Regrets After a Friend’s Death

A friend of mine died recently, and the praise heaped on her after her death was inspiring. Friends posted on Facebook and her memorial page their memories of her: smart, funny, loving and brave, with a smile that would light up the room; someone who listened and uplifted others; a woman who made the world a better place.

I doubt Karen knew how much she meant to people. That’s the problem with obituaries and funerals: they come too late for the person who died. Her memorial service was beautiful, with people from all parts of her life praising her—siblings who remembered her as the loving, older sister; co-workers who regarded Karen as a mentor and role model; friends who fondly recalled trips, game nights and campfires together. Was Karen listening from the other side, amazed and appreciative at what she was hearing?

Karen had been suffering from an incurable disease for a long time, yet she faced her challenges with a smile, never lost her curiosity about life or gave in to self-pity. Even while suffering herself, she made a point of comforting others. She inspired me with her courage to never give up, to keep enjoying life as much as she could. In fact, a day or so before she died, she was trying to install a new printer so she could write friends and let them know how she felt about them.

I wish I had followed her lead. Realizing she only had a few months or even a few weeks left, I was determined to let her know how much I cherished our time together. I hoped to see her one last time, but, if her illness prevented that, I wanted to write it down in a letter. Unfortunately, I waited too long, and she died before I got a chance.

We all have regrets after someone who is beloved to us dies. A friend of mine told me he suffers from not telling his college professor how much his mentoring meant to him. His professor helped him get a scholarship, encouraged him in his studies and very likely changed the course of his life for the better. Although I helped my friend search the Internet to see if his professor was still alive, we never found him, and he’s most likely passed on. 

I wish I had been more patient and understanding with my mother in the last years of her life when she was suffering from dementia. Looking back, I can see that her outbursts came out of frustration at losing her memory. All I can do now is be more understanding with friends and acquaintances who are suffering from memory loss.

Regrets are useless, I’ve been told, so instead I’ve made a promise to myself to let people in my life know what they mean to me—before it’s too late. 

Dodging a Bullet

Everyday, almost the first thing in the morning, I read the local newspaper to find out the most recent number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 in my county. The daily tabulation belies the pain and tragedies of this pandemic: 145 new cases, no deaths on Monday; 180 new cases, one death on Tuesday; 110 cases, two deaths on Wednesday. Although no names are given for the pandemic’s latest victims, the news reports give their ages and whether they were residents of a senior group home: one in their 70s; one in their 60s; two in their 80s; two of the deceased in a long-term facility.

Almost all the deaths are people over 60, with many in their 80s. Because I’m 71, it feels like death is knocking on doors all around me, that it comes blowing down the streets and paths of my town, skirting the edges of my house. I shut myself in, close the windows, lock the doors and try to turn away. But it’s out there.

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