20: Friends Forever

20: Friends Forever

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Friends Forever

A single rose can be my garden… a single friend, my world.

~Leo Buscaglia

How lucky I was to know Sylvia! We taught together in Los Angeles and became great friends in spite of our twenty-three-year age difference. I was in my late twenties and Sylvia her young fifties. During my divorce, Sylvia became my best friend, cheerleader, and travel partner. Sylvia’s husband, Cliff, became my dear friend and partner in crime. I became the daughter they never had.

A year later, I moved to Colorado, but my relationship with Sylvia became stronger than ever. Several times a year, we traveled together or spent extended time at each other’s homes. Saying our goodbyes at the airport always resulted in tears and immediate plans for our next opportunity to get together. Somehow, having something on the calendar took the sting out of the physical distance between us. My mantra was “Friends Are Chosen Family,” and Sylvia and Cliff felt closer than the family I was born into.

Over the years, our relationship deepened. Sylvia and Cliff joined me for holidays and important family functions. Sylvia and I cooked Thanksgiving dinner together for approximately twenty-five friends and family members. I was the cook, and she was my sous chef. We enjoyed this tradition for many years, and we guarded our holiday time together jealously.

In December 2009, Cliff died from a heart attack. Having been married for forty-five years, Sylvia was not prepared for life without him. We spent even more time together.

In November 2012, Sylvia called to say that she needed to stay in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. I was crushed but understood. That Thanksgiving morning, I had the worst dream ever. In my dream, her sister Charlotte called and told me that Sylvia was dying in the hospital. Throughout Thanksgiving Day, I couldn’t shake the dread and sadness of the dream. I phoned Sylvia a few times, but was unable to reach her.

The next morning, my dream became my real-life nightmare. The phone rang. It was Charlotte telling me that Sylvia had a stroke at the Thanksgiving dinner table. My dear friend was in a hospital in Los Angeles. I flew to be by her side and realized that the stroke had taken a massive toll. My beautiful, vibrant, seventy-five-year-old friend was completely incapacitated. Within a few days, Sylvia was transferred to a nursing home with complete paralysis of the left side of her body.

As she tried to recover from the stroke, we were all saddened that Sylvia wasn’t getting better. In fact, her health declined and she was moved to the hospital when the nursing home could no longer care for her. Then, after three long months of paralysis and illness, Sylvia was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She would not be getting any better.

The days leading up to Sylvia’s passing were excruciating. While nurses tried their best to keep her physical discomfort to a minimum, she was clearly uncomfortable and in pain. One day, I sat by Sylvia’s hospital bed while she floated in and out of consciousness and I gazed down the hallway, not focusing on anything. Suddenly, I saw an older Asian gentleman walking down the hallway toward me. I burst into tears as I recognized Sylvia’s husband, Cliff, who had passed away three years before in the same hospital. There he was in his favorite jeans and Hawaiian print shirt, looking larger than life. I did not want to take my eyes off him because I knew he would go as easily as he came. When I finally blinked, Cliff was no longer visible. Tears fell, partly because I missed Cliff terribly, but also because his visit was a sure sign that Sylvia’s time was limited.

Later that evening as I sat with Sylvia, I sensed the spirits of her mother and father outside her hospital room, looking in. Selfishly, I said out loud, “You can’t have her yet.”

On Sylvia’s final day, it felt as if her spirit was coming and going from her struggling body. I held her hand that evening as she took her last breath. She was finally free to be with Cliff and her family members on the other side.

The next morning, I headed to the airport, sobbing as I drove. I started talking out loud, even though no one was there to hear it. I told Sylvia how bad I felt about her last few months, and how I was terrified of living life without her. I sobbed my disappointment that she would not see my girls grow up and that she would not be moving to Colorado after my retirement as we had planned. I yelled my apologies that I had been unable to save her, unable to provide the miracle that she had been counting on. I struggled to see the road through my tears and I hoped the drivers in the next lane were not watching my complete breakdown.

Then I felt a presence in the back seat as if someone were riding with me. I stopped talking. I might have stopped breathing as well. If there was someone in the back seat, what should I do? My mind raced. Should I pull off the busy freeway? Keep driving to a police station? I didn’t know my way around Los Angeles, and I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. I was terrified. I looked in the rearview mirror, afraid of who I might see.

Instead of a dangerous stranger, I saw the most beautiful gift anyone could have ever given me. In the back seat, sitting close together, were Sylvia and Cliff in spirit. They looked younger than when they died. Sylvia looked a little dazed and tired, but Cliff looked so content. I laughed through my tears. I knew it was preposterous, but I didn’t care. I soaked up every minute of it. I thought of the movie “Driving Miss Daisy” and laughed at the oddity of my chauffeuring the spirits of my two dearest friends around Los Angeles.

Seeing Sylvia and Cliff together — both having transcended the trauma of illness and death — helped to heal the raw pain I had been carrying. They were both fine and were together in a good place. They showed me that they would always be there with me, whenever I needed them. I felt such love and healing. I would not have to wait to be reunited with them; instead, I felt they were never leaving me.

~Ruth Anderson

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