It’s December 23, 2014. Mothers are not supposed to die two days before Christmas.
Cancer doesn’t care about mothers or children.
Karen was my grade school best friend. I never quite figured out why she chose me. She was athletic; by far the cutest girl in the class. I was clumsy, immature, housed in a Milwaukee brace, and easily the most unpopular kid in the class. Karen was shy and I was ridiculously social. I suppose we were a good match.
Karen and I met Paula in high school. Paula was a cheerleader and by far the cutest girl in our high school class. I had lost the brace, but otherwise I had not changed. Karen and Paula became good friends. I moved in another direction. It wasn’t something we decided; it just happened.
We graduated. We lost touch for nearly 20 years and reconnected at a class reunion. We more than reconnected. We realized our friendships never ended. Karen, Paula, and I met for lunch, we met other classmates for drinks, we relived the past and we shared what we had lost over the years.
November 2014, I get a message from Karen’s daughter. “My mom has an aggressive cancer. Will you call my dad?” How could that be? We had been together in July and Paula had tried to set a lunch date in October. Karen hadn’t responded, but so what?Sometimes it took a few months to set something up. We were busy. It was nothing for one of us to procrastinate or “forget.”
First, I call Paula. She had received the same text. I call Howard. He wants us to visit Karen in the hospital. We don’t talk about “aggressive cancer.”
When Paula and I walk into the hospital room, I’m not sure my face is able to disguise my shock. What happened? Karen is swollen and bald and discolored. Tears fall from her eyes, but she smiles and asks how we’re doing. For two hours we stay with Howard, Katie, and Karen. We reminisce; we talked about everything but the elephant in the room. We laugh, a lot.
Howard walks us to the elevator and tells us there is one more thing they can try to save Karen. He doesn’t look hopeful. There are no words to make it better. We hug.
I was able to see Karen one more time before she died. Our friend, Dawn, came in from Dallas. Dawn and I visited. Karen knew she was dying and it would be quick. I didn’t talk a lot. Dawn managed to nervous-ramble for over an hour about clothes, and kids, and the past. Karen went from smiling, to crying, to sleeping. When we left, I kissed her good-bye. I knew I’d never see my friend again.
Karen is 3rd from the right; beside me, of course!