

My lovely friend of 36 years, now a nurse and a mother of two beauties of her own, still tall and thin, still a beautiful heart, and a shade darker bun.