You know death is imminent. Daily you see her sleeping more. First, it is difficulty with the stairs. Then, it is out of breath on little walks even to the bathroom. You gradually watch oxygen use increase, the single tank goes to double tanks and finally to a huge unit permanently in place. You see the hospital bed take the place of the couch and then the commode and then a second commode for night use. You hear her request diapers for night time. You hear the bed sores are starting to form and pneumonia has set in. You hear the constant coughing, see her unable to catch her breath, too weak to bathe herself or open her own medicine bottle. Your head tells you to prepare, death will be here soon. Your heart doesn't believe. She half sits in bed and nods and attempts, between coughs to hold up her part of the conversation. She smiles through her pain because she does not want you to get upset and cry. Your heart says she can't be that sick and by next summer she will be back to her old self.
But, your heart lies. The cancer has taken over and it is only a matter of days, weeks, months if she is lucky or unlucky because those of us who love her don't want her to suffer anymore. The end came in weeks. I held her hand as she pleaded for help, "I can't breathe, help me, help me." Always polite, worried because she could not remember the nurse's name, "I can't breathe." They helped. They increased the morphine and slowly she fell asleep, like she often did as we sat and watched television together. Surrounded by family and friends she left this world. It hurts. It hurts more than when I lost my parents for she was my friend, my sister, not by blood but by choice.
We met in Julia Richman HS where I had been teaching and she had been transferred. It was the '70s and many teachers moved from school to school. We grew close when she met her husband and moved into the neighborhood. From sharing lessons we went to sharing babysitting and then back to lessons. We loved walking, theater, museums, travel, everything the same. Teaching AP calculus was both our passions, she at one school, me at another. We went to conferences all over the city and state together. We helped each other when stuck on problems. We even helped our friend technically impaired friend learn to use his calculator and find his dots. My kids were her kids and hers were and still are mine. My husband was her friend and hers was and still is mine and they are friends too.
She's gone and I feel like a part of me is gone as well. If I could have shared the years I have left with her I would have done so without hesitation.
I am sitting and writing my love and happy she knew how much I, my family, and everyone around loved her. She died surrounded by devotion and will never be forgotten. She died too young but she left a tremendous mark on the world, bettering the lives of everyone she came in contact with.
I now understand what it means when someone looks at you and says "you look like you lost your best friend."