A Letter to a Friend

Dear Douglass,

You died, and it felt like all my words had stopped. But I knew that if I didn’t sit down to the empty page and start making marks, they’d never flow again.

I miss you.

We had gotten into the habit of emailing each other every morning. You to say you’d survived the night, me to say I’d slept.

We both retreated to our homes in terror at the start of the pandemic, before the first lockdown was even declared. You with your COPD and me with my immuno-suppressant drugs, both understood what it was to be vulnerable and afraid, in ways that so many of our friends just couldn’t. I’m so glad I had you to talk to.

You knew you were dying, though you seemed determined to protect us from that knowledge. And you spent your last months reconciling with life. Having the hard conversations with your therapist and then reporting them and the lessons you learned to your friends.

You went from avoiding hugs when I first met you to saying ‘I love you’ in every text and email we exchanged. It was wonderful to watch you blossom even as your health failed.

You were so supportive of me and my own health struggles. You understood pain and weakness and the frustration of not being able to fix them.

Whenever I changed medications (three times in the last year alone!) I knew you’d look them up. You could actually read (and understand!) the monographs. You never told me not to take something, but you’d wish me luck and tell me I was brave for trying some of them. That really helped me to feel like there wasn’t something wrong with me when they failed.

You couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better pain management. You were recovering from a nasty bout of shingles, and your doctor gave you everything you needed to get through it. When I ask my medical team, there’s silence, and then they’ll hazard ‘Tylenol?’ as if I hadn’t thought of that one.

“Why aren’t they doing better by you?” you asked.

You conceded the point when I said, “Because I’m a woman?” You were quick that way. I loved that about you.

I’m so glad you knew about my latest med. You read that monograph with a smile. “It’s a gentle one,” you told me. “That’s good.”

I sent you a long and breezy email a few weeks ago and didn’t hear back. But you’d been feeling better, so I didn’t worry. And besides, we had a system in place so that your friends could check on you and make sure you were OK. Living alone in a pandemic is a nightmare. We worked around it as best we could.

But our friend Sacha texted me the next night, asking me to call her. “It’s the worst possible news,” she said.

Despite our brilliant systems, you’d fallen, and died where you fell.

I hope it was quick. I hope you weren’t afraid.

I wake up in the morning and open my laptop, and when I run out of things that hold my interest, I don’t want to close it. I’m still waiting for your emails. And then I remember. And shut the lid.

Some part of me wishes I had saved your emails. All the special words of love and encouragement. Our silly plans for the future that were never to be. The rants. Such good rants.

But there’s a rightness to having let them go, to letting them be ephemeral. You were a Buddhist, after all. You often spoke about non-attachment.

After you died, I spent the day mending one of Alan’s sweaters. You were always so enthusiastic about my mending efforts. When I was discouraged one day because all I’d managed was to mend something, you told me it was a very worthy use of my time, putting love into every stitch.

So I loved Alan and thought of you, stitch by careful stitch.

 I miss your patience. We met because one day, you were stuck in traffic on the road through Sebringville as a boom truck lifted a giant mixer over to the bakery that we owned there. Instead of being angry at the wait, you thought, “I need to meet these people.”

You would come in to buy bread and have a chat while Ernesto, who was still a puppy at the time, would chew up your car seats. “I’d better go,” you’d say, “while I still have a car left,” gently understanding of his puppy ways.

I miss your exuberant generosity. There was the day you picked me up for a coffee date but said, “Max needs a new microwave.” So we went to Canadian Tire, where you picked up the microwave and a few other things for a few other friends, and if I hadn’t been adamant, I’d have gone home with a coffee maker, a toaster oven, and several pieces of patio furniture.

When my niece heard of your passing, she asked if I’d had a chance for a good good-bye.

I remembered back to when my Mum-in-law had her stroke. My Dad-in-law was so sad that, in the noise and confusion of getting her into the ambulance, he hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye. By the time they got to the hospital, she was unconscious. She never woke up.

I tried to tell him that we almost never get the perfect Hollywood good-bye. Life is messier and far more random than that, but that their 56 years together was their good-bye, and they’d made it a good one.

But you died too suddenly for that. I had hoped that there would be a point where you’d know you were nearing the end and you’d move into the hospice. And if we couldn’t visit you at your bedside, Alan and I were planning to stand on the lawn outside your window and blow kisses and moon you. I wish we’d been able to do that.

But I still have your last text to me. I told you how miraculously better I was feeling and how I was worried that the effect would wear off before my next shot.

“Don’t worry about what hasn’t happened, my love,” you said. “Enjoy what is happening.”

Which, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a very good good-bye.

Sacha wrote your obituary. I think you would be proud.

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11 Responses to A Letter to a Friend

  1. Heidi Ruttinger says:

    Heart-wrenching and tender and beautiful, Barb. I thank God you found each other and loved each other. And my tears reading this may touch the surface of your loss now.

  2. Sacha says:

    Beautiful, Barb. I’m so glad you’ve found your words again.

  3. says:

    Such a beautiful reflection. It brings comfort to know he was surrounded by so much love and that he was able to share his huge heart with those who were important to him. Much love to you.

  4. Ann says:

    Thank you for writing again Barb. I so miss his exchanges. In my country when we speak of someone in their absence it was said to be “pounding their name”, usually some drama, but in our case it was about his Sachista, his Ted, our dog named for him, Dr. Sarge, when next we visit. Douglass was a genuine human, patient, always thinking of the other being and a source of inspiration.

    Forever in our hearts, keep safe and all our love to you and my Tormentor.

    Walk in de corner wid plenty to love always

  5. Margaret Atkinson says:

    So beautiful. What a loving tribute ❤

  6. Lally Cadeau says:

    Enjoyed this lovely story of friendship. We should all be so lucky..glad to hear you’re feeling a bit better too, Barb
    Lots of Love ❤️❤️

  7. Pam says:

    Hi Barb, Thank you for writing this. It helped me too. Being so far away, there is a huge gap of time and connection. You just filled that gap for me and took me to Douglass. I am sorry I missed his last chapter but you were all lucky to have each other at his end so that he could pass with confidence. Sometimes the heart just stops and you fall.
    lots of love to you and Alan


  8. Janet says:

    I’m so happy to come to know a little bit more of his story, and of your story together…and I’m glad you’re starting to feel a little bit better. Big hugs.

  9. Kim says:

    Barb, I recall hearing you speak of Douglass and now I feel like I know him a wee bit, too. I clearly see why you loved one another so and how he will stay firmly nestled in your heart. Thank you for sharing your story (and for the news of feeling better, yay!). Love to you xx

  10. Michaela Murphy says:

    Such a beautiful piece Barb. My heart ached reading it, what a wonderful friendship you describe. Sending love to your sore heart ♥️

  11. Alyson Kent says:

    This is lovely, Barb. And I’m so sorry. My love to you and Alan, and all who loved Douglass.

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