I think that's what I'm going to most remember about yesterday. We went to visit a friend who is shortly about to lose her battle with cancer. A woman of immense courage and determination, she fought that disease with every ounce of her spirit. And though the fight cost her, she won many more battles than she lost.
I remember the precise moment that she told me. Joe and I were driving home from working in Toronto and she called. We chatted like we always did then she took a breath and, just as we were turning onto the ramp onto the Allan Expressway, she told me she had been diagnosed with a viscious and deadly form of cancer. The doctors had told her that the cancer typically killed 18 months from diagnosis. That was many years ago.
Many years of chemotherapy, many years of experimental treatments, many years of harsh regimes of hopeful drugs. And through it all she marched with a passion for living that was astonishing. Everyone around her kept giving up, kept telling her to give up but she never did. It seemed that she had stared her disease in the eye and said 'I am not afraid of you, I will not let you have me, I will not back down.' Where she got the stamina to fight, the ability to deal with round after round of chemo, the sheer determination to live a life of quality - I don't know.
So the week before Christmas when the doctors told her that there was nothing more to be done, nothing on the horizon ... it shocked us all. It had become painfully evident that her spirit was willing but her flesh was weak. We had planned to see her right away but she called and asked for some time, she was tired from years of fighting and she had to begin to rethink the future.
We went to see her yesterday. Tucked in on her couch she looked like a frail child. Until she smiled. She has always had a beautiful smile. And though we talked seriously about what is to come, we laughed. Often. Cancer still hadn't the ability to permeate her spirit. And, it never will.
Now here it is, New Years Eve, and I had planned (and even made notes for)a 'resolutions' blog. But I've been thinking about her ever since the visit. I've been remembering the fact that we laughed. In the midst of sorrow, we laughed. In the midst of grieving, we laughed.
After leaving her we met with other friends for tea. It was difficult, at first, to go from death's door to life's window. But these are good people and we chatted easily. One of them had brought something to share with us. It was a pouch that contained all the things that a woman with a developmental disability had loved and kept near her. This pouch made it out of an institution and into a community home. So many came out with less than they went in, it was amazing that someone had managed, through force of will, to keep what was hers.
We reverently opened the package to see what she had held so tightly onto. At first I was surprised that the pouch had nothing of her. Inside were things from her history, her family. Her parent's passports, a letter from a friend in the old country, a birth certificte, a death notice. But nothing had her name on it. She never tucked in there a single memento from her own life.
And of course not. She kept and cherished her ties to her family, her connections to others, the loose ends that she had so carefully braided together and then held on to. She collected what mattered. Her self is in there, closely bound to the ones that loved her.
I thought of my friend as we looked at this. I thought of the conversations we had just had. Her concerns were not for herself. But for her children, for her family, for her friends. It was like she had openned her heart and found her self through those that love her. She knows that she will die loved, she wants to ensure that those in her life will continue to live, loved.
In the end, dear and gentle readers, this is what I wish for you all next year. Another year of living, loved. Another year of collecting mementos of your life lived in relationship to others. Another year of weaving strong rope from life's loose ends.