From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

A Friend for All Seasons

The growth of true friendship maybe a lifelong affair.

Sarah Orne Jewett

Some friends in your life come and go, and some come and stay. And when it comes time to let them go, though painful, it feels right and brings peace. For you know that you have given and received unconditional love and acceptance, with no regrets. That was how it was with my friend Sue.

As a nurse at a local hospital, I facilitated the discharge planning conferences. Sue, an animated redhead and a dietitian on the oncology floors, always attended these meetings. She loved her patients and had a reputation for going the extra mile to be sure each one got the special nutrients needed to fight the cancer. We bonded instantly, beginning a twenty-year friendship that would take us on many twists and turns as we journeyed through life together.

“You know, we must somehow be sisters. Both our moms are elementary teachers and pack rats,” Sue laughed early on in our friendship.

Before long, people told us we started to look alike. Some thought we were really sisters.

We shared the good times and celebrated each passing year. Sue had a zest for life. I could count on her to welcome each season and holiday in an appropriate outfit with matching earrings that made us all smile. Nothing in my life was trivial to her. When it came time for me to marry at age thirty-six, I wanted an outdoor wedding but feared rain. “Why not have it at our house? We can decorate the garden and move to our church down the road if it rains,” she offered. So my husband and I married at her beautiful colonial home in the country, where Sue catered the reception herself. From the rehearsal dinner to our wedding night in her comfortable master suite before departing on our honeymoon, Sue made this occasion a time to remember. Six years later, she opened her home once again for a dinner that celebrated the baptism of our only daughter.

But life has it highs and lows, and so did our friendship.

“I think I may have to put Poopsie down,” she cried after her beloved mutt was hit by a car on the road to her house.

I rushed with her to the vet. Poopsie miraculously survived but lost bowel and bladder control; the vet gave no guarantee for recovery. My nursing came in handy as I taught Sue how to catheterize her pup until function returned.

Then, my sixteen-year-old cat, Grace, had to be put to sleep. I grieved and sought Sue’s comfort, freely given.

But nothing prepared us for the next tragic discovery.

Sue started seeing shooting lights inside her eyes. An exam revealed a rare form of ocular cancer; her prognosis was ten years, at best. After surgery, I assisted by putting eyedrops in her eyes and cheering her on. “Please take some antioxidants, Susie,” I begged. “Your immune system has got to stay strong to beat this.”

With a smile, she would always say, “You know I believe you can get all you need through eating a balanced diet.”

This optimistic dietitian refused to heed my pleas.

Soon afterward, it was my turn: I discovered a mass in my breast. Although I walked alone into the cold office for the defining ultrasound test, Sue suddenly appeared with an angel penny bookmark for me. “I did not want you to be here by yourself,” she whispered, as she hugged me and joined me for the wait. Weeks later, she would again show up at the hospital outpatient surgery suite, with flowers and a big smile. She never forgot to be there for me.

“Sue’s mother has been killed in a car wreck,” I heard the voice on the phone say. It seemed unreal, as I had shared dinner with her mom a few days prior. In a freakish accident, she had been hit by an eighteen-wheeler. Sue and I held hands as we confirmed her mom’s identity at the county morgue. Sue took an extended family leave but never seemed to heal completely after this loss. Her exuberance for life dimmed as she faced a future without her best supporter.

Sue loved taking pictures and became an amateur photographer. Each year brought more memories, recorded in photographs, confirming our blessings. My husband gave me a surprise fiftieth birthday party, and Sue was on board with her camera.

Two weeks later, she showed up with a photo album and bad news: a recurrence of her cancer was confirmed. It had been eleven years since her first diagnosis. Her abdomen was swollen, with liver metastasis the suspected cause. She felt bad all the time but kept wearing her bright-colored pantsuits with the elastic waistbands.

One Monday, Sue called to ask if I could take her to the hospital. Immediately, I drove to her home. We walked through her yard for a while, discussing all the times we had shared there. Finally she said, “I am ready now. I think this may be the last time.” Sue had become a registered nurse a few years prior and worked with hospice. Trusting her judgment, I feared the worst. That long drive was the last one. Despite the best efforts of excellent physicians and state-of-the-art treatments, Sue’s condition worsened. Only a few weeks later, I sat at her bedside as she slipped in and out of consciousness. We had a brief but meaningful visit, during which she recognized me. As I held her hand, she told me she loved me. I whispered that it was time for her to go see her mom, and that I would be there soon as well. Because we were Christians, we knew we would meet again in a place with no sickness or pain.

Just two days before Christmas, heaven had a new angel—and my life would never be the same.

Marylane Wade Koch

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