Goodbye, Dear Friend
This weekend, I lost a good friend to cancer. It was an extremely aggressive cancer that my friend, Sandra, was diagnosed with just four weeks ago.
I met Sandra about 8 years ago at work. We were office neighbors and would often chat throughout the day. I don’t think Sandra was there for much more than a year, but during that time, a friendship blossomed.
In many respects we were very different, and if we had never met in an office environment, we probably would never have been friends. To a certain extent, we were polar opposites. I am conservative to libertarian in my political views. Sandra was moderate to liberal in her views. I am a Christian with a strong faith. Sandra’s viewpoint was more agnostic/atheist. I’m straight, and Sandra was gay. (Sandra once said to me while at lunch, “We are very similar — we both sleep with women.”)
We both liked archaeology and history. We both liked reading. We both liked to write. And we both liked some of the same TV shows. And it was in those likes that we connected the most. But as our relationship grew, it was our differences that often made us really good friends. Every few months we would get together for lunch, and we would chat about entertainment, her upcoming book, family, work and whatever else. But when we discussed our differences, it was in those moments that we found a huge amount of respect for each other.
And when we got together for lunch, it was like there had been no time lost between us. As an only child, I never had a sibling. But in many respects, this wonderful lady was like a sister I never had. (I found out in the last few weeks that many people called her “sister.”)
So it was in the middle of Wal-Mart that I got the news of her cancer. She IM’d me via Facebook to let me know that it wasn’t yet common knowledge, but she wanted to give me a heads up. At the time, the doctors were giving her 3 years with chemo and radiation treatment. A few days later, the diagnosis changed. The tumors were throughout her body, in her bones and in many of her organs. The diagnosis was now 3 months and chemo and radiation would not help. It was about pain management now.
About a week later, I finally got the chance to see Sandra in the hospital. When I walked into her room, she immediately smiled. It was the same bright, wonderful smile I had seen when we were getting together at lunch at a local Indian restaurant (and we often smelled like Indian food when we left). She was in her bed and immediately started to get up. It was a slow process, and I could tell it was painful. I told her to sit but she continued anyway. We hugged. It wasn’t like the hugs in the past. Sandra would give the biggest, strongest hugs. But this time, it was gentle, cautious. We hugged each other for what felt like several minutes. She whispered to me, “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m okay.”
It was a longer visit than I should have had with Sandra. Each time I told her I should go, she kept talking to me. We talked about the book she had been researching and the book that she was soon to have published. She showed me and one of her friends all the research she had done for her new book that she was yet to write. She said that her goal was to have her new book finished over the next 3 months. Deep down, I think we both knew that it was a long shot, but neither wanted to say it out loud. Positive thoughts, you know. After her friend left, we talked about our relationship and our friendship, and much more. We talked about spirituality and that she wasn’t afraid to die. My heart broke. My own beliefs and her spiritual beliefs were not in line with each other and we both knew it. We hugged and talked some more. Even in our differences, we loved each other. There’s not many people I can truly say I have a strong love for – my wife, my kids, my parents…and Sandra. Even as I write this, I really don’t know why this feeling is so strong.
Her dinner came and I tried to excuse myself again so she could eat and get some rest, but she shrugged off her food and kept chatting with me. “It’ll still be here,” she said with that big smile. She was still Sandra — more worried about me, more concerned about what was going on in my life than what was happening to her. She wanted to make sure that **I** was okay, and I just wanted to make sure **she** was okay. It wasn’t long after that her mom came back into the room. Her mom and I had not met before but I could see the pain and stress in her eyes. Sandra would joke and make comments about her situation and her mom would just shake her head. At one point I said, “Not sure how to say this, but it’s a lot easier to say that when you’re in that bed, then out here watching it.” Sandra’s mom nodded in agreement, and Sandra replied, “Yeah, I have the easy job.”
We hugged again and I left. Down the elevators, through the lobby and into the safety of my car. I sat there unsure if I had said the right words. Unsure if there were even the right words to say. Unsure if I would actually get a chance to see Sandra again. We talked about me bringing dinner to her and Cheryl (her wife) one night — but we had a history of “talking” about getting together and not really able to in the end. I was going to bring her some Moon Pies which she loved — the banana ones — next time.
A couple of weeks later, on my son’s birthday, she passed. I didn’t know until the next morning when my wife asked me if I had seen Facebook yet. It was just minutes before church was to start. “I have bad news for you,” Kelly said. “What?” I said expecting a joke which she would often do. “Sandra died last night.” Not a joke. Not funny. I grabbed my phone and flipped on Facebook. Sure enough. My heart broke and the music started up and the service started. “Do we need to go,” Kelly asked me. I shook my head. What better place to be when you find out your friend had just died but to be in church.
It’s been a rough Sunday. After seeing post after post of outpouring from friends of Sandra, I couldn’t read anymore. She had touched many people in her 47 years across the political, spiritual and cultural spectrum. For many of her friends, they saw a strong talented author. For many, she was a brave lesbian who supported LGBT rights. But I didn’t see any of that. I saw the friend who was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. She was one of the most gracious and generous individuals that I was blessed to know. Her laugh and smile were contagious. She found the funniest things in the most basic of things (in our last talk together we talked about how Benedict Cumberbatch looks like an otter — “Just Google it when you get home.” Sure enough… ) She took great blurry photos of her cats. She gave the best hugs. And she was my friend. Some called her Sandy. Some called her Scoop. I just called her Sandra – my friend.
On her hospital bed, we talked about how she and I were unlikely friends and how much we’ll miss each other. I will cherish that last conversation. I wish we had a chance to talk one last time. I wish we had a chance to have lunch or dinner one last time. But life had a different plan.
Tonight, I will have some Moon Pie bites and think about you.
I will miss you deeply, my friend.