Several months ago, a dear friend called to say goodbye. Like in… forever. I was shocked when she told me why she was calling. I was something else, too. Grateful.
I knew she wasn’t well and hadn’t been for quite some time. Congestive heart failure was one of the ailments on her long list along with others I couldn’t begin to pronounce. She said she was calling because she wanted me know how much our friendship meant to her and she wanted to thank me before she became too ill. Wow.
My mother battled with terminal cancer for many years before she died. During that time, she and I had the opportunity to set up the closure we both needed, but when my father died, it was sudden. He had a heart attack and was gone before I got to him. I remember the feelings of shock, disbelief, awareness of unanswered questions and great loss, that stayed with me. There was no closure and that still haunts me. But parents are different, aren’t they?
A couple years ago one of my best friends succumbed to prostate cancer. He had been treated successfully for several years and then the disease was back with a vengeance. We e-mailed back and forth occasionally, but I didn’t realize how quickly his illness had progressed and before I knew it, he was in the hospital and his brother wasn’t allowing any visitors or phone calls. He died and I never got to say, goodbye.
Another best friend was an artist and we shared our great love of art in many forms. We didn’t call or write often, but when we did contact one another, we just picked up where we had left off from the previous conversation.
I was working on a project and decided to run some ideas by her so I picked up the phone and dialed her number. Her husband answered. When I asked to speak with her, he told me she’d had a rapid-growing brain tumor and had passed away three months before. I couldn’t believe it! We were best friends. How could I not know she was ill, much less that she had died?
Again I was sick with shock and grief. As I sat stunned with sorrow, I recalled the news of another friend who had committed suicide. Each death was different, but my feelings about them were the same; profound sadness and the realization of the permanency of my sense of loss. I felt disappointment, even anger that I didn’t have the chance to say, goodbye. I didn’t have closure. Loss was loss. Whether it related to parents or friends, it was the same heart-wrenching pain.
In my first paragraph, I spoke of a friend who called to say, goodbye. She’s still living and she and I call each other every other week or so to reiterate our feelings of friendship and camaraderie. As time goes by, I can sense in her voice the progression of her disease and sometimes she hasn’t the strength to talk for long, but I appreciate her even more and I’m grateful for this opportunity. If her time is up before mine, I will have closure. I’ll be sad, of course, but I will also have the comfort of knowing we made the most of our friendship in the time we had left. I think she feels the same way.
This whole experience has changed how I relate to other friends and to my relatives. Since my stroke last summer, I realize my existence here on Earth could be shortened or ended at any second, so I’ve decided to be like my friend and let people know now how dear they are to me, and do it often. I’ve also decided not to fret over people who disappoint me or who don’t value me. I’ve decided to be influenced by more positive things than negative ones and to truly be grateful for and rejoice in each day.
As a result, I’ve found dealing with thoughts of end-of-life has given me a renewed lease-on-life replete with love and gratitude.