I cleaned my oven yesterday and I felt you with me the entire time. So I stayed in the kitchen and reminisced far longer than I normally would have.
The last oven I cleaned was yours. I cleaned your kitchen that day so I stayed in my kitchen as long as I could because thoughts, conversations and memories came flooding back to me.
You and I had an unlikely friendship. We were miles apart in who we were, how we lived and the way that we interacted with the world. But when we sat down and had a conversation, we peeled back the layers and found that which we had in common. And we bonded.
We studied the impossible together. We signed up for a correspondence course and we got through it. Together. That is probably where our friendship began.
You moved away but we never lost touch. That was back in the days of snail mail. I may still have your letters somewhere ...
Many years later, you moved back here. You sounded a little bit lonely at first but it wasn't long before you were back in the thick of living and surrounding yourself with work, friends, family, cooking and all-that-was-you.
A few years ago you found out the reason that you had been feeling so awful for so long. Cancer. "We never find it this early." "This is the best kind of cancer to have." By the time you told me the news, you had processed and understood and had a pretty good handle on the hand you were dealt. You are one of the most determined (and perhaps a little stubborn too) people that I know. You had this. You were going to rise above it all and beat this thing.
Cancer is mean and nasty. It doesn't fight fair. I became so angry at this disease that kicked you down each and every time you struggled to get up. You received bad news upon bad news. The cancer made you vulnerable to things that would have otherwise been nothing more than an angry stubbed toe. But you kept rallying and you continued to gather your strength to fight the good fight.
Just over a year ago, you received the news that your cancer was terminal. I heard the words but I never did internalize them. You were far too stubborn to let this awful disease consume you. My head understood the words but my heart refused to feel them.
The diagnosis seemed to waver just a bit and your prognosis sounded like it was more hopeful. In fact the very last time that I heard from you, you were optimistic that your cancer was in remission and that we would get together when you got back to the city. You were out of town at the time, meeting your new grandson. "I'm going to see my new grand baby go to Kindergarten!!" was your proud declaration as you waged your war against this disease that was proving to be a worthy opponent of your stubbornness. I believed you. I truly believed you ...
That was the last contact that we had. We never did get around to getting together. I heard that your cancer had gone into remission and my heart smiled at the news.
The summer passed and I heard that you were able to spend the summer out at the lake. Your previous summer's plans at the lake had been thwarted as you lived through many excruciating months. I was so very happy to hear that you spent your summer where you most wanted to be.
I got a call last week. You were in the hospital. It wasn't good. I knew that you had defeated the odds on more than one occasion and I would not have been surprised if you came back to us one last time. But you didn't ...
You still 'won'. Cancer didn't win this one. Your body simply wore out after all of the fighting. You went out on your own terms - you were still battling that cancer but a pre-existing condition came up and took you in the end. Somewhere deep inside of me, I feel that you know that you didn't let that cancer beat you.
I am still angry at Cancer. Why did it have to make you so vulnerable to a myriad of other things? It robbed you of your independence and it left you vulnerable. It did its best to strip you of all that you were.
I am grateful that you were the kind of person that you were. When I asked what I could do, you told me. You let me do something and in the end I am so very glad that I was able to help. I did very little. But I did something ...
What I felt more than anything whenever we had the chance to visit was your need to talk. You were up front and honest. You talked about everything. I know that you put on your brave face when you were around me and you only let the mask slip once. When the pain was bigger than you were.
There is nothing worse than standing at one's side and knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do to take away someone's physical pain. In the end, if you actually stopped fighting ... I wonder if you did it for your family. To ease their pain?
You were a Mother Bear to the end. I believe that you would do anything for your children, grand children and step children. You even managed to bring your husband's children into your home so in the end ... he was not alone.
You are a wise woman, My Friend. You are determined, spirited, vocal and straight shooter. You left a mark on the world.
It is my hope that there is a Heaven and that you are back in the loving arms of your parents once again ... and quietly watching over and guiding the earthly family you have left behind.
Bon voyage, My Friend. You are in good hands now...