February 24, 2016

To My Sunshine: Thank You for Teaching Me to Live & Die with Grace.

Author's own (Traci Lowenthal)


It’s been four days. In a few minutes there will be a fourth sunset.

It doesn’t make sense.

I don’t remember the first time I met you. Our friendship has just always existed. Sometime in our early 20s we met at work. Somehow, we became roommates. We got a puppy together. We painted rooms in the house we shared. We ate lunch together.

Every day at home and every day at work, you were always there.

Drinks at TGI Fridays with our co-workers, random (stupid!) trips to Mexico, just because. A few crazy trips to Hawaii because we were young and single.

You have just always been my very special friend. You’ve always called me your Peach. I don’t remember why. I started calling you Peach too, many years ago. It’s just always been that way. Our cubicles were together and we would listen to Elton John and sing the lyrics to each other, only really, really slowly. For some reason, it was always hilarious. “Don’t let the sun go down on meeeee…”

You took me to see Titanic. You warned me I would cry, but didn’t warn me that I would sob uncontrollably!  We went three times.

We got another dog and named her Rose. I heard the Celine Dion song in the grocery store the day after you died. I hadn’t heard it in many years. It felt like you had something to do with it.

I felt like I would be crushed by the weight of that song in the middle of the laundry soap aisle.

We stopped being roommates at some point; I don’t remember why. I probably did something to cause it; I can be pretty rigid. We never stopped being friends though. At some point, we stopped working in the same office. Always still friends, just not seeing each other quite as much.

You read scripture at my wedding. I still remember that you wore something tan and you looked so nervous.

You never married.

That always made me sad.

It’s been nearly four years since you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I nearly broke when I heard—It couldn’t be.

I know how deadly that diagnosis is.

After a few days I realized that if anyone could beat it, you could. A little bit of optimism mixed with a ton of defensive denial.

And you kicked ass. You wore shockingly bright wigs and did your make up in such a way that you continued to look radiant.

You did all of it with such an amazing attitude.

I know everyone says that—but it was so true. You always smiled and seemed so grateful. I went to chemo with you a couple of times.  I wish I had gone every time. You had amazing work friends/sisters that always went with you. I was happy about that.

You even went into remission and had a big party. It was a miracle!

The f*cking cancer came back. It brought with it pleural effusions. Your lung had to be drained repeatedly. You made regular trips to the ER.

Again, there were no complaints from you. I would bring you dinner and we would hang out in your hospital room. I always hated leaving at night because you were alone when you went to sleep and when you woke up. I would hate that. I hated it for you.

You always said “It’s not so bad.”

Every evening when one of us would leave, you would say “Sleep with the angels.”

On December 23rd, I was going to bring you lunch at your office. You had to go to the ER instead. It eventually turned into Hospice care at home. Your work friends (sisters, really) and family and I were there nearly every day. All the girls began group texts so we could keep track of who would be with you when.

Together we all discussed your funeral, advanced directives and the color of your casket. Your circle of work sisters made sure your bills were paid and your insurance was taken care of and a million other things. We called the old friends from the office and everyone came to see you. The number of visitors you received astounded other people in the hospital.

It was beautiful.

And heart-wrenching.

You smiled and held hands and thanked every single person. Even the nurses and doctors always received a thank you from you. You were still so grateful. There were many tears, but so much raw, unfiltered love that it was something I will never forget. Once we bundled you up and took you outside in your wheel chair. Your sister had to open the wine she brought with a screwdriver.

We toasted you and cried and listened to music.

You said it was your YaYa night.

Once you were home, the morphine made your kooky personality shine. You thought we were pranking you. You would say silly things and have a mischievous look on your face.

Once, one of us forgot to set the brake on your wheelchair, so every time you had to have us check it repeatedly. Somehow as your mind began to slow down, you could still retain that very critical piece of information. Things seemed settled for a few days, and then your happiness seemed to depart, being replaced by agitation. We didn’t know what this meant.

Thankfully, it only lasted two days.

I am so grateful that I asked and was able to spend your last night with you. At midnight you were still awake, but also so very incapacitated. I was so tired and wanted to help you get to sleep so we could all rest. You could barely sit up, but were able to tell us you wanted to go. I asked if you wanted to go on a trip and you said yes. Your mother and I described a wonderful trip with all your friends and you kept saying “Let’s go” and “Best spot.”

You sat on the edge of your bed and wanted to go. I know now you wanted to go—to be away from that bed and the cancer and the oxygen and the fear and the pain.

You were ready. Sometimes I feel like I didn’t ask the right questions that night, but I also think that you went to sleep dreaming of a great adventure with all of your favorite girls.

You never woke up.

I left the next morning without saying goodbye, for fear of waking you. I so regret that choice. The many women who love you arrived shortly afterward and were with you when you died. I arrived about 10 minutes too late.

It’s okay though—you needed to go, I understand.

You were 47.

Grief feels like so many things—and it’s only been four days.

It feels like a storm blowing in some days—warm and sunny and then the clouds pour in. Other days feel like a heavy invisible blanket covers everything.

People have the audacity to go about their lives. I hear them laugh and talk about inconsequential things. I want to shout “Don’t you know? Don’t you know that Vera is gone?”  But of course I can’t. They wouldn’t understand.

As much as it hurts, I know that you’ve taught me everything a friend could.

You taught me how to live life fully, and how to die with grace.

I have learned so much from you in this time. There have been so many precious, irreplaceable moments of joy wrapped within this ending. Somehow, knowing you were dying helped your loved ones gather you in even closer; to work harder to see the gifts in each moment, to be grateful for the little things. On the nights that I was the one to get you to sleep, I am so grateful that I stayed, that I sat with you while you slept, looking into your face.

So many of us turn away from death, for fear that the pain of it will consume us—that we will become so uncomfortable and be unable to cope. You demonstrated to me that the opposite is true. When we embrace someone’s death (and to some extent our own) we open ourselves to the true depth and richness of emotional intimacy; we see each other fully, stripped of pretense, open and raw and ready to receive the love of one another.

As I sit with the pain of missing you now, I also embrace the gift of having been along side you as you traveled toward the end we all face. While I would do anything to have you back, I wouldn’t trade any of the moments we shared. My hope is that each of us can look into the face of those we love at the end of their lives and feel gratitude for being with them. As much privilege as we feel to be present during a birth, I hope that we can all embrace someone’s death with the same presence and love and undivided attention.

My wish is that we can all see death as something we can do well, when loved and supported by those we share our lives with.

We’ve always been friends. I know we still are but I miss you, Peach.

Sleep with the angels.




Author: Traci Lowenthal

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Author’s own

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