My college friend Linda passed away this week. She was 50, had thyroid cancer, and leaves behind her husband and a nine-year-old son.
Linda was one of the many wonderful friends I made when I went to Andrews University. All through high school, where I only had a couple of close friends, I cherished the belief that when I went away to college I would meet a larger circle of people who shared my interests, values and quirky sense of humour, and this turned out to be so richly true. I made wonderful friends during those three years and Linda was one of the dearest. Her sense of humour, her passionate love of music (she was the one who introduced me to Springsteen and used to drive around for hours with me listening to his tapes and analyzing his lyrics), her creativity (she was a visual artist and photographer) and her genuine sweetness, made those years delightful.
After college, she was one of the friends I kept in touch with. In those days we both loved to write letters, and I went to visit her several times during the years when I lived in Ontario and she lived in Michigan and then in Illinois (eventually moving back to her home state of Wisconsin). When I too moved home, to Newfoundland, Linda made the long journey to see me and be a bridesmaid at my wedding. We wrote letters less often, though we occasionally emailed after email came along, and in 2001 we arranged to meet up at a women’s retreat in the Washington, DC area. It was great to spend a weekend together, go sightseeing in Baltimore, stay up late talking in our shared room, and realize we had one of those friendships that you could pick up right where you left off.
Still, as often happens with old friends, we kept in touch less as years went by. Linda got married, had a baby; I already was raising two kids so we were both pretty busy. She didn’t join Facebook when the rest of the world did — she preferred face-to-face interaction, or handwritten letters. She liked to see the pictures you’d taken printed off rather than posted on a blog or Facebook wall. She used email only as a last resort. The fact that she didn’t like social media doesn’t excuse the fact that we kept in touch less as years went by; it just made it easier to procrastinate writing that email or letter.
We last visited in 2009, when my family went to the Oshkosh Pathfinder Camporee. After five days living in an RV on a campground with 34,000 other campers, we were more than thrilled to spend an evening at Linda’s place, meet her family, have a lovely dinner and DO OUR LAUNDRY. Once again it was great to get together after so many years. I never suspected it would be our last visit.
Just over a year ago my cousin Jennifer, who was also good friends with Linda, got a letter from her saying that she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was supposed to be very treatable, so we were concerned but not filled with dread or anything. I sent an email and didn’t hear back, but just assumed she had a lot on her mind and hadn’t got around to replying. However, as the time for the annual Christmas card and letter drew near I realized I hadn’t heard anything at all from Linda since last Christmas, so, remembering her preference for “real” communication I wrote a long handwritten letter at Christmas.
Still I didn’t hear anything till early March when I received a letter — also by mail, and handwritten — from Linda. It was funny and sweet like all her letters but also very sad, because it told me that her cancer had turned out to be a rare form that didn’t respond to any of the many treatments she’d been through. She knew her condition was terminal but not how much time she had left — she said she didn’t want to know, only wanted to take one day at a time and trust God. She was still feeling well and not in any pain, though she’d lost her beautiful voice due to surgery. And she said it was OK to email her.
I did, but didn’t get a reply. Earlier this week her husband phone to tell me that her condition had gone downhill very quickly in the last few weeks — after she wrote me that letter, I guess — and that she had died on Sunday.
The worst part is the regret that we didn’t get to keep in touch more, and spend more time with each other. I thought we’d get to visit again. I thought if my family went to Wisconsin again for the 2014 camporee I could visit Linda again. I thought someday we’d go to an Andrews reunion weekend and meet up with a bunch of old friends. I thought, in other words, that there’d always be more time.
We always do. But as I get older I realize how little time there really is. I’ve now had four friends about my age, all people I’d have considered close friends at some point in my life, get cancer. Two of them are doing well after treatment; two are gone already. Apparently nearing 50 is too old to cherish the illusion that “there’ll always be time” to get in touch, to connect, to see each other again.
Maybe it always was too late. There’s never really been enough time, has there? Only enough time to enjoy each moment we can, like I enjoyed all the moments I spent with Linda in our college days, and the too-rare moments we were able to spend together since then.