Whatever Happens…..

Today I find myself in a reflective sort of mood. The events of the last few weeks are playing on a loop in my mind.  Allow me to explain….. 

A few weeks ago, one of my neighbors died.  She lived two doors down.  After an eleven year, on and off again battle with cancer, M. died at home surrounded by her family. She was older, a mom and grandmother who’d raised her children in that house. She cared for her grandchildren there too.  We met almost immediately after moving here. She was loud, funny, warm and inviting.  And, eventually, she orchestrated my introduction to C., her daughter-in-law. We became fast friends, taking our daughters everywhere. Eventually, we drifted apart. Life got complicated and I wasn’t anticipating a reunion, beyond saying “hello.”

So, M. died. After her funeral, my old friend stood in the back of the church, greeting family and friends. All of a sudden, in a swift “don’t think about it too much” move, I walked over and embraced her.  “I’m so sorry for your loss.” She thanked me. Then, I said something that had clearly been on the tip of my tongue, “Can we meet for coffee? Catch up? It’s been too long.” And without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Yes.  I’d like that.” Wow. Nine years and ten seconds later, we finally reconnected. I left my new phone number in a card. Recognizing that emotions tend to run high at funerals, I decided that she would need time. If she truly wanted to get together, she’d contact me. If not, my out-of-the-blue suggestion would be forgotten.  Things could go back to the way they were.

Last Monday, I started physical therapy for my hand. As I sat, packed in heat and compression bandages, my phone buzzed. I thought it might be my daughter, so I carefully maneuvered the phone from my purse with my left hand. It wasn’t my daughter. It was C.! Immediately, I felt genuinely happy and relieved.  She said she wanted to get together but that she also had bad news: my neighbor, Nicole, had died that morning.  She was 47 years old. (No, this has to be a mistake). She has two beautiful children and a great husband. She’s an amazing writer. (This cannot be right!). I just spoke with her.  (When was that?).  There weren’t any details yet. I sat, dumbstruck. After the appointment, I frantically tried to track down anyone who’d know the specifics. Neighbor after neighbor had the exact same reaction: “Not her! Are you sure?”     

Nicole was a bright, talented, kind individual who had a way of making me smile.  Our last lengthy conversation, one on one, was at the end of the summer.  I was immersed in my own pity party over the botched surgery and complications. She had just parked her car and was standing in front of her house.  Returning home from the surgeon’s office, I was feeling pretty low. Nicole smiled at me and said, “How are you?” Then I told her all that had happened in the weeks prior. It fell out like the words were attached to one another.  Like one of those clown scarves, being pulled from their mouth, an unending stream of color.  Except mine was an unending stream of words. 

Every time I replay those moments in my head, I feel ridiculous.  I cringe!  Why? Caught up in my own head and problems, I didn’t really ask about hers. Congratulating her on a recent write-up in the New York Times about a web series she’d co-created, I joked that she was too humble. “If I got a positive review in the New York Times, I’d be shouting it from the roof,” I said.  She smiled, expressing that she wished all of the people that made fun of her for studying theater could see her now. “That would show them!” She said laughing. “Yeah, in their faces!” I added.  We parted, with Nicole telling me I had to re-register for my classes.  And that she’d keep me in mind as a costume designer for the future. I groaned and rolled my eyes, still uncertain about my future endeavors. Shaking my head, I said, “We’ll see.” That was it.  A wave and a smile. She was gone. And now she’s gone

Replaying those moments has been torture. If only I’d known that the breast cancer she’d beaten years earlier had returned.  I’d have been more like my usual self: the me that tries to support people and lift spirits up, not bog others down with my problems.  

But then I saw that quote, the one above, and remembered something crucial. Nothing I could have said or done was going to change what was already happening.  Nicole was there boosting me up.  My regret is that I couldn’t do the same for her in that last conversation.  

“Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.”

“And when it’s over, it’s over.”

I’m still reeling but attempting to understand these life things that cannot be undone: another young life lost to cancer; kids without their mom; a husband without his wife. 

The only thing resembling hope is the chance to get reacquainted with my old friend. And that’s something I never could have predicted.  

“Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.”

Eventually, I’ll accept that.  
Peace and Painlessness,

Beck❤️

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