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.