What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger*

*Except sometimes it sneaks back around and kills you on the second try. That’s what happened to my friend, C.

Let me back up. Two years ago I was working for a great organization that shelters homeless women and children. I’m a big fan of that organization and the people who work there. C was my colleague. We worked well together.

About a year-and-a-half ago, C and I were both making some career moves. We sat in a coffee shop downtown and talked about the future. Just now I got a little stabbing pain in my heart when I wrote that last sentence because, at that point, just 18 months ago, C thought she had a future.

She had good reason to think that. She was in her late fifties, I think, and healthy, as far as she knew. She and her husband liked to travel and bicycle together. And she had two teenaged children who needed more of her time. That’s why she was shifting to a part-time job. Her kids needed her. (There’s that stabbing pain again.)

We kept in touch, but not very often. Then, earlier this year, she called me and asked for help. She had cancer, she said, and she had a major deadline coming up. Foundations don’t waive their deadlines just because the grantwriter is in chemotherapy, it turns out. She handed the project over and I completed it while she completed her course of chemo.

About three months ago we met again. She bounced into the coffee shop sporting a stylish wig and a big smile. She looked great. She told me she felt great. Chemo was over and the radiation part would be a cakewalk. We talked about the future again. She wanted to work for an arts organization. Yes, just three months ago, C still thought she had a future.

I never saw her again. I called her once to check in, but didn’t catch her. I should’ve tried again. I should’ve.

Last week she died. I found out from a Facebook post from the organization we worked for. I was stunned. I’m still stunned. You’d think the word “cancer” would’ve clued me in, but somehow, I didn’t know she was going to die.

So, okay. That happens. People die, with varying degrees of unexpectedness. Nothing else to say. That just happens.

Yesterday I was driving home from work and one of my favorite songs came on the radio: Aerosmith’s Dream On. I was singing along until I got to this part:

Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away

And then I wasn’t singing anymore because I had burst into tears. That’s how I know I’m emotionally overwrought, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being emotionally overwrought. I am stable and calm to the point of unflappability. Usually. Also, crying while driving is hazardous. It impairs your vision and causes you take your hands off the steering wheel to wipe your eyes.

I’m cross-posting this on my old Xanga site. If you want to leave me a comment, here or there, please don’t tell me you’re sorry my friend died. Tell me which old friend of yours you picked up the phone and called. Thanks.


8 thoughts on “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger*

  1. I met a friend last summer who just texted me today to see if I could meet her at the writer’s workshop again. And I just got off the phone with my oldest and closest friend, alive and well in Colombia. She comes from your part of the world. But I will also tell you that the husband of a good friend, a guy who recently saw his dream come true when he was elected to the office of his dreams, was just diagnosed with cancer. It’s an ugly thing.

  2. One of my bosses I really like just relapsed after six months of being in remission. She’s a testament to what surviving really means. And she’s definitely someone, if we lost her, there’s be only standing room at her service.

  3. After my sister died I finally went through her room to pack it up (she had been living with me) and I found a note I wrote to her telling her how happy I was she was living with me and what a great sister she was. I think that’s why I still make the effort to write notes to people today.

  4. Well, I didn’t pick up the phone because I’m not good at phone picking-upping. But I did e-mail a friend mercilessly until she e-mailed back. I will have to write more notes.

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