Death of a friend

A friend and former colleague died today. I dedicate this blog post to her memory.

I met this lady 39 years ago when she came for a job interview at the children’s mental health centre where I worked at the time.  She got the job and worked at that institution through her career seeing countless children and adolescents for psychometric assessments.

At work and in her life outside of work she had many friends.  People were drawn to her kind and gentle nature.  After a divorce, she raised two children as a single parent.  The children, now young adults, were her greatest source of pride. She was also a gardener, pet lover, and cook.

In late 2015, an aggressive form of cancer was diagnosed.  She had surgery followed by the usual regimes of chemo, radiation, tests, scans, more surgery etc. etc.  She fought for her health courageously for almost two years.  In this time she never lost her sense of optimism.  Instead, she remained hopeful about the future.

Three months ago she came to my house for lunch.  We visited for four hours over food, wine and coffee. Her cancer was in remission and she was making plans to return to work.  Shortly after this visit a tumour was found on her brain which meant more surgery.

I visited her when she returned home sporting a grand arc of stitches and clamps on a clean-shaven head. We joked that her wigs would truly be an asset.  Mostly we talked about ordinary things — her spring garden, the bread that I baked for her, and the house maintenance that she was planning.

The final visit was two weeks ago when she was hospitalized again.  We both knew this would be a final good-bye.  She could remove the oxygen mask only for moments but we did have a final chat.

What does one say at the end?  The words I chose reflected how much I admired her strength as a single parent.  I also noted that she could take pride in the professional work that she accomplished during her long career. Finally, I thanked her for the resilience she demonstrated in fighting cancer and told her it was an important example of great courage for everyone around her. I told her that many people loved her and that she would be missed by each of us. We hugged each other and I left with a heavy heart.

From others who visited her, I know that she seemed at peace during the final days and hours of her life.

As we grow older, the experience friends and family members dying becomes part of our journey.  Grieving means acknowledging a life that is over.  It also means acknowledging our own fears of death even if we expect to live for many more decades. Perhaps, it’s time to take a moment to acknowledge mortality, recognize that death is inevitable, and to celebrate the simple joy of living each day to its fullest.

14 Replies to “Death of a friend”

  1. Carmen Howison says: Reply

    Nice expressions of affection for your friend and colleague. She was a good human being facing with strenght and courage the darkness of this illness. You had experiences together that will keep your memories alive and hopefully give a modecum of solace and inspiration to their children. May she rest in the light. Hugs.

    1. She was a special friend. She was courageous to the end of her life. As we grow older, all of us are losing relationships. It’s only the memories that we must cherish.
      Be well,Jeanette

  2. Jeanette , this is a well written tribute to Erica. She was a very upbeat person, had a great laugh. She will be missed. Myself, I was fortunate enough to battle two different types of cancer with success, even though I lost a kidney. Hope all is well with you, take care hugz Ron.

    1. Ericka faced her cancer diagnosis with great courage. You’re so right — she will be missed. I’m happy to hear that your journey with cancer was more successful. I’m sure your appreciate life very differently because of your experiences. be well,
      Jeanette

  3. Hi Jeanette,
    Lovely sentiments –she was indeed a kind and gentle person. She was true to herself through and through. After a visit a few months ago, I commented to her that she was so buoyant, even though she’d recently had to undergo more treatments. Her response was, “Well, you know me, I just can’t stay down for long. It’s not me.” So true. So missable.

    1. All of us will miss her in untold ways. She was a special person — kind, generous, witty, and a loyal friend. We need more people like Ericka.

  4. Shannon-Lee Kelly says: Reply

    Hi Jeanette, what a lovely tribute to your friend. I wonder if I knew her? I just arrived home last night from my two years in Vietnam, so I am not up to speed with news her. If you wouldn’t mind sharing I would be interested to know who it was. You write beautifully!! I kept a blog every day for the last two years on my journey in Vietnam and it was a wonderful way to feel supported by friends, and share my adventures with those at home! I hope you are well!!

    1. Hi Shannon-Lee,
      Welcome back. Of course you knew this kind and gentle lady. I was writing about Ericka M. She worked with all of us!
      Be well,
      Jeanette

  5. Well said Jeanette. What a loving tribute.

    1. Thanks Barb. I know you visited to say good-bye. We’ll share memories and celebrate her life when we gather at the cottage in September.
      Be well,
      Jeanette

  6. Michael Goodmurphy says: Reply

    Great tribute to your colleague. I believe I know who you are talking about and she was a lovely person. As you know I am on the cancer journey myself and trying to maintain the optimism and spirit that were part of her journey. Thanks for sharing this beautiful tribute.

    1. I know that you are bravely fighting cancer and doing what you can to maintain your health, energy and optimism. I hope the drugs you told me that you are taking continue to help you deal with this terrible diagnosis. I’m sure that your own journey has involved unpredictability, uncertainty and fear. Please stay strong and positive.

  7. Oh, Jeanette, this is so sad. I am sorry that you have lost this dear friend and colleague. Thank you for sharing your tribute to her memory. How difficult it must have been to say goodbye at that final visit. I admire your courage in writing about her life and its end. We need to come to terms with these tough days. It’s been 14 years since I lost someone close to me, and I’ve insulated myself from the painful feelings, but they come flying back at moments like these.

    Rin

    1. Good evening Rin,
      Writing about my friend’s death provided solace and helped me to deal with the sad news. Although I considered not making a final visit, I was blessed to have had the opportunity for a good-bye. It’s normal to insulate and protect ourselves when we lose a friend or family member. Grief is not fashionable in our culture yet we need to understand it’s inevitability, face our fears, and deal with the emotions. I’m not surprised that your feelings of a loss that happened so many years ago creep back at unexpected moments — a powerful reminder of your humanity!
      Be well,
      Jeanette

      Be well

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