What I’m learning from loss

It’s been a tough week, folks.

First of all, I’ve been dealing with a sick dog. Herky (the Boston Terrier) has developed an autoimmune disease that has caused his platelets to drop, leaving him terribly bruised all over, swollen, and occasionally peeing blood. (Sorry if that was TMI, but I figure if you’re a reader of my blog, you know I tell it like it is.) Right now the poor baby can’t really walk because one of his legs is so swollen, and he literally pees every time he tries to walk, which is always fun to clean up. But I can’t blame him because he always looks so sorry while he’s doing it, like he’s totally humiliated but can’t help it. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

So we’ve been treating him with lots of different types of medication knowing that we can’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to take him to a university clinic where they could do all types of intensive tests on him to figure out exactly what’s going on inside his body–like if leukemia is behind it or something just as sinister. But the little guy is nearly 9 1/2 years old, and 1) I don’t know that testing of that nature, blood transfusions, etc., would be something he could handle at this stage and 2) we don’t have $2,000-$7,000 just lying around waiting to be spent. We just don’t. Which of course leaves me feeling guilty, causing me to baby him even more. So right now it’s just a waiting game, seeing if he will come out of this or if we’re looking at possibly having to make the ultimate decision about his quality of life. I know he’s just a dog, but he’s my baby and has been since we got him, and it sucks.

Then, even worse, we’ve lost three people this week who were important to us. Which sucks even more. My dad lost a friend he’s had most of his life–and a friend lost her father–to something sudden and unforeseen. What makes it worse is that my dad can’t even pay his respects because of Covid, so he feels sad and guilty and lonely. My dad is one who can talk on the phone to his friends for hours–always has been. “Visiting,” whether on the phone or in person, was something that has defined my dad ever since I can remember. He loves to visit, and he’s lost so many of his friends who also enjoy the hour-long phone conversations that used to be about the price of beans and corn and now range from who has cancer to the good deal he got on his and mom’s hearing aids to politics. The more friends my dad loses, the more I think he reflects on his own mortality, which can make a person feel down, especially a person who has basically been in his house now for 8 months without much chance to socialize outside the phone. And of course it makes me think about my parents’ mortality, which is never a fun topic to reflect upon, especially when you can’t go see them and hang out like you want to for fear of giving them a virus which would shorten their lifespan even more.

Husband and I also lost two schoolmates this week, both gone waaaaaay too soon. One was a guy who was a year ahead of us but was a friend to all. My husband caught for him when they played baseball together. This guy was never NOT smiling, and he had the best smile. He could be ornery, but a good kind of ornery, one that’s pretty endearing, and he grew up to be one amazing husband, father, and youth worker and advocate for kids who needed a good role model in their lives. HIs death wasn’t a surprise–he’d been battling cancer for three years–but it doesn’t make it any less sad. And 50 years old is just too damn young to say goodbye.

Two days ago, we lost a classmate and good friend very unexpectedly to a heart attack. Our hearts break for her devoted husband and set of twins who turn 20 today. Their day started out normal and by late afternoon, our friend was gone–not even 50 years old. This has really made me reflect on a few things.

One is that we need to make time for people and make memories, not just say we “should get together soon.” And right now with Covid, that’s just not safe, which really, really sucks. We were supposed to have our 30th high school reunion last summer and with Covid, we had to cancel. I know I would’ve seen my friend there and we would’ve made some amazing memories together. I am glad that I have some great photos of she and I together at our 25th reunion, and I’m also glad that four of us classmates, my late friend included, actually followed through on a “we should…” and went to a high school softball playoff game together several years ago, heading to a small-town bar afterward. It was an evening of laughter and catching up, and I’m so glad we did it and didn’t just say “We should.”

I have been working on this some, like going with my best friend on a trip to Florida two summers in a row. Could I afford it? Well, we went on the cheap, but I’m sure I could’ve used that money for something else like paying off a bill or putting in my savings account (hahaha, like I have a savings account). I also went to the Blissdom Conference in Nashville last year with two good friends I met online. (Sadly, the apartment we stayed in downtown was destroyed in the bombing on Christmas.) However, I don’t regret those trips one bit because we have made some amazing memories from them, and memories are not something you can buy later when you can afford it. You make them now, and you hold on to them and they become precious gifts that no one can take away from you. They are gifts that grow in value over time.

Another thing this has made me think about is how I want to be remembered. It’s interesting to see how so many people have described our friend in similar ways, referencing how she had the best smile, was always a light and had a beautiful soul. And she truly did. When she saw you, you knew she was genuinely thrilled to see you. You could tell she was so happy with her life, and her happiness and joy just emanated from her when you talked to her. She was always so kind and the type of person who always wanted to know how you were doing and actually listened, didn’t just wait for an opening so she could tell you about her life. And you know it’s true because so many of us have described her in this same way without even realizing it. It’s hard to fathom why her life was taken from us at so young an age, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that the way she lived her life made some of us think about how we want to live our lives and what kind of a person we want to be. I’m sure she had no idea she had that effect on people, but she did. She genuinely made you want to be a better person. Maybe that’s her legacy.

All this has also made me realize how precious life is and how we never know when it’s the last time we will see someone. It makes me want to make sure I tell people how much they mean to me and say “I love you” more. So many people make a positive impact on my life, and I just take it for granted that they know, but they probably don’t. My friend and travel writer Jody Halsted (who you should follow if you don’t already because she’s amazing) just posted on Facebook about how she is going to send a handwritten note or card to someone once a week this year. I think that’s an outstanding idea. I don’t know if I can keep up with once a week, but I am going to make an effort to send more handwritten notes to people this year and just tell people that they are important to me. I have a good friend at work who is very good at this. She will put a note in my mailbox, maybe once every week or two, just telling me something she appreciates about me. I don’t think I’ve ever told her how much that means to me. Watch out, people–you’re going to get sick of me walking around saying “I love you!” Get yourselves ready!

Please don’t think I wrote this post to get any sort of sympathy for me. Yes, my dog is sick and I’ve lost friends, but a) my dog is a pet, and you don’t expect that they’ll outlive you and b) the families of my friends are the ones who deserve the sympathies right now. But if it makes you reach out to that friend you haven’t talked to in a while and just say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you!” or schedule some FaceTime coffee with someone who you always are telling “We need to get together soon,” then I’ve done my job. Don’t take anything for granted, because there are no guarantees that “soon” will ever come.

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