Oct. 12 marks the three-year anniversary of the death of one of dearest friends. I'll call her Lena.
I was 38 at the time my mom phoned me telling me Lena was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer. Our family had just come off two of the worst years of our lives, dealing with my brother's battle with colon cancer. (My brother survived.)
Although my brother's battle was very traumatic and at times incredibly life threatening, my mom always sounded positive about his outcome. With Lena, she didn't.
Lena and I grew up together. She was one year older than me, and our families were good friends.
We were roommates in college for one term, before she decided college away from home wasn't for her. I still remember sitting in our dorm room prank calling our crushes and having deep conversations about life.
The physical distance grew between us when I moved across the country to Seattle. But she was always there when I needed her.
In fact, when my mom nearly died of pneumonia in 1999, Lena sat by my side at the hospital, offering me comfort.
Sometime during her treatment she called me on the phone. She gushed about my life. About how I had taken chances, like moving across the country without a job or knowing anyone, traveling alone to foreign countries, skydiving, surfing and playing beach volleyball.
All I kept thinking was that I never looked at my life quite the way she was talking about it. But in reality I was feeling depressed because of her illness, my recent layoff and boy problems.
Perception is everything.
October 2009 I went home to say goodbye. The worst moment of my entire life.
You always see movies or hear stories about someone who knows they are about to die being at peace. That wasn't the case.
I went to see her in the hospital. We tried to keep the conversation light, until she had a moment when her face went blank and she just lost it, telling us she was afraid of dying. The words escaped me. I could not find the tears. Only numbness.
We were told not to stay long, and truthfully … selfishly, I couldn't handle much more.
How do you say goodbye and walk out the door and know you will never see your friend again? I just hugged her hard and told her I loved her. The last words I heard from her were, "I love you so much T.L.!"
She died a week later at the age of 40, two days before my 39th birthday.
I don't consider myself to be a very religious person, but for some reason I feel her around me more than anyone else in my life that has passed.
The reason I tell you this story is not to make you sad. It's about appreciating life, and everything you have that is currently in it. As an honor to her, I write this to remind myself to never take life for granted. Even when life is tough, there is so much to appreciate. I want to be the girl Lena thinks I am.
Not having enough money, finding work, and not being able to spend money on little luxuries, are all big challenges in my life right now. But at least I’m here, and the possibilities of what lie ahead are endless.