Those of you who follow these humble posts will know that this is the third time in half a year that I have lost a friend – a sad commentary on my stage of life. Many of the finest I have known no longer walk amongst us.
How do you encapsulate the life of someone you held dear in no more than a few hundred words? I don’t know. I struggle each time that I am called upon to do it, and so, like most authors when faced with this time honored situation, I find a quiet place and wait for the right thoughts to come.
Quiet, though, somehow seems wrong with my friend T for she was rarely so. For many years we worked as a team in a large open space that was filled with the hustle and bustle of several hundred people, and yet, T’s voice would carry over the walls that separated cubicles – a strong stream of words among the whole.
You could always count on T to be complaining about something – the traffic, the weather, the work load, a file gone astray. It was the constant day-to-day irritants of life that got to her, and I always wanted to throw my arms around her and say that it would be okay and I recognized her contribution. Instead, I worked hard to make sure we shared a laugh and I somehow eased her way.
In reality, T had much to complain about. Her body was riddled with rheumatoid arthritis, and her job required her to be on her feet lifting heavy files for much of the day. Most of the time during which we worked side by side, her landlord was threatening to evict her. Love, true and lasting love, seemed to have eluded her. Money was always tight. And yet, while they were not hidden, these were not the things that filled her conversation.
T craved above all for the world around her to be both right and fair – a noble and yet futile quest. A victim of workplace unfairness herself, she struggled on – a champion for others. Hers was a relentless search if a file was lost in her quest for all to be made right. Those who worked under her leadership recognized an able teacher, a strong supporter, and a powerful protector. I have never known a harder or smarter worker.
Her greatest joy was her family – two daughters and their children. When her sister was married, we all heard of it for months and viewed countless pictures afterwards. It’s no wonder then that in her final days it was they who surrounded her.
In her youth, T had trained to be an LPN and immediately nursed two generations of her family through their final illnesses. As she herself lay dying, many of those who knew her worried about the care she was receiving in the facility that could be afforded and was convenient – a sad commentary on healthcare as we now know it.
I have lost a husband, both of my parents, my grandparents, and a host of friends, but with T I have found acceptance of her loss to be somewhat harder.
“Annie…Annie Acorn!” I barely turned around before becoming embraced in a huge bear hug the last time that I saw her. Circumstances had now placed us in separate buildings, and I had been called to hers for a meeting.
Happiness seemed to burst from the woman before me. She had lost a few pounds and looked at least twenty years younger. For the first time since I had met her, she appeared fresh and rested. Her eyes shone forth, shadows beneath them gone. There was a sense of peace in her demeanor that I had never seen before. In short, she looked like a million dollars.
Much had changed in her life and the girl’s, she told me – all of it for the good. We needed to get together for lunch, and she would tell me all about it. She would call me the next week, and we would arrange to meet in the cafeteria. I gave her one last squeeze and turned away, already late for another meeting, glad to see her looking and feeling so good.
Two weeks later, I realized that I hadn’t received the promised call and made a note to follow-up with her. The following week, I heard that a large tumor had been discovered in her abdomen, already connected to several major organs. Immediately scenes of T and my friend, V, smoking cigarette after cigarette on the walkway outside of our building streamed through my mind. Can you blame me for being anti-smoking?
I will never believe that T knew she was ill the last time that I saw her. T’s final weeks on Earth were not to be a gentle sliding into that sweet night. Rumors abounded as the family sought some privacy. Words like cervical cancer, brain tumor, stroke, and less than ninety pounds ran through the phone calls as a collection was taken up to help T and her girls. And then, came the final word, hospice, and I prayed, “Let this be over for her.”
Now, only a few weeks later, T is gone, and the world is a lesser place without her. How I wish I could hug her, or barring that share just one more laugh. At least, I know, she knew I cared.
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