Monday, April 18, 2016

A gift from my friend

My friend Ruth died last weekend.  It's really hard to believe she's gone.  When she called me last October and told me she had pancreatic cancer I thought, shit, she's going to die.  I cried off and on for several days.  It would hit me at the oddest times.  Two months later she hosted our dinner group's Christmas celebration.  She's done this every year and we told her she didn't have to do it; she could do it next year.  I wondered if she'd be around for our next Christmas dinner but she had told us her doctors said they caught it early and she was one of the lucky ones.  She had surgery, chemo and radiation.  The doctors told her she no longer had cancer.  We had hope.  Still I worried.

I went back to visit in January.  We lived 3 1/2 hours apart.  She seemed to be doing pretty well though she was not convinced she was cured.  She told me she thought she had at least 6 to 9 months left to live.  I still held out hope.  She kept saying, "it is what it is".  I've never really liked that expression.  She also said she never thought this would happen to her and that before her diagnosis she thought she had at least 10 more years of life.  We had a great visit.  We did all kinds of things like we always did even though it totally wore her out.  When I left she said, "are you coming back next month?"  This seemed very uncharacteristic of her.  I said I'd try to get back by March and I told her I loved her.  By March the news had turned bad.  The doctors were wrong.  Her cancer was very aggressive and it had spread.

I felt like I needed to visit with her one more time.  I hadn't said all the things I needed to say to her when I was there last.  Needing to see her was more selfish than anything.  I needed it more for me than it could possibly mean to her at this point.  She called me and said, "can you come tomorrow?"  You bet I was there as early as I could get there the next day, and this is why I say she gave me a gift. In that time together she shared with me what no one has ever done.  We talked about dying and what we expected it to be like.  She told me she was at peace with it and that she was ready to die.  I told her I was going to miss her.  She said she'd miss me too and then said, "well, maybe I won't, I have no idea".  We both laughed at the thought of it.  She told me she didn't worry about it being painful and that she wasn't afraid.  I told her I couldn't believe this was the last time I'd get to see her and how much our friendship meant to me.  I cried but she didn't.  I never saw her cry through any of her suffering.  Ruth was tough.

She was so tough that she lived another 5 or 6 weeks without food.  Hospice had told her family a body can only live 2 weeks without food.  I wonder if there was some reason she was hanging on that long.  Were there other people she had to give this gift to also?  Ruth had many friends.  She was always giving us things whether you asked for it or not.  Maybe sharing her thoughts on dying was her final way of giving us a gift.  I was able to leave her house in March feeling at peace after having shared that time with her.

If there's a way for Ruth to see my blog in heaven (my heaven will have blogs for me to read) I hope you read this, Ruth.  I hope you know how much that last visit meant to me.  I used to say when I'm dying I don't want anyone to visit me except my family.  Because of Ruth I now know how important it is to friends to be able to say goodbye and share their feelings.

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous picture. I am sure we talked about your gift to her; talking with her about dying, but I just want to make sure you remember that. This blog is exactly what people need to hear to start the conversation with loved ones.