My friend Susan died last week. She was very brave and fought against cancer for as long as she could. I decided to write out what I would like to say at her Celebration of Life Event today. I am going to share that here, for those who could not attend to read about my friendship with Susan, and her husband, Andrew. She was 47 years old. Here is what I had written to say, from several little pieces of notepaper, scribbled at 3 am one morning earlier in the week.
I remember feeling sad when Susan told me that she had cancer. We weren’t the closest of friends at that time, but that changed. I had met Susan’s husband before I met her. I joined a gaming group as I was new to Fredericton, and needed to meet people and make friends.
Susan and I met later on, and we had a lot of things in common, including creativity and cats. Oh, how Susan loved all of the kitties! She would save as many as she could, and picked the ones that nobody else would choose. She had a cat with one eye, and a cat that has medical issues that require frequent vet trips. That didn’t matter because Susan loved her cats, and they loved her right back.
I attended a dance lesson in their backyard, once. It was a gathering of friends, and we all participated in learning a medieval dance. It was fun, although I would not be able to do it again without lessons. I returned the favour by bringing Susan to a Zumba class with me. It was after she had been diagnosed, and she did what she could. There were chairs for her to rest in when she was tired. I remember that she had fun, and wanted to go again. That didn’t happen, but it was nice to share the love of dancing with Susan.
You might be wondering why I chose to wear this brightly coloured poncho today. ( I was wearing the same one that is in my profile pic here.) When I started to knit it, I was lost, and rather confused. Knowing that Susan was an avid knitter, I approached her for help with it. She took the time to go over the pattern, and we decided that I needed a chart. She helped me to make the chart, and because she helped me, I have a completed poncho that she helped me to knit. Simple, yet effective. The perfect solution for me and that is why I am wearing it today.
She liked to knit socks for people. I remember being out to buy sock yarn with her, and she was asking if the colours went together well or not. She confided that other people didn’t always like the colour choices she made for knitting socks. She wasn’t so fussy when it was for her own socks, they were just socks. She had been getting feedback on other socks that she had knit for people that the yarn didn’t always match well, so she wanted to check on the colours before buying yarn if she was making socks for gifts.
When she found out I wanted to work on knitting, she lent me her Stitch and Bitch knitting book. I think I kept it a little too long. When she asked for it back, I actually went out and bought my own copy. I never told her that.
I have attempted to join in on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) events. For those that do not know what it is, it is a worldwide movement for authors to write a whole book in November, and it is an annual event. I tried a few times, but have decided that it is not the format for me, and I am now a Nano Cheerleader. Susan loved to host the events for Nano, and was very proud to show me her Nacho Hat platter that was used for the Nano events. She was a great leader in the Nano world, and people looked forward to her launch and closing parties. Unlike myself, she was a Nano winner. She recently gave me a book she wrote, called “Freaks in Fredericton.” I plan to read it when I feel ready, and I guess I will have to wait to discuss it with her in another place and time.
(I added a bit here about FredNoWriMo, the local branch, and that the theme is Superhero this year.)
When Susan was needing to be more cheerful, she would often turn to Youtube. Sometimes we would sit and watch cat videos. Other times it would be music. She introduced me to the guy that takes tweets from Twitter and turns them into songs. Her favourite was the one with the ukulele and he is singing, “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows.” That is the whole song.
She also introduced me to Post Modern Jukebox. They take current songs and cover them in different styles from different eras.
(This was the end of page one, and the start of page two. I had a harder time with page two.)
One thing I learned from both Susan and Andrew, her husband, was that it was OK to talk to them about things that were happening in my life. I didn’t want to bother them with my issues, they seemed to be insignificant when they were dealing with her diagnosis. We came to an understanding that it was OK to talk about things and that we would all be real when we were visiting. In a way, it might have helped them to have something less impactful to talk about, and as friends that talked about problems together, I think it helped them, just as much as it helped me to have a place that was safe to talk about anything. It made me realize that because they realized that what mattered to me was important, that made me, their friend, important. What a beautiful gift of friendship to share.
She often expressed a hate for cancer. I agree with her on that. One day, when she was having a particularly difficult time finding the right words to express her thought, she accurately said that she hated her brain. I knew exactly what she meant, but I still don’t know how to correctly respond to that comment.
I wanted to be a good friend to Susan, even if I knew that it would tear me up inside after she was gone. The last thing I said to her was, “See you later.” I hate goodbyes.I hope to be a better friend because of my friendship with you.
It surprised me when people told me after that I did very well, and that I should be a public speaker, not a writer. In the last few months, I have also been told I should be a comedian. I try to be funny, but it doesn’t always work. I blank out after speaking in public, so I don’t always know if it went well or not unless I ask someone after I am done. I did read in Church when I was old enough, and they taught me the few basic skills I used today. Pacing yourself, pausing to look at the people, and just making sure that you speak clearly into the microphone. I did need a minute near the end, but I expected that. I managed to do my best, and that is all I wanted to do.
It was not easy to do that today, even if it seemed like it may have been before page two. I had to just focus on the task of reading what I had written. Knowing another friend had given it a read before today helped, she said it was perfect. What do you say when there are no words to express how you feel? You think about the good times and write from the heart. Sometimes there are no words. I was blessed to have known her and to be able to tell her family just how important she was to me, as my friend.
Grief happens, because it is a part of life, and life happens. We all experience grief in different ways, and at different times. There are stages of grief, and they are well documented by experts. My story today was inspired by a recent wave.
I have been lucky, to be 42 years old, I have lost some of my grandparents, and their siblings, and two of my uncles; but most of my immediate family members are alive. I dread the coming days when that changes. It will happen, and I will have to deal with it unless I die before the rest of my family. I don’t dwell on it, and I don’t live in fear of what will be. We all have our time, and there is nothing we can do to avoid it. What we can do is live, and try to follow the moral guidelines we hold dear to our souls.
