A few weeks ago, I was perusing Facebook when I discovered that one of my friends from New York had passed away. I spent the whole weekend feeling awful. Even though I have experienced loss before, it doesn’t get easier. It doesn’t make sense when a 42-year-old who was so full of laughter and life is brought down by a disease just eight months after she was diagnosed with it.
This is the person who I was hired in to replace for part of the time that she was sick. I remember getting the call that they wanted me to come back to work because she was sick. At the time, no one was sure what was wrong with her. At first, it seemed like an acute problem. I went back to work thinking I would be there for a few weeks, but I ended up being there for six months, and as it turns out, she was never able to return to work. Because ultimately, it wasn’t an acute illness. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that is almost always caught at stage 4. I know a bit about this because one of my cousins died from it. The median survival rate at five years is 4%, pretty terrible odds regardless of how you look at it. But this person wasn’t living in absolutes. She truly believed that she would beat the disease, and because she believed it, I wanted to believe it, too.
I felt a bit awkward because, while I was glad to go back to work, I didn’t like the circumstances that led to it. In some ways, I felt guilty. It almost made me feel like I was capitalizing on someone else’s misfortune. But I remember when my friend heard that I had been brought back on, she was so happy for me, and she was also happy that she knew someone competent would be there in her place and she wouldn’t have to worry. In her time of need, she was happy for me.
The last time I saw her, she was bloated from steroids and was wearing a wig to hide the hair she had lost from chemo. But she was in good spirits and truly believed that she was going to beat it.
In some ways, I feel a little odd sharing this because it’s not my news to share or cross to bear, but I feel compelled. I feel compelled because this person, in the darkest time in her life, held on to something that made her have hope. If having hope and a positive attitude could cure, she wouldn’t have died. But that’s not how life works.
I knew this person for just a year and a half. I wasn’t a relative, and I wasn’t one of her friends that had been in her life for decades. But our paths had crossed, and my life was better for having her in it.
Because she was Jewish and funerals have to happen within 72-hours of death, I wasn’t able to go back to New York to attend the funeral. I feel badly about that.
As a chronically ill person, I am acutely aware of my own mortality. I know that some people who are sick, die. But even though I know of the possibility of death, it doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.
This person introduced me to Stitch Fix and we helped each other decorate our apartments, my new apartment and her apartment that was newly renovated. She was one of those people that always looked put together, but she wasn’t pretentious about it.
She was a New York girl to the max. But even so, we bonded. We connected.
That accent though. Pretty much everything you might imagine in a native New Yorker she embodied, except that she had a heart of gold and a sense of humor that was unmatched.
I’m privileged to have been able to call this person my colleague and friend. And I’m sad that life circumstances put me in the position of not knowing exactly how she was doing until I learned that she had died. Sometimes, no news is good news, but sometimes it’s not.
I’m not sharing this because I want sympathy, and when I shared it on Facebook and people sent their condolences to me, I felt like I didn’t deserve it. This wasn’t about me; it was about her and what a wonderful person she was.
I hope she knew how many lives she touched, and that everyone she came in contact with was better for having known her, if only for a brief time.
Rest in Peace, Deb! Thanks for being one of a few good memories I have from New York.