Note: I wanted to write this as a Facebook tribute but in my usual style, it’s too long for Facebook. So I’m posting it here on my blog. Some thoughts on the death of a friend…
by Lisa Zahn
It feels like a watershed moment in our lives. The first death of a close friend for both of us. George sat down and cried the moment I told him. We were both shocked and surprised, not knowing that her cancer had returned. There had been no clues or mentions of it on her recent Facebook posts.
We talked dates, when had we seen her last, when did the cancer start the first time.
It was four years ago we stopped for lunch at her home in northern Virginia. It was ten years or so ago we visited the first time as a family. She was at our wedding reception 19 years ago. That was it—three visits in 19 years, plus Christmas cards and, more recently, Facebook friendship.
I went to her Facebook page. The latest posts were just two weeks ago. Her final photograph was of her daughter Katy’s freshman dorm room at Virginia Tech, on move-in weekend. It was captioned: “will never be this clean again.” There were a few pictures of their visit to the Virginia mountains. No recent photographs of herself or her husband Tony. Just beautiful scenery.
A writer could make something of that, I suppose. But mostly I cry for her daughter. Just starting college, only a few weeks into classes and new friendships. How can she go do this? All I can do is pray for her, her older brother Ryan, and their dad. And what do you pray for? Comfort, peace—the only things worth praying for at this time. No platitudes ever help. No wishes for something different—except that one does wish for something different.
What one regrets at first is that there were only three visits in 19 years. Why didn’t I get on Facebook to wish her happy birthday last week?! Why didn’t I comment on those beautiful photos? Why did I just let them pass by as I scrolled through my newsfeed? Why didn’t we stop to see her more often? Why?
I remember when George and I were first dating he had a picture of himself and Susan in a frame on his TV stand. It was one among several, but when I asked him about this woman he said “I think for a long time I wanted to marry her.” I don’t even know that he ever asked her out, but that is what he said. They were folder partners at James Madison University, singing together in the choir and becoming close friends. Every time we saw Susan she reminisced about visiting George’s parents in Gloucester, remembering the ham biscuits his mother served. Another college friend wrote yesterday about Susan’s excellent ham biscuits and I wonder if my mother-in-law inspired her when she made them.
Susan married an architect and they lived in a beautiful home of Tony’s design in the woods or northern Virginia. I remember her exasperation about the rooms that were always ‘in progress’. She could be feisty, for sure. Knowing her mostly through Facebook in the last several years, her posts were either pride in or exasperation at/worry about her children, or complaints about the snow and cold. Sometimes she got mad at me for feisty things I posted, but I never took it personally. She taught me much.
I bet she’s warm and cozy in heaven now.
I never did get to hear her sing. She had a beautiful alto voice, I’m told. She sang in school and then in community choirs and worked in development at the Kennedy Center for years. She was also the mom involved in the PTA and all its offshoots, supporting her kids and the schools they attended. At one point she became a realtor to have ‘something to do while the kids are at school’. One thing she never, ever gave up was her music and her devotion to the arts.
Susan and I connected when I wrote in my 2001 Christmas letter that I was being tested for MS. I never did get a diagnosis despite extensive testing, and years later the symptoms are all gone, but Susan had MS. I will never forget that she was the one person that reached out to me at this time. She did not think my symptoms were ‘all made up’ and she encouraged me to be strong with the doctors and take good care of myself. I am happy now that I was never diagnosed and have never had a relapse of symptoms, but her encouragement was so precious to me in a world that too often ignores pain.
I wish I could attend her funeral. I wish for lots of things—not taking people I love for granted, one more conversation or Facebook post from Susan, that she were still here—but those things are not possible it seems. We are human. This is life and there is a limit to what we can do while we live, and a finality about death we must accept.
But I think if Susan were here she wouldn’t want us to change a thing. She’d continue to tell us to be strong, not let anything even illness get in our way, keep doing what we love and yes, even that old cliche, just take an extra moment to hug our kids and spouse today. We’ll miss you.