The loss of a loved one is never easy, regardless of the circumstances: young or old, sick or healthy, expected or sudden. It doesn’t really matter what the circumstances are when someone passes away. It only matters that you miss them and wish they could still be with you.
My friend Lise passed away a few years ago, and she’s been busy lately reminding me that she is still with me. She must think I’m a little dense, because the frequency that she’s been reminding me is increasing.
Stage 4 Cancer
When my friend, Lise, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, my husband and I flew from Ontario to Nova Scotia to visit her. When we went to visit, we weren’t sure if there would be any other visits and, if yes, how many more there would be.
Between this visit and the next, Lise and I talked almost daily. After not being part of my life for a long time (after her return to Halifax from Ontario), Lise became a very big part of it again.
Luckily, the following year, my husband and I got to see Lise again. This time my husband drove the 18 hours it takes to get to Halifax. Between this visit and the previous one, Lise’s health had deteriorated, but she was still able to do some activities with us.
When I returned home, the regular phone calls continued and Lise told me stories about how difficult it was for her to walk. She fell almost daily and, each time, she had to call paramedics to come and get her off the floor. Eventually, those same paramedics came and took her to the hospital, where she went into palliative care.
Shortly after that we made our final trip to Halifax. The weather was better than on any of our other trips, but we spent most of our time at the hospital.
About one month after our visit, Lise passed away.
After Lise died I found out she talked to me about topics that she never talked about with anyone else. Even the fact that she had Stage 4 cancer and was terminally ill was not news she shared with friends and family until months (not years) before her death.
I don’t know if she shared her thoughts and feelings with me because I’m just so darn awesome (Option A), I didn’t live near her and therefore she wouldn’t have to see pity on my face (Option B), or I could identify with her, in some small way, because I had been on my own cancer journey (Option C).
I’m sure that Option B was the reason Lise didn’t tell people how ill she really was; she thought people would pity her. Option C was the most likely reason for talking to me, and I can only hope that there was a bit of Option A in there as well.
A Lot in Common
In addition to both of us having had cancer, Lise and I had a lot in common. Our love for M&Ms and writing were at the top of the list.
The Perfect Snack
Even though Lise started as a KitKat person, she eventually saw that M&Ms were a lot brighter and more fun than rectangles you can snap apart.
The only problem with this common love of M&Ms is that I can’t fully enjoy them now because I feel a slight sadness and regret that she isn’t there when I eat them. Truth be told, I don’t know that we would have shared them if we were together. I mean, once she came over to the dark side, the addiction was real. She bought a huge bag of them at Bulk Barn and even the person checking her out (not that way), she commented on how much money that bag of them would cost, but it didn’t matter to Lise. What bothered her was the fact that she thought they would last her a month and she barely made it past the middle.
In addition to M&Ms, Lise and I shared a love of writing. In fact, that’s how we met. We both worked as technical writers at the same company. In fact, she taught me the art of using a semi-colon correctly, and she could spot a problem with a font in seconds. I even called her the font queen. When she retired, she continued to write for a bird-watching organization.
During my cancer journey, I wrote humourous emails about my cancer journey. They allowed me to:
Ultimately, I was able to complete the largest writing project of my life by publishing my book, When Cancer Takes Flight. Lise never got to see the book or read the chapter dedicated to her.
Conflict between Life and the After Life
Now, years after her death, my friend is driving me crazy. I hear her name in my head and I can’t make it stop. One moment I think I have to call her and the next moment I’m reminding myself that Lise is no longer taking calls…at least not on the phone. I think about her when I eat M&Ms, when I see curling on TV, when I see a black cat (hers was named Mulder), and when I type “Lise” instead of “Lisa.” I think of her when I look at the cover of my book.
I complain about all this; however, in reality, I don’t even really need a trigger. I think about Lise all the time. Because of her, I have a newfound appreciation for the impact that those closest to us can have, even after they’ve passed away. The fact that Lise’s name is always somewhere in my head is a testament to her and the bond we’ll always share. Now I have to figure out the best way to let her know that she doesn’t have to keep telling me, “I’m still here. I’m still here. Yes, I’m still here.” My memory is bad, but not that bad.
Well, Lise, are you satisfied that I have acknowledged your presence and that you’re driving me crazy? I love you lady, and think about you with a frequency that I hadn’t expected. Like all the people I know who have passed away, you’ll forever be in my heart and mind. You’re the perfect example of “Gone, but not forgotten.”
Over 30-years of writing experience, over five years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.