She lay there silently, so small in the bed. She was peaceful. Her chest rose and fell with each taxing breath and occasionally I could see a shudder from her heart. My friend was dying. How did this happen so abruptly, I thought to myself. But it wasn’t fast at all. It was years of this battle and much pain. It seems so inconceivable that her fight was coming to an end. The best thing was she would finally be able to be with the love of her life again.
I met her when she came back to work seven years ago. I was hired while she was out on sick leave. She had fallen and shattered her leg right below her hip when she was trying to open the garage door and the rope broke. At first, she seemed very distant to me. She was the recruiter for the company and was a bit put out that she did not hire me. She was always protective of her new hires. We worked in the Human Resource Department but I was in charge of training. But we attended the same meetings.
It took a while for us to get to know each other. We were almost the same age. She was 8 months older. I used to call her the ‘old lady’ as a joke. Our sense of humor was the same; flippant and rude and on the lewd side. Once we became friends, she would whisper something funny in meetings that only I could hear and get me in trouble because I could not hold back my giggles.
I do not remember how or when, but somehow, she began to trust me. She shared what was going on in her life. She had ovarian cancer. She went on heavy doses of chemo and that may have been one of the reasons her leg broke. She was wearing a wig but it was such a good one and I never knew. She was on strong pain medication as the leg did not heal well. She would go out soon for surgery to have the pins realigned as they had moved and were causing her great pain. Of course recovery for that would be difficult with the cancer and chemo.
But through all that, she always had time to sit and ask, “How are you doing?” And she was really concerned. It was not just a polite inquiry. We talked about the strong medications we were on and how it messed with our weight. She would rarely complain, just more vocalizing her situation. She was never sorry for herself and distained pity. We would share our opinions of those we worked with finding that we had the same concerns and likes. They did not treat her very well at the agency. But they did not treat many people well there.
She worked as much as she could. Then about two years ago, she started to really have some problems. The chemo she was on was just about killing her. She would make it to work and put in a full day. But she would come to my office just to breathe and relax and let the pain wash over her. She knew she could tell me what was going on without judgment. She was not eating or sleeping. She was exhausted and her counts were not great. She was going to go on something else. But this was the last fight. If this did not work, she was going to die.
She started on the new chemo and things seemed to be looking better. But the chemo was hard on her. So last fall, she finally decided that she needed to put all her energy into this process and stepped away from work. She was not retiring or quitting, she was just taking a leave. It was the best thing for her. I would miss her at work. I threw her a little luncheon with just a small group of us who knew what was going on. We gave her gag gifts and had a lovely time.
Four months later, I had to retire. My battle with my ongoing health issues forced me to make the same decision she had. Life was too precious to let the miserable atmosphere at work prevail in our lives. They threw me a party, but did not ask her to come, which made me angry. I retired, not planning to ever return.
But the month before I left, I found out that they were going to fire my friend. She was on leave, but it was at that point an unprotected leave as she had used up all her FLMA. Supposedly, her doctor has sent a letter saying she would not be coming back. The truth was the doctor’s letter said she would be out for another six months. But they let her go anyways. It hurt her to the core. Her job was everything to her. When she would go to chemotherapy, she would try to recruit nurses. She was always supporting things on their Facebook page. She believed in the place and had hired a majority of the clinicians there.
We had lunch once in a while when she felt up to going out. I went to visit her at her house and on one occasion when the weather got nice we went to a park for an afternoon. We would chat on the phone for hours sharing recipes and memories. She told me of the death of her husband. They were married for 12 years and had three boys. One day, he was killed on his motorcycle by someone who was not paying attention. She never stopped loving him. She would always share that she considered herself still married to him, 43 years later. One visit she told me about how she tended his grave and that she was going to be next to him.
In the beginning of June, my husband and step daughter were headed for our annual vacation to the Thousand Islands. She has called the night before and I had missed the call. Since I knew our chats were usually lengthy, I did not call her back. Then, I did the unforgivable. I forgot. Three weeks went by and I kept saying I had to call her. I wanted to wait for the “right time.” And then the day would get away from me. I will never forgive myself for missing that call.
I got a text from a mutual friend to say she was in Hospice. I was devastated. I called her son who told me it was fine to come see her. He and I chatted for a brief bit. Her last words were to him. As he was leaving the night before, he called out, “Love you, Mom.” And she replied, “Love you too.” It was the only thing she said all day. She was unresponsive after that.
I did go see her. I said good-bye and wished her well on her next journey. I knew her husband would be delighted to have her back again. I knew she was headed for a better place that was pain free. But I was going to miss her.
It will haunt me for the rest of my life about not calling her back. Did she call to say good-bye? She had fallen very ill and knew her fight was over. Our previous phone call, she has said she was doing better. I knew that the previous couple of months she had been fighting an infection from a tooth. She did not tell me how bad it really was. I should have guessed something was up because she would not physically get together. That was so like her to not have people worry about her.
But my friend is gone. What a lesson she left me with. Now is the most important moment of your life.