In the years since I have moved to Fredericton, NB, I have experienced the loss of some friends. It is a hard thing to learn to live with, the loss of a close friend. There are two people in particular that I am thinking of. They were my friends, and I still miss them.
I don’t focus on the loss, once time passes, and the funeral becomes a little less fresh in my mind. I have a lamp that one of these friends gave me, at my desk. It has an arm and hinges to tighten to hold the lamp in the position I want it to stay in.
Every once in a while, the lamp tilts down. I have always seen this as my friend’s ghost checking up on me. It may sound silly, but I say hi to him whenever it has fallen down. This friend became ill when a virus attacked his heart. He had some time to prepare for the end, and we all knew it would happen. We had all gathered in the hospital to show support for him and his wife, near the end. It struck me hardest before he was gone, one of our mutual friends had gone in to see him, and he was not in very good shape. I wanted to know if she had told him that my husband and I were there, so he would know. She said she had told him for us. When this friend dropped me off at home, I was alone. I leaned against my door, after I had closed it, and had my cry. I cried off and on for a week, little fits here and there, but that was my moment when I let myself feel the pain of losing that friend.
On New Year’s Eve, 2016, I was with the same group of friends, celebrating the beginning of 2017. It was our annual house party, and it is always a potluck. We meet, have a few drinks, eat, talk, and play games. If there is a World Juniors Hockey Game being aired, my husband makes our hostess turn on a TV, so he can enjoy what is notably the best hockey in the world, especially if Team Canada is playing.
When we came home, it was 2017. I had enjoyed a lovely evening and was in good spirits. I walked over to my desk, and the lamp had tilted while I was out. I said hello and happy new year and did something I haven’t done before. I sent a group message to the other friends that were at the party with me and passed on the story, and a happy new year from our friend’s ghost. It felt like the right thing to do.
The other friend died more recently, we are quickly approaching the one year mark. We became fast friends when we met on a dance floor. I had talked to her on occasion before that night. When my friends wanted to bail I asked her if I was welcome to hang out with her for the rest of the evening, and it started a beautiful friendship that ended way too soon.
It was the big C she was fighting when she lost the battle. Cancer is awful, and she fought like a warrior; until she couldn’t anymore. My friend was vibrant, beautiful, and had just started a new phase in her life. She had moved away for school. She was an artist, and learning was something she was passionate about. We kept in touch on Facebook, and she was really enjoying the courses she was taking.
One day she confided in me that she had found a lump, and it was cancer. I stayed in touch, and we chatted about school, her cats, her treatments, and her apartment adventures. One day I realized that she hadn’t been saying much. She was losing her fight. I started a conversation; that was the last one we were going to have. I was trying to be supportive and positive. It wasn’t working. So, I did what I do best. I got her laughing. We went down a silly path in that conversation about her feelings about cancer. She got to vent, creatively. I like to think I helped her deal, in a very small way.
This week, I saw an ad for a band I like that is coming to town. I always go to see them, and I don’t plan anything different this time around. I was sharing it on my wall when it hit me. I had introduced my friend to this band before she moved away. We had a blast, and she liked them, too. She was a people watcher and was confused by the mixture of people and styles of the other fans that were there. We decided that they were Preppies, Hipsters, and Lumberjacks. Plaid and beards and all mixed with a few clean-cut well dressed glasses wearing people. An odd mixture, but all present enjoyed the show, as always. I took her a little out of her comfort zone that night, but we had a lot of fun, and it was worth it.
So the other night, when the memory of seeing the band with her the last time they were in town hit me, I was sitting at my desk; overwhelmed with grief. I let the tears fall. It was completely unexpected but necessary. That’s the thing about grief, it has to run its course. Things happen, and you feel sad sometimes. It is what it is. It is healthier to deal with the feelings when they arise, instead of bottling them inside, where they fester and grow. Not letting your feelings out is toxic, and it never ends well, because instead of a healthy release, it could be an explosion, and the aftermath of that could be a bigger disaster than you are able to handle. So focus on the good times, and the memories that make you smile. When you need to express your grief, you don’t always get to choose when or how that happens, but it is necessary to help you move past the grief being so heavy on your heart all of the time. There is nothing wrong with grieving, and I do cry when I am overcome with grief. I try to be alone if I can, but you can’t plan it every time. You just have to deal with it, and keep moving forward, until it isn’t so raw. The important part is to let it out, so you can begin to heal.
It never goes away. I will always miss my friends, but I am still here, and I have to keep on living. One minute at a time, to a day at a time; whatever I am capable of in that moment. My first friend made me promise to take good care of my health, and I am honouring his memory by doing my best to be healthier. My second friend was an artist, and I am working towards writing a book this year. She would be proud that I am working on a lifelong goal, and as we had talked about many things during our friendship; she would also be happy to know I am working on my health and cleaning and organizing my house before getting the book started. She had a preferred method for upkeep on cleaning styles, and I plan to get that method in place when the deep clean is done, so I keep up with it for the long-term. That is how I am honouring her memory. This is important too, it helps me keep them in my heart, without causing more grief. If you don’t have a special way to honour the memory of a lost loved one, start one.
Random acts of kindness are a positive way to do good for someone else, and in your heart, it can be from your loved one, in their memory. Take whatever time you need to decide what it will be, and follow through. This way, it won’t just be yourself that you help, it just might help someone else cope a little better in their day, too. Even if it only makes you feel better for an hour, it is a start, and by helping others, you can begin to help yourself heal in a positive way.