Today a friend died. A work-mate. She was my immediate supervisor for the better part of 10 years. My boss, really, when it comes down to it. But a friend nonetheless. The establishment of our mutual employ shuttered the doors seven years ago, so our contact since then has been limited to occasional texts and Facebook exchanges. Likes and comments. Like so many others with whom I shared the bond of a workplace, real personal exchanges have been replaced by virtual, digital ones.
Facebook is how I learned she had cancer. Cholangiocarcinoma: a rare cancer of the bile duct that hardly anyone has ever heard of. In her thirties. A young mother of a two year old boy. A child she and her husband were finally blessed with after years of attempts to conceive. It. Is. Not. Fair.
She fought it well and hard. But as is all too often the case with rare cancers, she lost. She lost and in her final days, I was not there to tell her all the things that people should be telling loved ones when you know you are losing them. How wonderful they are, how they were a force for good and left a positive imprint on your life, how they will be missed and never forgotten.
But death is always about the living. She didn’t need to know any of this from me. She had plenty of others in her life surrounding her and supporting her. I’m sure she knew these things: how loved she was, how important she was to so many. What I am feeling now is not about her, it’s about me and how I figured there would always be more time to connect again. Connect for real, with a hug, sharing laughs, baring smiles that signal unspoken truths of mutual respect, admiration and compassion. Real connection—not just commenting on her status update or liking an inspirational image macro.
After recently hearing that her health was deteriorating and that she was denied acceptance into a clinical trial, I sent her a quick text two weeks ago. I wanted to make sure that was her current active number and I wanted to send a card and needed to verify her address. I also wanted to see her but was unsure how she would feel about it. These are things I would have known had I simply maintained proper contact. She responded to my text that yes, it was her current cell phone number. So I just put off further contact thinking there would be more time.
There was not more time. Earlier this week I was contacted by mutual friends who told me they were going to see her in hospice. Now I know exactly what hospice means, but I was still not prepared. I thought, she just texted me ten days ago, how bad can this be? I knew immediately when I saw her that I was definitely there to say goodbye. We kept it brief out of respect to her family and close friends. I left the hospital absolutely stunned and madder than all hell at myself for not just calling her on the phone just a little bit earlier.
We maintain an illusion that we are “in touch” with people we love because we see their posts on social media. The internet is a great way to keep tabs on the lives of our family and friends but it is no substitute for an actual one-on-one conversation no matter the medium we use. We all seem too busy to meet up for a face to face chat and that’s okay. So just call. Write. Even e-mail.
When people are sick, we feel like we don’t want to bother them. We assume they don’t want visitors or they are too exhausted to speak on the phone or any number of things. This is not our assumption to make. Let them make that decision. Reach out. Always reach out. If they decline a visit or a phone call, simply respect that decision and don’t take it personally. Send a card or a letter, something they can read when it suits them and they don’t necessarily feel compelled to answer.
But do reach out.
Do reach out.