4 March 2010
I don’t even know where to begin. This week was supposed to be a wonderful ball of stress and excitement culminating in an 8-hour flight to Germany and a week-long vacation with my partner, who I haven’t seen in almost six months. I was supposed to spend it packing, making last-minute purchases, and cramming homework in so that I didn’t have to bring anything with me.
A few days ago, I got a call that changed everything. A friend of mine from undergrad, who’s been coping with a brain tumor for a couple of years, has taken an abrupt and severe turn for the worse. “Turn for the worse,” in this case, means she probably won’t be here by the time I get back from Germany, one week from tomorrow. Fourteen days left in her life. That’s all.
What do you do when you’re about to embark on an amazing adventure, but all you want to do is curl up in a ball and cry yourself tearless? This vacation to Germany was going to mark the beginning of the end- the end of long distance relationships, the end of graduate school, the end of living in Pennsylvania- and now, it’s going to mark an ending that I’m really not ready to face. Instead of the dreams I was having of wandering the Rhineland, I’m having nightmares of missed phone calls, missed memorials, and isolation at a time when my friends and I will need each other the most. After all these months of preparation, I’m stuck going on a trip that can’t be postponed and that I wish I didn’t have to take.
If I had magic powers, I would be able to shrink tumors with a wave of my hand. I would be able to teleport myself across vast distances with no side effects. I would be able to be in two places at once. Hell, I might be able to turn myself invisible, just for kicks. But the sad truth is that the days are marching onward, and as a mortal I’m unlikely to develop any of these powers anytime soon. So instead I’m writing her letters, sending her notecards, shipping bright and beautiful flowers to her house so that her last days are filled with smiles and as much love and happiness as I can cram into an envelope. When I get to Germany, I’ll be mailing her postcards of the places I’m going and telling her stories about what overseas hijinks Nick and I are having. And day by day I’ll learn to accept the reality that my friend probably won’t live to receive all of those postcards, letters, or flowers. The reality that my next trip will probably be for a funeral.
The truth is that sometimes being a GoGirl sucks. What you gain in rich experiences and exciting adventures, you lose by being on the other side of the world when the phone call comes in that someone you love is dying and you know you won’t make it back in time to say goodbye. And no matter how many times you remind yourself not to take people for granted- saying “I love you” every time you talk to your parents, writing emails and sending photos to your friends, taking a couple of minutes each day to be grateful for the loved ones in your life- it’s hard to feel that it’s ever enough appreciation. And I would never suggest that we give up travel in favour of hanging around home, “just in case,” but I’m also starting to feel terrified that this will happen over and over again while I’m gone, and wondering if I can take that.
I end this post the way I began: I still don’t know where to begin processing all of this, where to wrap my head around everything, where to turn to make it all bearable. I don’t even know what to tell you, readers, because I can’t even find the lesson in my own post. So I leave it up to you to make what you will of my grief and the possibilities it holds for each of us. In two weeks, I hope to have a happier and more adventurous article for you all. But in the meantime…
“When you can’t walk, you crawl, and when you can’t do that anymore, you find someone to carry you.”
Very moving post, and real. Don’t let that fear overtake you and keep you close to home, however. My grandmother spent her life looking at me askance as I described my trips. She would say, “You like to *do* that? What if someone dies while you are away?” She never went anywhere. Yet, when she herself passed away, she did so the day before I was taking my mother (her daughter) on her first trip to Paris. We had to postpone Paris, but managed to reschedule. I like to think my grandmother was proving a point, but the point I took away from that was that I shouldn’t wait around for the perfect time or the safest time to do anything — just forge ahead, live your life, enjoy and experience and have no regrets.