Updated: Nov 7, 2019
This is a fictionalized account of events in my life, written as an essay.
I finally went to talk to her last week. It had been eight years since she died and I still mourned for her. I wound my way through the old-fashioned little cemetery, through quaint headstones and markers, searching for her spot. Finally, I found her, on a little rise, shaded by a nearby birch tree. Her stone was simple and spare, as she would have wanted. It said, tersely, "Lillian Colbert, 1933-1998, Beloved Wife and Mother."
I stared at it, feeling the sorrow and aloneness all over again. I don't make friends, really close friends, easily. I'm a bit of a loner. There is always that inner core that I keep to myself, and always that fear of exposure that keeps me insulated. But when I do meet that special friend, I am fiercely loyal and committed.
Lillian had become a very dear and close friend over the twenty five years we had known each other. She was one of those rare, warm and open people who drew others into her circle of light. She was interested in everyone she met and made them feel like they really mattered in her life. She was one of the very few in whom I could confide and be confident she wouldn't betray my trust. And she always took me seriously. Together we commiserated with each other in our child rearing problems, and shared each other’s joy in happy events. We shared laughter and ideas as well as tribulations. She was the wise woman I called when I had a problem. She made me feel like I could do anything, that I was special. She listened to me, and I to her.
We could go for weeks without talking to each other, both busy raising our children and involved in daily life. But when we got back together, it was as if we had just seen each other yesterday. We never felt guilt for not calling when we were busy, we just understood that we only had to pick up the phone whenever needed.
When I learned about her lymphoma, it was like a blow to my stomach. I wanted to make her well. I prayed. When she went through her chemo, I cared for her youngest child, much younger than his grown siblings. Once, when she had to be in isolation for a week, I brought her a bag full of small wrapped treats, (a book, candy, a paddle ball, games, and for the last day, a small bottle of wine), one for each day of the week, to give her something to look forward to. She loved that. Other times, when she was recovering at home, I'd bring her her favorite Starbucks coffee drink, or some homemade treat.
She went into and out of remission for ten years, and, always, in spite of her upbeat attitude, there was that dread hanging over our relationship. How long would this remission last? When would she have to go into chemo again.
My husband was close friends with her husband, Don, also, and we all did things together. I'll never forget the weekend we spent at the Oregon coast in a lovely place close to the water. We went for walks and sat in silence, watching the waves, each lost in our own thoughts. I wondered if this would be the last time we would enjoy such an occasion. We ignored the black cloud hanging over us and talked and laughed and played board games. Always in the back of my mind was the niggling thought, how much longer would I have this special person in my life?
When the end came I couldn't face it. I kept busy with work and my family. She died with her husband holding her hand, in her own bed at home. A hospice person was there to aid them, and another friend. But I couldn't be there. I couldn't face that last goodbye. I wept like a coward at home. I went to the funeral, even sang at it, but not the burial. I felt that I had betrayed her at the end. And I waited eight years, when I had finally distanced myself from the pain, to admit it was time to say goodbye.
So how do you accept that the loss is forever? New friends had come into my life, and I loved them, but it was never the same. There was still that missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of my life. That space would always be empty.
I knelt by her marker. "I'm here," I told her. "I'm sorry I let you down at the end. I loved you, but I couldn't watch you go. You know I'll always miss you."
I hoped she knew I was there. I hoped she forgave me. I laid my flowers on her grave. A feeling of peace settled over me. She must understand how it was. She always understood. I stayed there a while longer, reviewing all that had happened in her family and mine since she had left us. I'm sure she is aware, wherever she is. Finally, I stood up. Finally, I said goodbye.