When I published the Looking Back essay to the Year on the Road–Again site, I asked for personal anecdotes from 2012 by readers. Most were light remarks from people pleased to see the blog resurface.
But one reply so speared my heart I could not simply approve it to appear in the comments. Sheri’s message appears next and is followed by thoughts that came to my mind.
“2012 was a strange year for me, punctuated by the sad passing of a dear friend. One of my roommates from college contracted pancreatic cancer in 2011 and died 10 months later. The odd thing (besides seeing the first of my close friends die — prematurely at age 65 by the way) was that she had no family. Having been divorced in her thirties with no children and having survived her unmarried brother and parents, she had no kids, grandkids, siblings, parents, or even nieces or nephews. I mean, who dies with not even an estanged brother or sister out there somewhere? Anyway, her closest college friends (four or us) formed a little family and saw her through to the end. I made seven trips to NYC in 10 months. The others lived there and were present every day from diagnosis to death. And here is the thing I will never forget. My friend Judy loved her life (as a very successful lawyer, charitable and active supporter of the arts in the most exciting city in the world, and one of the smartest, strongest people I have ever known). She loved her own life more than most people I know but NEVER, not even once, said “why me?” or carried on about what was happening to her. She simply remained optimistic until the end that she had more time (she didn’t), and tried to make all of us feel comfortable with what was happening to her. Then, when it was apparent she could fight no longer, she switched to saying good-bye and planning her own funeral and memorial service – – something quite memorable, by the way, as we held it at Jazz at Lincoln Center at her request and the tributes to her were nothing short of inspirational.
If I were a deeper, more spiritual person, I might be able to extract some wisdom from the experience. But I’m not. I just feel she got gypped and didn’t deserve such an abrupt ending to such a joyful life. Guess there is no one to see about that. Oh, of course, there is the obvious life lesson – – nothing is more important than one’s health. And I know Judy would have gladly traded all her considerable material possessions for more time. More time to just work, play, be. I don’t know if I could ever be as brave as she was . . .”
The bouillabaisse of ideas was too much to separate the first read, and after a few days, I decided that too few people would sample the soup if the message were posted in a Comments sections, especially after most people would have already read the day’s essay and moved on. So I decided Judy’s Story should be its own blog (and Sheri my first guest blogger)
Although there is an implied permission to publish a comment, there’s an intimacy in Sheri’s words that prompted me to ask again, and she agreed her comments were public.
Several of my thought fragments are still prompting further stirring. I share my unfinished thoughts that they may prompt you to weave them further for yourself and share what you care to.
The moment in the essay that got me the most choky was that one can have a set of friendships so bonded that they would create a support family for the end time of the life of one of them. This seems something that women are so much better at than men. And why that should be so is a topic worth examining for its own sake.
I have long believed that cancer’s single gift is that of warning. A cancer death is not instantaneous. There is time to get ready–to deal with the business of the end of life. We all know that we need to deal with the disposition of assets and cherished objects.
Moreover, it is a time to make things right. To apologize. To forgive. To say the unsaid. To express the inexpressible.
And, I suppose, to come to terms with the meaning of one’s own life. To note what legacies will endure and which ones will not. I imagine it is the actions that affect others psychologically that are lasting and the ones with material effects which are ephemeral.
Final days are a time to take pride in accomplishments, and to forgive oneself for unwise choices.
I cannot recall who it was that said, “We all die alone.” In one way I suppose that is true. In one way Judy died alone, having outlived every member of her family. Yet, an instant family was born to fill that space.
We live our entire lives as though we are immortal and indestructible. I know I do. I wonder when it will dawn on me that it is otherwise. There is a part of me that believes it will not be until the last beat of my heart. In fact I kind of hope so.
I am told Americans fear death as almost no other culture. Others view death as one cycle of life. In fact billions of people believe that corporeal death is not the end of anything except the body.
Judy must have been a good woman to have inspired her friends to close in around her to nurture and comfort. How I would like to have known her.
Of course if this touches a grace note you’d care to share, we’d all welcome hearing from you.