A woman who was my best friend for about 20 years is dying. We haven’t been pals for the last 20 years because we simply “grew apart,” but I did invite her to dinner a few years ago, and we spent a couple of hours catching up on our kids, our jobs, and our partners.
When she walked out, I sensed we wouldn’t see each other again, but I surely didn’t think the reason would be her serious illness. She hadn’t told me that she had breast cancer years ago; I learned about it from a mutual acquaintance, and that it had returned and spread.
Then, one afternoon when David and I were walking past her apartment with dog Rigby (L lives 4 blocks away), I saw her husband and two sons lifting her, in a wheelchair, into a taxi. A wave of sadness swept over me. I remembered how beautiful and lively she was when we met in our twenties, her blond straight hair the complete opposite of my dark curly hair; her deep blue eyes and porcelain skin stark contrasts to my brown eyes and olive skin.
We were opposite in more ways than our looks: She was always late; I was always early. She dressed impeccably in expensive designer duds; I threw things together. She labored over every word she wrote. I churned out copy a mile a minute. She had to associate with the ‘in’ crowd. The cool contingent usually looked at me as an outsider. We nevertheless ‘entertained’ each other in ways no one else could. I found it amusing going to dinner at her house and being served by a housekeeper. I loved getting her older son’s handmedowns for my son. She once told me, ‘I don’t have to go the the theatre when I have you as my friend.’
After seeing her physical deterioration that afternoon, I decided to write to her long-time husband:
Many months ago, as I walked past your apartment building, I saw you and your sons putting L in the back of a cab and saw she was ill. Despite decades of ‘non friendship’ with L my heart is heavy for her, for you and for your family. I know what a wonderful wife and mother she is, things I never quite mastered as well as she. Please know that she is in my thoughts and prayers.
I didn’t expect a response, but did get one a few days later:
Thank you for your generously worded email. Geri, I do remember seeing you walk by, and I did call out to you, but evidently, you did not hear me. L struggles every day and is doing the best that she is able.
Because L can communicate minimally, she does not agree to receive anyone; but, if you feel that it is appropriate, you are welcome to stop by and spend some time with her. She understands everything.
Sincere thanx (sic) for the compliment that you paid to L. I relayed your thoughts to her. Of course, she was pleased to hear them.
Since receiving the email from L’s husband, I’ve learned that she no longer is communicating, and has stopped eating solid foods. I hadn’t visited because I didn’t believe it was appropriate.
When I think back to the hours and hours L and I spent together as young women, it is almost impossible to picture her nearing the end of her life, at 72.
I’ll never forget the winter day, soon after she had her first son in the 1970s,when she picked me up from work in her Jaguar, her doting mother beside her, Christmas presents stuffed into the back seat. She seemed to have the world at her fingertips.
It is also hard to believe how the decades have been so fleeting. My thoughts and prayers are with L. her husband, her sons and her two grandsons. I can imagine how much they will miss her.