7: Sharing the Journey

7: Sharing the Journey

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Sharing the Journey

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

One of my dearest friends died recently. Dolores had been battling cancer for more than eight years with strength and an unflagging optimism. She was a take-charge person. Each time cancer recurred she would accept, almost welcome, and at one time demanded, the next round of chemo. She knew what was coming—the nausea, neuropathy, the sleeplessness and pain—but she also knew the consequences if she refused. There would be two or three days a week of discomfort but she focused on the four days when she would feel “pretty good.” If the regimen called for chemo every three weeks, she happily anticipated the two weeks of feeling decent. But the periods of remission before cancer popped up again became shorter and shorter.

Dolores said that she would know when her quality of life was too diminished, yet despite her trials she held on. The time eventually came when she was in and out of the hospital and her daily existence was ruled by pain. That was when she made the decision to stop the tests, the chemotherapy, the distress to herself and her family, and to let go. She went home on hospice care. Three weeks later we attended her funeral.

She and I had met 30 years ago, through an introduction by a mutual friend who thought we would get along because I was moving onto the same street and we both were writers. Our friend was right. We did get along—on many levels—and we discovered more about each other as the years progressed.

Our friendship began when I invited my new neighbor to a writers’ group I had been attending. She wrote poetry and I wrote children’s books, two very different genres, but the group was eclectic: one man wrote horror stories à la Stephen King, a woman wrote feature articles for newspapers, someone else wrote poetry for his own pleasure. The group was fun and helpful, but it was our carpooling back and forth that helped our friendship blossom. We learned a lot about each other on those trips. We talked about our hopes and philosophies, our families, our worlds.

One day I got the idea that we could write a children’s book together using my stories and her poems. We sent out queries and got rejections, but one editor suggested that we fill out the book with crafts and activities. Neither of us had done that before. We looked at each other and said, “Why not?”

Each day I trundled down to her house, three doors away, and we created projects for kids using what we had handy—laundry baskets, milk cartons, bed sheets, yarn. Our days were spent laughing. We couldn’t believe what we were able to produce from ordinary household things. We ended up coauthoring two Halloween activity books, four joke books, and one picture book.

People asked us if it was hard to write with another person. We never thought so, perhaps because we wrote every sentence together. Every poem had both our voices; every activity was a combination of ideas. We didn’t see the projects as hers or mine but rather as ours. There was no competition, only fun.

We did more than write together. We attended classes, took up Chinese brush painting, practiced Qi Gong and Tai Chi in our front yards. I taught yoga and she became a feng shui consultant.

Through the years we set aside Friday afternoons for meditating, either in her house or mine, and invited a couple of friends to join us. It was during one of those sessions that she suddenly realized she had cancer. Six months later she was diagnosed and everything changed.

I visited her each day as she slowly succumbed to the disease those last weeks. I could see that she was waiting to leave. We talked a little, but mostly I just held her hand. I knew that her philosophy embraced a broad understanding of energy, but I could tell how hard the process was. When she left, I was relieved as much as I grieved.

She is still in my heart—and in my files. Our joint work, both published and unpublished, is a connection between our worlds. When I think of her, I am grateful for our years together. I never suspected when we met that our relationship would be so profound. But then, do we ever know where life takes us and who will share the journey?

~Ferida Wolff

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