My Friend Died Before I Could Say Goodbye

skyThis morning when I got into work, I found a message waiting for me. It was from the husband of a friend of mine: "Cherie passed away Tuesday from metastatic cancer..." Cherie, who I'd known nearly 20 years. Cancer?!? What cancer? I scrolled through my emails to find the last time I'd heard from her. It was June 14, when she congratulated a mutual friend on a new job: "Great news!" she'd said. "What are you looking forward to in your new job?" She was diagnosed with cancer just a week after that, June 22. It ravaged her quickly.

I never got to tell her goodbye.

This cancer was sneaky. Her husband says she'd been feeling fatigued -- what working mother doesn't feel fatigued? But it was severe enough to keep her in bed for a week. By the time she checked into a hospital and was diagnosed, the cancer had spread throughout several organs. Her husband says she had an averse reaction to the chemotherapy, which probably contributed to her rapid decline. Meanwhile he was too busy dealing with his wife's illness and their two children, plus teaching her summer college course, to alert her friends.

More from The Stir: It's Not Fair My Mom Died Before I Had My Baby

Oh yes, she leaves behind a young daughter and son. I can't stand that they will have to grow up without her.

Cherie was brilliant and funny, a Russian historian with a PhD from Yale who was writing satirical news stories long before The Onion came along. She was also wise and compassionate. She was part of a small, close group of girlfriends of mine scattered all over the globe who'd kept in touch for the past 14 or so years. Whenever someone complained about their husband or colleague, she was always the first to affirm your frustration while also helping you see things from the other person's perspective.

Her compassion was driven by curiosity -- it was her nature to wonder about someone's apparent foibles and weaknesses before judging them.

My former husband and I used to drive up the three hours to Connecticut to visit Cherie and her husband. We would cook together, argue about art. The hostas that grow in my front garden came from her garden. Over the years we had our children and these visits became infrequent. We had talked about getting together for years, but just never got around to it.

I'm furious that I let so much time pass, that I didn't try harder ... but of course I thought I had all the time in the world. You always do. Her friendship was a treasure I carelessly took for granted, like a gem you keep in a box and pull out only every so often, when you think of it.

I wish I could tell her what she meant to me over the years, how much I loved her nerdiness, how she challenged me to think more critically, to be more curious about people. How I think of her every time I ride my bike up a particular hill in the park near my home -- I think of the Russian word she used when she went running, to urge herself on. I can't remember the exact Russian word, actually, only that it sounded like "donuts," and that she found the coincidence hilariously absurd. "Donuts! Donuts!" I think, as I pedal uphill.

Anyway ... the day won't stand still just because I miss my friend. But I think it's time to pay attention. Pay attention to your health, to the little things that seem off. Moms, we're awfully busy, and it's hard to make time for ourselves and give our bodies the attention they need. But we all want to stick around, for ourselves and for our families. An early death is inevitable for some of us, though, so pay attention to that breeze brushing your cheek, the freedom of your arms swinging as you walk.

Pay attention to your loved ones, your children, your friends. Especially your oldest friends, the ones we think will be around forever just because it seems like they've always been there. No one is a permanent part of your life.

Have you ever lost a good friend suddenly?


cancer, breast cancer, breasts


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bills... billsfan1104

I am deeply sorry for your loss.

eem8605 eem8605

I'm sorry for your loss. Cancer is so unpredictable. Prayers for you and her family! She sounds like she was a wonderful person! 

Taisie Taisie

I'm so sorry! Losing a close friend is always so hard, and the usual platitudes will not ease your sorrow! Eventually you will come to remember her with happiness in your heart, just now I know it is only pain and tears.... again, I am so sorry for your loss!

Green... GreenEyesMom

I too am sorry for your loss. I lost my mother to cancer that spread quickly. She was responding well to the chemo. In the end though she passed away at 46 from breast cancer. I didn't find out for a week. My dad had had custody of me my whole life. I maybe saw her 15 times. My dad kinda screwed her out of custody. Long story. She raised me from birth to 3. I was her world. My dad had better lawyers and he aquired more money. Anyways totally off topic. I feel she was robbed of her childhood, robbed of her motherhood, and taken to soon from this earth and my life. She didn't even get to meet or know about my beautiful girls. I named my daughter Mandi after her. R.I.P. Mandy Nanette Isbell & R.I.P. To your dear friend Cherie

Melan... MelanieJK

You can't say goodbye but know that love reaches across eternity.     She sounds like a wonderful person.     

kelti... kelticmom

I'm so sorry. The wife of my boss was diagnosed with skin cancer, they thought they had it all, but she had terrible abdominal pain a few months later. They opened her up to see what was causing it - cancer had wreaked havoc on her liver, kidneys, etc. She never woke up from the anesthesia, she died the next day. Cancer is a terrible, evil, heartless and unprejudiced killer. My mom is 5 years cancer free and my dad is two years cancer free. Both of them lost a parent each to cancer. 

nonmember avatar Jennifer

Another reminder that things can change in the blink of an eye. Try to cherish and enjoy what you do have ... the hostas, "donuts" and all those wonderful memories! Prayers to you all during this difficult time!

Nelli... NellieAthome

I am sorry for your loss

You might want to take the time and write a note to her children telling them just how special their mom was to you. In years to come it will make their mother more "alive" to them to have those kinds of memories

nonmember avatar Rosa

So sorry! I too lost a friend without saying good-bye. It is a terrible feeling but I always keep in touch with her in spirit!!! Continue celebrating life! Rosa

N_mar... N_maricle

That's so heartbreaking:(

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