Questions Without Answers
How do you measure a life? Is it in increments of time? Is it in numbers – sunsets seen, years married? Is it in lives touched? Friends made, friends lost?
For that matter, how do you define a friend? Is it just someone you see or talk to often? Is it that person whose loving presence can be felt even if they are miles away? Is it only the one who remembers to call on your birthday? Can you still be friends if you haven’t seen or spoken to someone in over 20 years?
What do you say when a mom loses her baby, when the baby dies in her arms for no apparent reason? I swallowed my shame as I silently bitched about how desperately I want a few minutes away from my kids, while hers was taken from her very grasp.
How do you comfort someone who is facing something so terrifying – Stage IV cancer – that the words escape you? My desire to avoid platitudes caused delay – I meant to send an email or post a funny pic on Facebook to make her laugh. I was actually surfing Pinterest and Google images for days earlier this week, trying to find the right saying and pic that would shock some laughter out of her. But I stalled – kept thinking I had more time, I’d get around to it. Only I didn’t.
Suzanne and I went to high school together. We were friendly but not friends outside of school. I always appreciated her sarcasm, her intelligence, but we were in slightly different social circles. We had no contact after graduation.
At least, not until a few years ago, via the magic of Facebook.
Facebook friendships exist on some sort of alternate plane. I feel closer to the people in my feed than I do to most of the people I see on a daily basis. But I know that sounds a little lame, and I feel kind of ashamed to admit it. Like married couples who don’t want to admit to others that they met online, I fear that the connections established through coax cables are somehow less than those made through actual face-to-face contact.
Suzanne was pregnant with her second child when we reconnected. I already had my 2. We exchanged comments and likes, jokes, messaged each other occasionally. We followed each other on Pinterest, and she once commented that she basically repinned everything I pinned. I enjoyed her online presence.
In the spring of 2011, Suzanne announced her 3rd pregnancy by posting an ultrasound pic on Facebook that clearly showed 2 babies. Twins!! She was adamant about not finding out the babies’ genders. People bugged her about it online, but she remained steadfast. Then an ultrasound tech accidentally revealed them to her – but she did not share the news, preferring to keep it secret until their birth.
In hindsight, if I’m being honest, my first response to the ultrasound pic was envy. Pure, honest-to-goodness jealousy. See, my husband does not want any more children but I do, and even though I have tried to make my peace with it, it often bubbles up inside me like a mountain’s hidden spring. I did not hold onto these feelings for long though, and soon I was caught up in the big gender reveal that would occur when the babies were born.
I had a dream that I ran into her in a clothing store, and as she rounded a rack of clothing her belly jutted out comically, like a football. In the dream, the babies were both boys. When I messaged her about it, she replied that someone else she knew also had a dream that she was having boys.
Her boy-girl twins arrived that fall. A few weeks later she posted a late night photo of her daughter, alert and adorable. The next day, her daughter stopped breathing in her arms.
As a friend, I was distraught for her. And because of my initial feelings of envy, I felt guilty – oh boy, did I feel guilty. As a mom, I was horrified. Losing a child is every parent’s deep dark fear, one I visited on occasion but generally preferred to avoid. She was living it. As a whole, I’d have to guess that her followers online were paralyzed like I was – what could we do? Was there anything we could do, beyond typing “so sorry” on her wall?
It didn’t matter in the end. Sue posted a status update that read something like “It really is okay that you don’t know what to say or do. I don’t know either. We can figure it out together.”
Just a few months later, Suzanne sent me a message and told me she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her story can be found here, in her own words. She kept a blog throughout her treatment, and what a crazy ride it was.
10/31/2013 – Suzanne died.
I didn’t go home for our 20th high school reunion last year. I thought about it – really, only because I wanted to see Suzanne again. Her prognosis was not good. But I didn’t end up going – we had to move to Raleigh from the Charlotte area for my husband’s job right around the same time as the reunion. I wish I had gone.
I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling right now. Do I have the right to be as torn up inside as I am? Because I am. I am so, so sad.
How do you measure a life? If it is by the amount of broken hearts left behind, then Suzanne’s life – cut short – was very, very full.