With the one year anniversary of the passing of a very dear friend, I am deeply reflective.
My friend had spent her last 3-4 years being a stalwart supporter and nurse-in-residence for her husband, diagnosed with throat cancer that required removal of all his salivary glands. She was full of life, and always joking with him that if he wasn’t nice enough to her she would not give him any water with their evening meal together.
She was sensitive and beautiful in how she handled the draining ordeal and disfigurement. His battle was her personal battle too, and she was determined to be the strong one, to carry everyone through it.
During that time I noticed she was losing weight, slowly but surely. Always petite, this was not a good sign. She always had reasons for it. Always joked in her disarming way about it. But it was becoming increasingly clear something was wrong.
Then she started to cough, her voice became rough, and she seemed to have a flu that progressively got worse. When questioned she always shrugged it off. She got weaker, but she insisted it was not a problem, just too little sleep, and too much stress.
We talked more in what became her final weeks. Our talks were great, as we had found less time to chat those last years because of my increasingly busy schedule, and her intensive care for her husband. So, it felt so warm, and good, and familiar, to talk more often again — always about nothing in particular. Just talk.
One day I was so alarmed about her deteriorating health I grilled her. Asked her to talk to me about it. She insisted it was nothing, besides, she said, her husband had it far worse — that was her focus.
l left a message on her phone one day, failing to reach her. “Please talk to me, my friend, I’m worried,” I said.
The next day I missed her call while I was in the dentist chair. Her recorded message, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, and tell you everything.” I was so relieved, and couldn’t wait for the call.
It never came. She died the next morning, after telling her husband she needed just a little more sleep before getting out of bed.
I wondered how it would have been different if I had tried a little harder to stay in touch those tough years she was attending to his chemo. I wondered what would she would have said, if we had connected on that missed call. Wondered about what she was going to tell me — what the “everything” was. It quietly haunts me. It hurts.
We all believe we have one more day, one more week, one more year, to say the things we know we should say, to change the things we have been meaning to change, to correct the paths that should have been corrected long ago.
We all believe we will have another chance to reach out, to listen intently, to do something we have feared to do, but know we should.
We all believe there is another time, a better place, a more appropriate situation, to say and do what we have been holding inside.
But, one day, the days run out. And the persons with all of the questioning, all of the wondering, are the ones we left behind — one unexpected day early.