Last night, I left a little earlier than usual. I was on my way to perform at Kulak’s Woodshed, my favorite “open mic” venue. My plan was to look for her house.
The last time I was in the area, I drove in circles thinking I could locate her house from memory. This time, I had a scrap of paper with her address on it. I had to dig through an old phone book to find it. While looking at that old phone book, I was overcome by nostalgia seeing the names of people who have exited my life; not necessarily by death!
It was certainly possible her husband had moved. After all, it was at least thirteen years since she died. I was prepared to leave a note if there were no answer, just in case her husband still lived there. My note said something like this:
“Hi! I don’t know if you remember me. I am Linda’s friend, Judy. I wanted to share with you that I have written about Linda. I am writing what is possibly going to be a book, but more than that – I have recorded the song that I played at her funeral. That song was entitled, “Beside Me Always.” I would also like to know how her mother is doing. The phone number was not working when I last called, and I have been concerned – please let me know at your convenience.”
I sat in my car remembering many things as I readied myself to go knock at the door . . .
I easily pictured her, and heard her voice. I often still heard her voice while playing tennis; she would tell me to “burn my first serve in.” In my tennis bag, I still carried a pair of her tennis underwear. Most of her other tennis clothes were far too old for me to wear anymore.
I remembered how compassionate Linda was after my five-year-old son, Jason, died. Despite her challenges with ovarian cancer, she maintained such a positive attitude about life. She was extremely sensitive to my sadness. I cried in my car before each and every tennis game, and she knew it.
I was not in good shape after my daughter was born. I was overweight and struggling with grief. Linda encouraged me to attend a tennis luncheon and bring my infant daughter. That allowed me to briefly exit my cave of grief.
The experience of seeing her die was something that affected me very much. Since much of my writing has been about releasing trauma, that must be why I am writing about Linda.
Here are those other memories . . .
The phone message on my answering machine: It was her husband’s voice; it was loud and tearful as he shouted out his message. He wanted to tell me she was out of surgery. The surgeon simply closed her up because the cancer had spread everywhere.
The last two months were excruciating for her, and for those around her. She was in so much pain, and couldn’t sit without writhing into different positions. Gradually she stopped eating. Her face was an eerie yellow from the jaundice.
I really didn’t know what to say when I visited those last few times. She always made me feel comfortable, despite that. And then, of course, there was the very last time.
I had spoken with her mother often over those last few days. Her mother was very distraught. She said to me, “I need to leave; I can’t see her like this. I can’t stay here any longer! She’s crying for me to stay, and I don’t know what to do!”
I did not tell her what to do. I listened and was overwhelmed with the sadness of the entire situation.
The next day when I called, I was told there would be no more visitors. Linda was blessedly comatose and hopefully, the end was near. I decided to go anyway, because I could visit with her mother. I wanted to say goodbye.
I knocked on the door and her husband answered. His eyes were so very tired. He had been sleeping on the floor downstairs nearby her hospital bed. He explained to me that Linda’s mother had left and gone up north to where she lived.
My heart ached as he shared that Linda cried and called out for her mother after she left. Then finally, she became quiet. He said she was no longer aware of anyone, and it would all be over soon. He told me that if I wanted to – I could go in to see her.
My heart was pounding. The room was dim. I sat next to her bed and held her hand. It was very cold. Her yellow skin almost glowed. I spoke with my heart about whatever came into my mind. I told her, “Linda, I am going to look after your mom. She is suffering terribly with this loss and I will call her and always let her know on those especially painful days that she’s not alone. I promise you this – every anniversary of the heart, birthday, Mother’s Day – you name it!”
Suddenly, Linda’s eyes opened and she looked right at me. In the weakest of whispers she said, “Thank you, Judy.”
She died the next day.
Writing this helped me understand why I was unable to see my close friend, Cheryl, when she was dying of breast cancer.
I called her mother as I promised. That first year, we spoke quite often. As a daughter, it was hard for me to understand that her child was crying out for her – how could she have not stayed to comfort her dying daughter? I never shared those feelings with her. As a parent, I understood. These words I’ve often spoken in regards to having a child suffer: I believe that the only thing worse than losing a child, is to experience their suffering.
I’m certain her mother suffered a lot about her decision to leave. She talked with me about it quite often. It helped her to believe that she had no choice. One thing she often mentioned was that she believed the longer she stayed, her daughter would have continued to suffer. She felt that by leaving, it allowed her daughter to “let go” and die.
Gradually, our phone calls settled into a routine. I called on Mother’s Day, Linda’s death day, and birthday. She loved sharing about all her grandchildren, and was especially thrilled with how Linda’s son turned around. He had become challenging due to Linda’s illness. He was supposed to start college after she died, but quit for a year. He was estranged from his father for a period of time.
One year, a group of her tennis friends gathered to walk in her honor for the Revlon Run/Walk event at the Coliseum. I was very moved by the whole experience. When Linda’s father died, her mother was fairly accepting; there would be no grief compared to the loss of her child.
Then one day when I called her phone number had been disconnected. That was it.
My last memory was one regarding the last time I had seen her husband. It was a few weeks after she died. He called me to ask if I’d like her clothes. I remember clearly how I ended up with several, huge trash bags, stuffed with everything from socks to tennis gear. It became clear that he wanted me to take everything. It wasn’t about having them for me; it was about helping him to empty the closet. He choked back a sob as we loaded up my car. I still have an expensive pantsuit that she wore to her son’s Bar Mitzvah. It was small for me, but now that I’ve lost weight – it might actually fit.
I went to the door and knocked.
Linda’s husband answered the door. After a moment, he recognized me. His handshake was firm and warm. He said it had been at least eight years since any of Linda’s friends had contacted him.
In the short time I stood there, he brought me up to date. He told me their son was a math teacher living up north and that they spoke practically every day. They were close again.
I told him I had written about Linda. I handed him the envelope with my note that held my website’s information. I shared with him also how I felt very honored to have played my song at her funeral. He didn’t know that it was even more meaningful for me because my song, Beside Me Always, was one that I had always reserved in my heart for Jason.
I asked him about her mother.
“She died three years ago,” he said. I wasn’t surprised; I had a feeling that she was at peace.
I was about to leave, and he wanted to tell me something. He said, “You know, Linda was a collector. For example, I’ve always collected stamps. Linda always collected friends – that was something she had a special gift for.”
She did indeed.
I went back to my car and drove only a short distance to perform at Kulak’s Woodshed.
My mood was definitely emotional for many reasons, especially the seasonal change. I’ve been mentioning it again and again. I cannot deny that the impending death anniversary has caused my tears to easily surface.
The night before, I remembered that Sonia thought my song, “So Real,” would be the best song to play at our temple’s memorial service.
I was almost the last performer. Before I played my song, I said these words:
“Loss changes you forever. I lost my son who was five, nineteen years ago and I’ve never forgotten the feeling of disbelief . . . of trying to accept what is unacceptable!”
Click the links below to read more about this story. Years later, Linda’s son found me because of this blog!
It was months later that I found my own words, which I spoke at Linda’s funeral. How beautiful that she had asked me to do this for her before she died. I wondered why I didn’t remember that, but was glad that I had saved the paper with my speech.
For certain, I remembered singing my song, Beside Me Always. My song said the same thing as my speech. She is always beside me. (Clicking on these pages, makes them larger).
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