My friend Kay died Saturday April 21 at 3:20 a.m. I spent three hours with her about seven hours prior to her death. When her roommate Nick called and said she was dying and could I get to the hospital, I have to admit I thought about not going. And then I thought that if it were me in that hospital bed, I would want her there. My presence probably made no difference to her; she was heavily sedated and not conscious. But her open mouth moved when someone said something interesting. Nick and his girlfriend Katie talked to her as if she could hear them. I found it harder to do. The only thing I could think to say was that I loved her. Then I squeezed her hand.
Having that time with her was a way to say goodbye, even though I didn’t know I needed that. There were only two chairs in the hospital room. Nick and Katie wanted to stay until she passed, which provided an excuse for me to leave. I don’t think I would have been able to stay until the end because of the stress. I wanted to do something and there was nothing to be done.
It happened so fast, this unexpected death. She died of a cancer that spread to her organs and her bones from her lungs. Her doctor told her she could have chemo but it would prolong her life only a month. She said she was ready to go, and then she did.
Kay was one of my best friends these past few years. I cannot yet believe I will not see her again in this life. When another good friend, seventeen years my senior, died of lung cancer ten years ago, I knew it right away even though we had not seen each other for months. She came to me in a dream and lectured me about getting more stability in my life. Kay had been sick and I had spoken with her at least twice a month over the past year and yet her rapid decline and death took me completely by surprise. She thought she had beaten the cancer. I even wrote a column on her recovery for a popular women’s magazine. She begged for more time to review it before we submitted it, saying she had taken a strong antibiotic for a sinus infection and was too dizzy to read the text. Then came an email from Nick saying she had been taken to the ER, where they found cancer in both lungs.
Her declining health started with a colostomy last year. Then there was a hysterectomy, and finally the lung cancer, which, although discovered earlier, she ignored. I asked her after the hysterectomy and radiation treatment for uterine cancer if maybe she should join a cancer survivor support group. She said, no, she didn’t think of herself as a cancer survivor. It wasn’t that she didn’t think she was a survivor; she didn’t want to believe she had cancer. But for her, cancer was not a disease that you could treat only with a positive attitude.
I met Kay at a writer’s event in her hometown and we quickly became friends. She told me in one of our early conversations that her life was devoted to learning about the idea that people create their own reality by the way they think. She was probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about many aspects of what she called conscious creation and was writing a book about it. She gave me some exercises to help me see how much of our reality we do indeed create – things like thinking of a color or a piece of music and then finding it everywhere. She also gave me a list of books to broaden my perspective, educate me about how conscious creation was supported by cutting edge scientific research, and get me to think differently about the effect my thoughts could have on me and on others. She told me stories of her friends who had used conscious creation techniques to change their lives.
Every time I was with Kay I enjoyed her, even when she was the sickest. She almost always had courage to face her situation and strive for intellectual honesty. She was a loving, complex and humble person who reached out easily. She opened up my world. She believed there is life after life, and I know that whatever she is experiencing at this moment is good. She told Katie she would be the one waiting in the purple hat to welcome her to the other side. I plan to see her in that hat too.
The loss I feel is tempered with a gratitude for having known her. I have experienced the death of others close to me and had reactions not so sanguine. But today, although I feel loss, I also feel relief that Kay’s suffering is over and that she is on to a new adventure. Perhaps this type of feeling comes with age; perhaps with wisdom. Or perhaps, we just get more selfish as we age and so I don’t feel her death as deeply as some of those earlier deaths. But I don’t think that’s true, because my sense of her is so strong and I feel her love.