A friend of mine died one year ago today. Stomach cancer. It was quick, but not painless. When she was diagnosed it was already pretty advanced, and she wasn’t ready to go. Near the end though I think she was just tired. I hope it was a relief for her. I know she was surrounded by her family, which would have made her happy.
I was at work when I got the news. It was pretty easy actually, to push the thought away and focus on what had to be finished. Her office was right behind me at work, and if I thought about how she’d never come back to clean up her desk…I don’t know, I just couldn’t do it.
I spent a week like that. Trying not to look at her office and think about how she’d never turn the lights on, or answer her phone, or gossip with me about the latest outrage from our director.
That weird dissociation stayed with me until the morning of her funeral. It was pouring rain. I remember thinking how cliched that was – rain during a funeral. But it was appropriate. Sunshine would have felt disrespectful I think.
At the door to the church, they were handing out these little cards. One side was printed with the image of a saint, while the reverse had a quote:
“Fill not your hearts with pain and sorrow, but remember me in every tomorrow. Remember the joy, the laughter, the smiles, I’ve only gone to rest a little while. Although my leaving causes pain and grief, my going has eased my hurt and given me relief. So dry your eyes and remember me, not as I am now, but as I used to be. Because, I will remember you all. And look on with a smile. Understand, in your hearts, I’ve only gone to rest a little while. As long as I have the love of each of you, I can live my life in the hearts of all of you.”
That was pretty much it. I spent the rest of the day in tears. For about a month or so afterwords, I’d read it, just to see if I’d cry. It became a kind of gauge for me. If I cried when I read it, then I hadn’t gotten over the grief.
After a while I put it away and stopped looking at it. Aside from a bad moment at work when her husband called her voicemail just to hear her talk, things settled back into a rhythm.
I moved on to other things. I got into the science writing program, which she had always encouraged me to do. And one day a couple of weeks ago, I pulled that card with the quote on it out of a box of books.
It was a relief not to cry when I read it again. I wasn’t expecting to, but I was a little worried. Instead I imagined her scolding me. “Girl, put that thing down and go outside. Have fun. It’s so beautiful today!”
I have no idea whose quote it is, and I don’t want to know. It’s become Vicki’s quote. It’s something concrete I can hold in my hand that reminds me of my friend.