A friend of mine died today. Beth is her name. Turns out she had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, which is a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. She went to the doctor a week ago yesterday because she was feeling run-down and having trouble breathing. They ran some blood work but apparently didn’t find anything too alarming because they sent her home with just some antibiotics. She went to the ER on Saturday because she was having sharp pains in her chest. They admitted her with pneumonia and by the time they figured out she had Leukemia, she was on a ventilator. That was Tuesday, and she died just after noon today.
It seems odd to talk about someone who has only been dead a few hours in the past tense. But I guess that’s what you are supposed to do.
You know when people say, “He would give you the shirt off his back”? Beth was like that. Except for her gender, of course.
Beth and I had to share an office for a year or so a few years back. We spent 40+ hours a week together in a 12X12 space. Unfortunately, she had the misfortune to be stuck in the same room with me while several doctors gave me lots of drugs for my newly diagnosed “mental illness”. Her work environment was difficult at best. For several months I was either crying or chatting her ear off. And she handled it with grace, understanding and compassion.
The thing about Beth and I-she had her own logic system and it was not one you could find evidence of in a philosophy textbook. There were so many times I would try to explain something to her, and it was just like I was speaking a foreign language. She was very smart, but she just wasn’t logical if you know what I mean. If you were going to get her to see your point of view, you had to take an indirect, circuitous route. I’m not very good at that, and I understand that is my own shortcoming. There is a reason I am not a teacher. I can explain things one way, and if you don’t get it, I can try one other way, but after that, I’m done.
So we weren’t the best of friends, but I have always considered her my friend. Even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye on too much, we had the single-mom thing in common, and the abusive marriage thing in common, and the search for the meaning in life in common. She gave me a copy of “The Purpose-Driven Life” during one of my really low points, and that gesture meant a lot to me. I still have it and I looked at the inscription today. It says, “To Sam. From Beth. Enjoy.” And she drew a smiley face.
Anyway, I was just thinking about Beth a few days ago. She got a job within our agency that lots of people applied for, and I was thinking that it was about time that something good happened to her and for her. I was talking to my daughter about how catty some women can be, and how sometimes females aren’t happy for other females when something good happens to them, and I was thinking how happy I was for Beth that something good finally did happen to her.
I feel guilty, too. I feel guilty because she sent an email a few weeks ago asking people to pray for her daughter because her daughter had just gotten some really bad news at the doctor. She was really cryptic, but she told a mutual friend what the issue was. Our friend didn’t tell me what was going on at the time, but later she did tell me things weren’t near as bad as they had thought, and everything was going to be okay. It turns out her daughter was diagnosed with Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. Beth thought her daughter had HIV, and totally freaked out. It was SO like Beth to assume the worst and jump to conclusions without making sure she knew what her daughter really had. Beth left work, jumped a plane, flew home and scared her friends shitless before she got down to the bottom of the misunderstanding. Her daughter couldn’t even understand why her mother was so upset until she figured it out later. Anyway, I feel guilty because I was glad I wasn’t in on the whole prayer circle thing, because I know I would have been skeptical and made her feel stupid for jumping the gun. And I feel guilty because she thought I wasn’t a good enough friend to include in her prayer circle. And she was right. I will never know the truth now, but I hope that she didn’t include me because she knew I was an atheist, not because she didn’t consider me someone who cared about her.
I used to think most people were good at heart. I don’t think that anymore. I have run across few people who are honest and true and mean well in all things that they do. She was one of them. And she had so much to live for, and so much love inside of her, and I would have gladly traded places with her if I could. Too bad things don’t work that way.
I guess the best I can do is to try not to be a snob when I think people are illogical. If that’s the legacy she leaves me, it won’t be a friendship wasted.