As Joni Mitchell sang, “The seasons they go round and round” in a circle marked by both repetition and change. The fall of the first acorns means summer is drawing to a close. The sun retreating in mid-afternoon warns that winter is fast upon us. Robins chirping on the lawn are a harbinger of spring. And at this time of year, the scents and sights ripen into the deep greens of summer. We can’t return, but we can reflect on where we have been, what we have been through, and hopefully what we have learned.
This year, I feel more captive on that carousel of time than usual, thanks to COVID fears and restrictions, both self- and government-imposed. It’s been a long four months. And yet, on July 9th, I always feel it has been another fast year, marked not by a change in the seasons or a national holiday, but rather by a bittersweet day when friends and family honor Amy, whose life was cut too short by cancer. We mourn her absence while rejoicing in all she shared.
Amy taught me so much about life. We met on the job, she a few years older and so much wiser. She demonstrated how to voice a strong opinion and be heard above the roar of male egos. She introduced me to my husband and modeled how to establish shared responsibility in a household with two busy professionals. She showed me how to shower children with affection and encouragement while setting clear boundaries and expectations. And she gave me the sense that I was her best friend, while sharing that same connection with so many others.
Rare gem that she was, Amy never sparkled more than in the intimate moments of daily friendship. Her irrepressible enthusiasm and limitless confidence in those she loved shone through in every conversation. While it is easy to think of Amy as a great talker who could present her case with expert finesse whether the subject was where to dine or the complexities of foreign policy, she was even better at listening. She was intent on really hearing and understanding. When the topic was merely material, her response was likely to be enthusiastic incredulity. “Really? Really?” her voice rising in excitement as the story unfolded. But when the topic was emotional, it was as if she felt it in her own heart.
I remember once sharing with her an argument I had had with my sister. Her deep attention, empathy and insights helped me move from anger to understanding, reminded me of how much I treasure family connections, and allowed me to build back a relationship I had damaged with my temper. I’m not sure another friend could have done that without leaving me feeling betrayed.
And at this time of year, I remember also that Amy taught me how to deal with cancer. Diagnosed with advanced lung disease, she braved the horrors of chemo, radiation, thwarted plans, dashed hopes and false starts. She donned her wig and smiled, kept up lively conversation, theater dates, lunches out, walks on the beach. Recent advances in immunotherapy that might have kept her alive were only just emerging by the time her lungs were failing, the metastases in her brain and bones causing too much havoc to reverse. Her last revolving year came much too soon.
When she died, she left a gaping hole in my heart. Five years later, I still reach for the phone to share with her a moment of joy or parse one of life’s many puzzles, only to remember that she was not lucky enough to survive. At the time of my diagnosis, she wasn’t there to hold my hand as I had held hers. But her personality was so strong, her voice so clear, that I can still hear and be guided by her wisdom. Ask questions. Listen. Be generous with your heart. Seek out new experiences. Eat well and often. Love openly. Live fully. And when cancer bites, bite it right back.
Her formula doesn’t work for everyone. We each face our cancer nightmares in ways that reflect our own lives and disease. But in setting such a clear example, she helped me overcome my fears. She led me to question and seek a greater understanding of why and how we suffer. And she inspired me to turn my recovery into something I could share. I often wish I had Amy’s temperament — her patience and her selflessness. And I desperately miss her friendship. But when I look behind from where I came, I am so thankful for her legacy. Happy Birthday Amy. Where would I be without you?