Why can't I say good-bye to you?

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One of my friends is dying.

I think.

Doesn’t that sound odd?

I don’t know what is going on for certain. I rely upon e-mail and Facebook updates. My friend is a former co-worker, someone with whom I’ve worked off and on over the course of two decades. We kept in touch after I left my job. Until she got sick. Then she went underground. Or her family sequestered her for their own reasons. Whatever the story, I can no longer reach her by phone or e-mail or Facebook or through written requests sent by U.S. mail.

At first I was hurt. Then I brushed away my feelings, realizing that I was being self-centered. What did I know about terminal illness? Would I want a parade of visitors, no matter how well-meaning, filing past my sick bed or the sick bed of a loved one? Would I feel added pressure to somehow put on a brave face, have coffee and snacks available to feed my guests, worry about my house being a mess or about how everything appears to the uninitiated? My only experiences with death so far have been of the swift-moving type. Here today, gone tomorrow.

However, I know how comforting it was to have friends and family and acquaintances stop in to visit, drop off a cake or send a card after our family’s loss. So, I project this feeling on my friend’s situation. If I were dying and  no one called or wrote or tried in any way to visit me, wouldn’t I feel even worse? Maybe I wouldn’t know. Maybe the sharp edge of pain or the dulling effect of medication would keep me oblivious.

If  a long, wasting illness is how I exit this life, it will be my call how to handle it. This is her wish, or by proxy, her family’s call.  I must accept it no matter how much it tears at me.

Cancer isn’t discriminating. It sharpens the arrow and aims it toward any moving target. There aren’t any bull’s-eyes on the bad folks any more than there are protective shields on the good guys. I’ve watched as so many good-hearted, clean-living, health-conscious people in my life have stepped into its trajectory. I also marvel how others who seem to have a death wish just chug along, dodging all of death’s fast-moving arrows.

As crazy as this sounds, I sometimes dread logging on to my Facebook account and seeing that I have a message. The last one said: “She’s in hospice. It could be any time.”

How the hell am I supposed to react to that? My urge is to find her and rush to her side, to give her hand a squeeze, to tell her how thankful I am that she took me under her wing when I was a cub reporter, that she had my back, that she played a motherly role in my life when I needed it the most, that she made me laugh harder than just about anyone else on Earth, that I think she is one of the smartest, toughest, most caring and diplomatic people I’ve ever known.

I suppose the next time I see her will be at her funeral. I hope I’m wrong.

One of my friends is dying and I’m sorry I didn’t have one last chance to tell her how I feel.

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