I Lost a Friend Today …

1 Oct

Death … almost since birth people have been preparing us for it, attempting to lessen the fear of it, to make it more acceptable. We need to know about death as children so we can try to understand where grandparents & aged family friends go when they suddenly just aren’t there anymore.

As children we were, I believe, also being programmed to accept the death of beloved pets who met untimely demises on the streets & highways that ran heavily with rush hour traffic just outside our own front yards.

If we have faith, there is great comfort in knowing that there is a better place where, after death, we will be reunited with those we’ve loved & lost; a place where we are free from pain & disability.

At the end of my mother’s life she stressed to me that she wasn’t afraid; that death was just a part of life.

Maybe we become hardened to death & the idea of it because it’s such a pervasive part of our media culture. Almost every cop show or action show includes death in some form; the bad guys getting shot, the hero dying while saving someone who is imperative to the continuation of the plot, the show & its ratings.

All this media exposure with the bad guy who died in an episode of Law & Order on Monday showing up on Thursday Dancing with the Stars has to be confusing for young people. Maybe that’s why so many pick up the family gun or a bottle of pills or toss a rope over the door on the shower stall ending their lives during times of extreme stress. Maybe, invested in the media version of death, they expect to pop back into life just in time to check their iPhone for the latest app. But life … & especially death isn’t like that at all.

Death is something most of us avoid dwelling on until a close encounter with a rabid fox, a venomous snake or a life threatening disease becomes our “wake-up” call. If we don’t succumb to any of those things at the time or on the spot, then we have a moment of clarity in which to do a little personal research into the death-thing. Primarily, & in the beginning we’re just glad it passed us by.

Having my personal encounter with cancer made me aware of a number of things including that the being mortal part of life makes us susceptible to the death-thing. A whisper of death at your ear will certainly get your attention. For me I realized that all the stuff I’d been wanting to do & putting off needed to be done because I didn’t want to miss anything. So that’s what I did & I have been grateful for that adjustment in my viewpoint. I’ve done a lot, haven’t missed much of what I’ve wanted to do & I’m grateful for each new day whether the weather is bad or good or whether it’s a great day or a suckie one. They all have taken on new significance.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. A lot of people, I believe, don’t come face-to-face with that realization until the death-thing is sucking the life out of them & their moment of clarity is reduced to that unexpected “Oh, Shit!” moment.

Today I lost a friend & she is all I’ve been able to think about all day long.

Her dying wasn’t unexpected; she’d suffered with a recurrence of breast cancer for the past 4 years that had invaded her bones & insulted her strength & tenacity. When hospice came in this summer to help out, she assured me they were only there to care for the port she’d had surgically inserted to make taking her pain meds easier. She said, “I’m not going to be dying any time soon” & I believed her. I believed her because I couldn’t allow myself to see past the trees into that dark area in the forest. I told her, “Thank goodness you’re not planning any one-way trips” & she laughed.

Cathy was pretty … not the wholesome, all-American girl beauty we so often see but stunningly attractive. Her face made anyone who met her do a quick intake of breath & that beauty spilled over into her personality.  She was immediately friendly, which conflicted with preconceived ideas one might have about the exceptionally attractive. She was approachable & easily became your friend.

Cathy lived in Las Vegas long before I met her. She met her husband who swept her off her feet, married her & moved them to New Orleans where their only child, a son, was born. Hurricane Katrina uprooted them & sent them to Lynchburg with his job. We met them because they, like us were huge Star Trek fans &, like an “enterprising” magnet, they found us & our science fiction group. At that time Cathy was just recovering from the harsh treatment she received for lymphoma.

Cathy & her family joined our science fiction club & we became personal, social friends.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, just 5 months ahead of my diagnosis, she helped me when it was my turn to deal with a “mammogram gone wrong.” She told me what to expect at each juncture, even while she was undergoing chemotherapy for her own disease. When we were both better & I started hosting my TV talk show, “Lynchburg Live,” Cathy was one of the 2 guests I had on my very first show discussing dealing with breast cancer.

Having been cancer free for several years, in 2011 she told me she’d found an enlarged lymph node in her neck. A trip to the surgeon confirmed her worst fears … her cancer was back.

So much has happened between that discovery & her death today that involves strength & courage & determination & humor. It involves Cathy meeting her mortality head on & daring that death-thing to touch her until her son was older & her husband was healthier … until she was ready. And Cathy defied the odds.

She took belly dancing lessons & performed. She went back to school at a local college & took classes in stuff that really interested her, she became active in a local theater group & performed in plays … she lived her life. She & her husband enjoyed their time together & watched as their son excelled in school & in golf & left in August to begin his freshman year at the University of Virginia.

I think Cathy finally just got tired, though. How could she not?

She has been a friend, a person who could always make me laugh, an inspiration to ALL who knew her & an example of how to live life to the fullest even when it was threatened to be cut short by that cancer-thing.

Because Cathy & I are both Star Trek fans I believe it’s appropriate to quote a line from Star Trek II. Admiral Kirk tells Mr. Spock, “How we face death is equally as important as how we face life.” Cathy was the personification of that quote. She faced life with gusto & enthusiasm & a determination to squeeze every drop out of it before putting her head down & finally allowing herself to rest. She faced death with courage, strength, determination & humor. She ran a good race & stepped across the “finish” line with grace & dignity.

I went to the bank this afternoon. Cars & trucks were streaming down the highway as they always do. The girl at the drive-thru window at the bank smiled & said how beautiful the weather was. I smiled & agreed with her but in my mind I was wondering how everything could just keep on keeping on when Cathy was gone. The world hadn’t even hiccuped or blinked at her passing. Then I decided it might be because of something like that special line, also from Star Trek II, “She’s really not dead as long as we remember her …”

 I will miss my friend; her wit, her humor, the sound of her laughter, that streak of goofiness, her rare beauty, her strength, the joy she found in life. Not only will we remember her… those of us who loved her… but we will forever be better people because she was a part of our lives.

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8 Responses to “I Lost a Friend Today …”

  1. Leslie Miller October 2, 2014 at 2:58 am #

    So sorry for the loss of your friend Linda, she sounded like an amazing person

    Like

    • heimdalco October 2, 2014 at 3:26 am #

      She was & too young to have gone through all she went through. Thanks, Leslie … love you

      Like

  2. Lucilla Humphries October 2, 2014 at 4:07 am #

    Sorry to hear about your friend–we’re never really ready for it, but as a dear friend of mine said to me ,as she was dying “Lucilla, there are things worse than death”, and we all know that can be true.

    Like

    • heimdalco October 2, 2014 at 4:13 am #

      Exactly, Lucilla. My mom said the same thing after having a colonoscopy with sedation that didn’t work. She said it to her surgeon, too & told him, “Never again.”

      Cathy had been dealing with a recurrence of her breast cancer for so long but she was a fighter. I will miss her

      Thanks for reading my blog. Sometimes writing is very cathartic for me.

      Like

  3. Willy October 3, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    I’ve read it over and over and each time finding something I remember about her. I really thought she was a special person too and I will miss her.

    Like

  4. Gail McCullen Koester October 7, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Such a wonderfully beautiful tribute. Definitely food for thought. Thank you!

    Like

    • heimdalco October 7, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

      Thank you so much Gail. Losing Cathy has been a tremendous loss.

      Like

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