Sunday, July 06, 2014

Cancer Sure Knocked The Wind Out Of My Sails

On my break at work last night I received some very sad news: a dear friend of mine [let's call her Anne], one of the greatest people I have ever known, has pancreatic cancer and has probably less than two months to live.  I have wrote in the past that death is just a part of life, and I still believe that, but man, this one bites.  This also comes on the heels of a childhood friend's dad dying and two friends who have lost dogs they've had for many, many years. 

The friend who informed me of Anne's cancer told me she's too weak to let everyone know, so she asked him to tell various friends, including me.  I'm glad he did.

He said I should write her a letter, and I felt like I should.  This is, in part, what I wrote:

My Dearest [Anne] (and you are very dear to me indeed),

You can imagine the shock I must have felt when [our mutual friend] told me you had pancreatic cancer and would not be pursuing treatment for it.  It was as if someone told me the sun would stop shining soon or air would no longer be available to breathe.  That may sound a bit hyperbolic, but it is how I feel. 

I don’t know how much time you have left, but I can’t imagine it is relatively much, so I wanted to get this letter off to you as soon as I could to just remind you how much you have meant to me.  I know you know I love and adore you, but I hope you know that meeting and knowing you has been one of the great privileges of my life.  I know our friendship may not be as close or as long as some of your other relationships, but since I met you, my life has been richer for it as I know it must be for anyone who knows and loves you.

You are truly one of the kindest and most generous souls I have met during my sojourn on this planet.  If I may say so, you are pure light.  You’re the kind of person who, when you walk in a room, fills that room with light and joy and effervescence and makes anyone else in the room feel more buoyant and happy.  You’re the kind of person people just want to be around because you have such an optimism of spirit.  You are good, and in a world that often has a lot of unpleasantness, you are truly a breath of fresh air.

I remember when I first met you...  I immediately adored you...

I remember you and [Rick (Anne's husband)] inviting us into your home and it was such a wonderful time.  I and Mark sharing with us your memorabilia from your days on Broadway.  But mostly, I just remember feeling the love, laughter, and friendship in that room.

I remember your coming to see Little Shop of Horrors, I think it was.  It was such a joy to see you again.  And I’ve enjoyed the brief contacts we’ve had via email since then.

Knowing you, I imagine you are at peace with where you are in life and the circumstances in which you now find yourself.  I imagine the hardest part will be having to leave those you love behind for a season.  I know if I’m feeling the way I’m feeling right now, this is probably especially hard for [Rick and Cecily (Anne's daughter)].

Mortality sure does have a way of kicking you in the teeth sometimes.  As you may know, I lost my mom about ten months ago.  Although it gets easier, the pain of losing her never leaves.  I miss her every single day of my life.  It was hard to watch dementia alter her just as I’m sure it is difficult to see what cancer is doing to you, my vivacious friend.  But I suppose these things are a part of the life we lead here on earth.  All of us must face the travails of mortality and aging eventually, and there are many wonderful lessons to be learned from it, even if those lessons are sometimes accompanied by pain.  Watching my mother’s last days was very illuminating for me.  Caring for her made me a better and less selfish person.  Facing death with her was an extremely spiritual experience.

The day Mom died I was sitting in her room listening to some of the most beautiful harp music I had ever heard being performed by a harpist the hospice provided.  As I let this gorgeous and ethereal music envelop me, I looked around the room in Mom’s assisted living facility and saw all the photos she had hanging on the walls, and as I looked at the snapshots from my mom’s life, I was made aware of just what a full and wonderful life she had led, and I was crying tears of joy because I was so glad it had been such a good, fulfilling life.  I was grateful that she (and my late father) had raised us children well and instilled us with the values that have shaped our lives ever since.  I realized that although she was leaving us, the legacy she left behind will influence generations to come.

The angel Clarence says to George Bailey in
It’s a Wonderful Life, “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”  The loss of my mother has left such a hole in my life, although I know she is still around because I feel her spirit often, but it’s not the same as seeing her face or touching her hand or hearing her voice.

When it comes time to make your transition into whatever lies beyond this mortal life, you will leave “an awful hole.”  The world will be poorer for losing you, but so rich for what you have left behind.  The influence you’ve had on friends and family is more far-reaching than you can ever imagine.  You will be leaving behind a legacy of love, joy, and inspiration.  I know you are not gone yet, but I want you to know how very sad I will be when you are.  My life is so much richer for having known and loved you.  I will always love you, my friend. 

Whatever remains of your mortal journey, my dear
[Anne], I hope that it will be as pain-free and as comfortable for both you and your loved ones as is humanly possible.  I pray that your days with [Rick and Cecily] will be filled with more happiness than sadness and more love than fear.

[Our mutual friend] told me you are weak, so I don’t expect to hear back from you.  I hope my letter doesn’t seem too maudlin or macabre.  I am a realist, and death is not a frightening aspect of life for me; it just is a part of life.  I only wanted you to know the amazingly positive effect you’ve had on my life (and I’m sure the lives of everyone you have ever touched) and how much I love and miss you and will miss you.  Please give my love to [Rick and Cecily] as well.


Your friend,


Losing someone you love is never easy, but this one really sucks. 

No comments: