Friday, November 30, 2012

What we all share

So my participation in NaBloPoMo crashed and burned. But I learned a really valuable lesson in sticking with it as long as I did. The lesson: it's not that hard to write more frequently and I enjoyed doing so. I hope to keep up more frequent posts from now on--it's rewarding to push myself to think and write and interact. I actually like blog writing, and I'm not sure I did before NaBloPoMo.

I went missing because life intervened and I had no time or words to write.

I had a friend--I'll call her M--who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She was a fighter. I didn't know her well before the diagnosis because we were just colleagues. I knew her to be a great teacher, a sweet coworker, and a hard worker. After the diagnosis, we became friends. She was encouraging of my starting a family late in life. She told me wonderful stories of her own path through motherhood. I didn't see her often, but I stopped by her house for tea several times and I was part of her email list, the list of friends to whom she sent updates on her fight against cancer and her attempts to rejoin the working world. For six years she fought. At one point, her doctors said that she was most likely cured, that the cancer was gone for good, and that they didn't expect to see her back. A few weeks later her left leg started hurting and it was cancer. Back. Spreading.

I saw her at a party about two months ago and she looked great. She had just had a new set of scans done and they looked really good. No detectable cancer. She talked to me about maybe coming back to work. But things went very quickly downhill and a new set of scans found that her liver was shot through with cancer. She went on hospice about two weeks ago and within a few days, she was gone.

She died on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Her funeral was on Tuesday. It was incredibly moving. I'm not Catho.lic but I found the full mass and even the open casket to be profound. It brought home the point that M was no longer with us. Her body was here, but SHE was gone. And she left us with so much.

I wish I had known her better. I wish she had been able to come back to work on a part time basis. I wish I could see her smile. Her daughter spoke at the funeral and described her perfectly. I sobbed quietly as I listened. For her and for me and for everyone who will have to face the loss of a loved one. Because we all will. We will all bury someone we love, if we haven't already.

I never spoke with her about it, but her daughter said that she had made peace with death and that she believed she was going to serve G*d in a new capacity. I hope that's true. I hope G*d exists and that he welcomed her with open arms. I have no idea what I really believe--my beliefs are all sketchy and agnostic in nature. But really--if there are people who deserve G*d and life after death, M is among them.

In other sad news, another close friend lost his father on Thanksgiving evening. He was at our house when he got the news because he and his partner had come down from NYC to celebrate the holiday with us and M's family (we hosted a big buffet dinner for 13). His father had been quite sick, had just had bypass surgery and was not recovering from it well. But getting the call was a shock nonetheless. One minute we were sitting around the living room having wine and laughing and then in the next, we were comforting a grieving friend who was coming to terms with the sudden loss of his father.

We will all be there. Grief is something all humans share. We owe it to each other to be good at comforting our loved ones in their time of need. I know we're not. I don't feel particularly good at it, though I'm not shy about trying. I'd rather be awkward and present than hiding from grief and pain. I think it's vital to be a witness to people in their time of need and to let them know you're there for them, whatever they need.

I think we need classes. Required. Perhaps at the high school level. To process the fact that we will all die and that we will need to comfort others. Let's see: math at 8:00, physics at 9:00, english at 10:00, and death and dying at 11:00. Sound reasonable?

I'll return to lightness again soon, I'm sure. It's part of the cycle of life: deep sadness, awkwardness, silliness. Laughter is such a normal, real reaction to death. I remember a close friend who told me that right after her father died, she and her sisters started laughing. Giggling. They couldn't stop it and it wasn't disrespectful. It was relief after a long struggle with cancer.

If you can say a brief prayer of thanks for the life of M, if you're a praying sort, please do. She was a lovely woman and will be missed.

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