This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #45: Anniversary
…pick a date (not necessarily a date of traditional significance) and look back.
In some places the leaves were just starting to change colors.
The day my friend Becky died.
On September 18, 1999.
It will soon be the anniversary of that date.
Twenty years since the woman who was my close friend for over 20 years…and partner in crime at work…left this world.
After 6 years of fighting the fast growing cells that had already spread to her lymph nodes. Discovered after a radical mastectomy in 1993.
She refused a wig and a prosthesis…too much trouble, she said. I will beat this.
She was 40 years old.
Chemotherapy. Physical Therapy. Radiation. Repeat.
Until there wasn’t.
I’ve watched friends die of breast cancer. I guess I can do it too. She announced one evening…looking at me over her half-eaten plate of scallops and mixed vegetables. As we sat together at our favorite Chinese restaurant.
I stared at her. Speechless. But Becky always got right to the point.
She continued…You know, life is hard if what you want is pure enjoyment.
It would be one of our last dinners out. Before we switched to meeting for breakfast. When she had a bit more energy and had shifted to part time work.
By early September 1999, she was admitted to a local hospital for the last time. Coincidentally I had started working there again the year before. Where we had worked as side-by-side dietitians 20 years earlier. Before our first children were born within weeks of each other. And we began sharing the joys, fears and trials of motherhood and marriage. No subject off limits.
I slipped into her hospital room. Becky it’s me.
With her eyes closed, she asked about my 17 year old daughter thinking she was still 12. Her husband stood nearby…looked at me and shook his head.
There is nothing they can do, he said. It’s in her liver. She’s in kidney failure. Too late for the new drug study.
He may move her to a rehab place for pain management.
What about hospice? In your home? I asked.
I hadn’t thought of that, he answered.
That was where I spent my last hours with Becky. Beside the hospital bed set up in her living room. Between two bright windows…the September early morning sun peeking in at us.
No coffee. No muffins. No Chinese food or wine this time.
I pulled up a chair. Reached in between the metal rails and held her left hand in mine. The head of the bed up. Her face turned in my direction…eyes shut. Corners of her mouth turned down.
Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. Her mouth opened slightly with each breath.
Her hair was just starting to grow back again. Wispy buzz cut style.
Her hand was cool and smooth as I laced her fingers between mine. We were alone. It was quiet. A slight breeze blew in through the open windows.
Her leg twitched. Her arms jerked upward a bit.
I whispered in her ear…Are you cold?
Turning slightly toward me she murmured…No
I leaned closer and whispered back…You always were a hot number.
I saw a tiny crooked smile.
Her eyes opened slightly. Looked at me for an instant, their blueness in stark contrast to her colorless skin.
What is it? I ask.
But she can’t tell me.
I picked her hand up again and held it between both of mine.
Her large gray cat stepped over my feet. I felt its softness brush against my leg. I don’t like cats much. Never have. She had always teased me about it. I leaned close and whispered…Somehow this big cat got in here.
A hint of a smile…and she mumbled Be nice to the kitty. It’s a nice kitty.
It was late morning. I was still holding her hand. She shifted in bed. Sighed. Sighed again.
Breathe in. Breathe out. I stopped counting.
Becky do you remember that time when we tried to get a picture of the kids sitting on your couch? They were about 6 months old. We’d get them settled and then by the time we’d step back to snap the picture they would both slide sideways on top of each other? And they’d start to cry? And we’d prop them back up again?
A faint smile came and went. I squeezed her hand.
The front door opened and closed.
The hospice nurse had arrived.
To care for my friend Becky. Wash her. Make her comfortable. Ease her pain.
I bent down to kiss Becky on the cheek, feeling the soft coolness of her skin.
I love you Becky. I hope she heard me. But even if she didn’t, I knew she knew.
The next morning I picked up the ringing phone.
Her husband’s shaky voice… Becky died this morning.
She was 47 years old.
Even now – years later – I catch myself thinking I have spotted her in the grocery story parking lot. But of course I didn’t.
Becky’s place in my heart is rooted deep.
The epitome of strength and love and loyalty.
And what a fighter.
She loved her family and her friends and her God.
I am privileged and grateful to have known her.
I’m a stronger person for it.
And a better friend.
She will soar into my conscious thought at random times…cheering me with her signature humor. Triggering a memory of times past.
And our life adventures together.
Cut far too short.
Reminding me…of the precious gift that friendship truly is.