I am now part of a community that is filled with death. The metastatic breast cancer world loses loved ones every single day. In 2012 alone, 512,000 women worldwide lost their lives to this disease. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/ That's 58 deaths per hour ... almost one every minute of every single day of the year.
While I am a part of online support groups, I don't necessarily become friends with every single person in the groups. However, there are those who connect in a heartfelt way and a relationship is born.
We talk, sometimes, only by email and online chats, but also sometimes by phone and, if I'm lucky, we meet in person. We become more than names on a screen and we learn what makes us laugh and what makes us cry. If we have enough time, we get into the deep conversations that usually take years to develop, but because of the cloud of death hanging over our heads, we go straight there instead of wasting time talking about the weather.
And then, one of us dies. For now, I'm the one still left standing. While I am not numb to the deaths of my friends, I've learned not to talk much about them in front of my teenagers after they admitted how stricken they were when I attended so many memorial services in a short time period.
Online friends, rightfully so, tend to withdraw from their online community in the latter parts of their lives. They spend time in their physical present, allowing their family and loved ones to say their goodbyes.
Michele and I chatted many times over the past year. She was a brilliant anthropologist who lived in Rio de Janeiro and we spent many a late night chat session, discussing beliefs, culture, friends and, of course, cancer. While she had a community of friends in Brazil, her family lived in the United States, so in late December, she relocated to Florida to be with them in what she, deep down, knew were her last days.
Once in the States, Michele and I talked on the phone a few times. The last time I spoke to her was St. Patrick's Day, March 17. I was in my back yard and had kicked off my shoes and was laying on a bench, looking up at the bright blue sky that was broken with the sharpness of luminescent spring green leaves. Michele and I talked about green (of all things!), and about the meaning of life. I could tell she was more breathless (she was on oxygen at the time) and we both grieved over her leaving her home of 24 years and we grieved over her reality. We wondered why.
Michele died on March 27. I just found out yesterday and while I cried sitting at my desk, I didn't show much emotion to my family when I quietly told my husband later on. He took my hand and said, "I don't know how you do it ... how you can face each day when you lose the people around you, knowing your future most likely holds the same ending."
I don't know how to answer such a statement. I don't know how I do it either. Quite frankly, I don't think I "do" it. I firmly believe that there is something more than this life of mine that is way more important than my existence. This being Good Friday, I can, with assurance, say that my faith in a risen Savior is quite real, even if my understanding of my Savior is quite limited. At times, I long for the day when I truly see "face-to-face" and when I will truly understand.
One thing I have learned about myself, especially over these three-plus years with cancer, is that while I may not visibly show anxiety, that I do have anxieties (lots of them!) that come out in my sleep.
Last night, I dreamed about Michele. All night long. Every time I turned over, Michele was in my vision, in my thoughts, in my heart. She was 45 years old and she shouldn't have died. She should be more than just a memory.
And so I write this tribute in honor of Michele A. Markowitz, a blessed woman, a thinking woman, a woman of questions and a woman of conviction. A woman I am proud to call my friend. She loved and she is still loved.