A friend of mine passed away last Tuesday. She was only 37.
I’m looking at those words and I still have difficulty absorbing them.
Few thoughts are as unnerving as knowing that someone you care about is no longer on this earth in their physical form. That all that’s left of them is your memories, which fade over time, and photos as digital proof of their once existence.
Her death didn’t come as a complete surprise. A cancer diagnosis six years ago was only the first of three. Three times my poor friend had to endure intensely draining – in all senses of the word – cycles of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I saw her when she lost her hair and covered her head with baseball caps, generally opting out of wigs. As her hair spikily returned, she joked that she looked like a boy, which didn’t bother her. She dealt with her cancer with her unique, sardonic sense of humor.
We met at work in Los Angeles eight years ago. She was one of three people who interviewed me for the job where I’d spend the next five years. I remember how comfortable I felt with her during the interview. There was an openness and warmth about her even though she presented herself somewhat stoically.
For three years, we sat just a few feet away from each other, the backs of our chairs facing the other’s desk. Those chairs got a lot of swivel action as we talked to each other frequently. Our roles were somewhat interdependent, so we worked closely together. It was a partnership which I greatly appreciated. She was incredibly intelligent and hardworking. She didn’t like disappointing people so she sometimes took on more work than she should have. We had many conversations where I implored upon her, as did several others, to push back on some of the requests for the sake of her sanity. She’d nod and agree, but soon revert to her old ways, working too many late hours.
Over time, we became friends and shared a mutual love of travel, dislike of people with no common sense, as well as the mundane in life. She was a person you could trust with a secret and one whose loyalty you never needed to question.
After her second battle with cancer, she decided not to return to work. The type of cancer she had has a 5-year survival rate of 30%. She decided to learn to relax and enjoy life: traveling, spending time with concerned and loving relatives in Korea, eating all the foods that were off-limits during her treatments. She’d wax poetic about red meat, sushi and good whiskey.
She came up to San Francisco for a visit earlier this year just before she was set to begin her third round of treatment. After the Bay Area, she planned to head north to visit friends in Oregon. I had the nagging feeling she was saying her goodbyes.
She was never a spiritual or religious person. She was also not a touchy-feely person. But, on this last trip, she seemed different, less cynical and more serene. I wish I’d recorded her speaking so I could replay that conversation and fill in the gaps in my recall. We talked about life matter-of-factly, not in soothing platitudes. She encouraged and greatly supported my efforts to change careers. I was surprised to learn she was a faithful reader of my blog. It really touched me because her opinion mattered to me.
We both agreed life is too short to waste time on things we don’t care about. It didn’t seem like she was afraid of death, she seemed to have come to terms with her potential fate. At the time, I didn’t want to spend too much energy considering her mortality.
Life is strange. It’s so often unfair. I have asked myself the question many before me have: “Why her? Why now?”
I would never truly wish death on someone, but I have to wonder why a cold-blooded, racist, white supremacist 19-year old man, who murdered nine innocent black people IN A CHURCH and who is adding no value to society, gets to stick around, but my friend who had a kind heart and meant a tremendous deal to so many people, has to go. It makes me angry.
A few friends and I are planning to gather for an informal memorial in her honor. Fittingly, it will be in Koreatown in Los Angeles, site of many good times and fond memories in our group. I think, perhaps more than most people, our friend E- would want us to focus on living the hell out of our lives. We never know when we’ll get called out of the game.
I plan to honor her by continuing to strive to lead the best, most truthful and significant life I can. I’m not always sold on the benefits of walking this earth, but I’m here and I gotta keep living.
My friend, I will miss you. I hope you are at peace wherever you are.