When Beth died.
When I met Beth, she had already almost died…3 times. She had hair down to her shoulders, and the most twinkly eyes I had ever seen. Green-Blue eyes. Over the course of our friendship, she would lose all her hair, twice, and when it grew back, it grew back different each time. So beautiful. Did I mention she had the most twinkly eyes I had ever seen? Blue-green.
I had just arrived to Atlanta, and was moving quickly in 3-inch heels, a dark-grey j.crew suit, my hair wavy and wild from a day of sales calls in rainy weather. I by-passed those weird walk-way things that move you faster, because I don’t like the way they feel underneath me, and instead took the long walk to find my name on a white sign to head to the hotel.
I sent her a text before I left…something like, at a sales training, be back in two weeks…we’ll make dinner then…love you.
She wrote back. ‘Extra-butter. Love you too’
It was a cowardly text I sent, I was a cowardly friend towards the end of her life. Because I knew and we all knew, she would die soon. But instead, I kept the image of her in my head from a month ago…when we were in her kitchen making dinner. Her two little boys played in the next room, and her husband worked quietly in the garage. Because Beth had almost died so many times…we all got used to almost. Her cancer started in her breasts, and then went to her bones…her cancer spread through her whole body.
Beth and I forged a somewhat unlikely, strong friendship built on the common ground of inappropriate jokes, rocky horror picture show, wine, and pediatric asthma. She was a highly specialized pediatric allergist, and I was a brand-new pharmaceutical sales rep. She was 16 years older than me. I loved her right away. And the feeling was mutual.
She took me under her wing is so many ways, reminded me always that I should be doing so much more than making money in my job, would stuff pamphlets about post-doc programs into my bag when I wasn’t looking, she was sure that I should take her place one day and become a doctor in her practice in Rochester NY. She never ever made me feel bad for what I was doing though…she just always thought I could be doing more.
Her sense of urgency around this, came from her own awakening. Working 60-hours a week in book-publishing, having graduated with an English degree. She remembers leaving her basement office one cold evening in Boston, and it was rainy, and she was miserable. On her way back to her miserable apartment, to sleep 5 hours, to wake up, and have another miserable day. The first night we had dinner together she says to me.
And I realized Lyndsey, that if I were to get hit by a bus that night, who would even care. I was alone. I wasn’t making a difference in my life or anyone else’s. If I were to die today, who would even care.
So I changed that.
I have been thinking about Beth so much these days and I don’t exactly know why…maybe it’s spring, and this is when so much is reborn, and it’s also when she died. Walking Moose this morning, I couldn’t even remember if I had gone to her funeral. Isn’t that crazy? For the last mile, I kept asking myself, did I even go? Was I even there? But then, when I let myself, I remember vividly her two boys in shirts and ties, the back of her husbands head, and being surrounded by hundreds of people. I let myself cry cry cry in the pew, so proud of my friend Beth, and how I had a permanent seat at her dinner table, and how many people cared….what a difference she had made. When she decided that that’s what she would do.
She had resisted going to medical school because both her parents were doctors and it felt forced, and she had this beautiful passionate wild streak, that just wanted to be free from expectation, I’m certain that this was one of many ties that bound us together. But she had such a strong passion for helping others, and a brilliant mind that put her top of the class, always, and so in her mid-20’s, she began. To lead a life that would make a difference in other. It was a road of course, medical school, then residency. But she didn’t care. She told me, once she made the choice, nothing was going to stop her. I have deep admiration for that kind of resilience.
There are a few stand-out conversations in my life. And I replay the one we had again and again and again…If I were to die today, who would even care.
I regret who I was for Beth, towards the end of her life. I was no one for her. Well no one I want to be anyway. And that’s a cold hard truth. I was busy. And I was afraid. Because I loved her so so much, and I couldn’t handle the way the twinkle in her eye became less and less. And I would search for it, search for it like a goddamn search party, I would look into her eyes, and she would be talking to me, and I wouldn’t hear a single word, because I just wanted my friend Beth to come back.
And I wanted to sweet little boys in the next room to have a momma forever.
And I wanted her kind, gentle husband in the garage to have his vivacious, passionate, outspoken, gorgeous woman back.
And I didn’t want to lose my unlikely friend, my friend Beth, who believed in me, more than I believed in me at the time. Who thought I should be a doctor, like her. Who would call me to gossip and laugh. Who would want all the scandalous details of who I was dating, she herself, double mastectomy, hysterectomy, the bag (I have no idea what this is called medically) that she wore underneath her shirt…I have nothing to give to him, she said to me one day over tears, everything is removed, mauled, damaged, I don’t feel like a woman anymore, she said…And this coming from a woman who is just so damn sexy, curves, wit, charm, all of it…and how she said how weird it is to sleep next to a man you love and feel that you have nothing to give.
We were 10-days into our 2-week training when I got the voicemail from her husband. I checked his message outside where we got reception, I stood outside in the sticky Georgia heat, drinking a super-cold diet coke, going through my messages.
Lyndsey…it’s Alain. (Beth’s husband) could you call me? Beth said you were away. Wondering if you’re home yet…call me back when you can.
I called him back immediately, heart pounding, knowing already what he would say.
It’s been a bad week Lyndsey. She’s in a coma now, you should come say goodbye.
Regret came over me, and over me, and over me. A month ago after dinner at her house…when we cried together…she went into the hospital, just a few days later. I stopped by one afternoon on my way home from work, and brought scrabble and gummy bears (contra-band, her favorite : ) …. I sat by her hospital bed, and we talked for a little while, I made some excuse about why I needed to leave early. I could feel in her swiftness to say sure sure, that’s okay…that I wasn’t the first person to lie to her. I went home and turned off all the lights and drew the blinds and turned off my phone. It was 7pm. That was the last time I saw her.
I chucked the rest of my coke in the garbage, walked inside, and took the elevator up the 11th floor. I pulled the trainer aside to let her know what had happened. She said, she was so sorry, would I like to leave today? I could get on a flight.
I said no.
And went back to my chair and said nothing.
I was too afraid. My friend Beth was going to die soon. And I was too afraid to do anything.
I went right from the airport to the hospital 4-days later. Her husband sat next to her bed, held her hand, and stared out the window. He didn’t see me, and I felt like such an intruder I remember…seeing a moment like that. He looked up, and smiled, so warmly. Lyndsey, he said, I’m so glad you are here. She’s still holding on, he said, and smiled down at his girl. You know Beth, she wont go down without a fight. I said yes, and smiled, and walked over to him to give him a hug. I started crying right away, into his chest, and he took his hand that was holding hers, so he could wrap both arms around me. I remember feeling like I should have done it better, that he should not have to comfort me…the entire way down the hallway I said to myself ‘I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry’
He looked at me with such sweetness in his kind kind eyes. And says, I’ll leave you two together so you can say goodbye.
I had never been next to anyone in a coma. In my then 28 years, I had not lost a friend to Cancer. I had never held the hand of anyone and not known if they could hear me or not. I had never been this close to death.
He left and I sat down in this wooden chair next to her bed, and looked around the room at flowers and pictures, and balloons, and felt so indifferent to it all. I looked at her for a long long time, her eyes closed, the rise and fall of her chest in the crescendo of the machines around her. I took her hand closest to the bed in both of mine, and I said to her, you look beautiful. Because she really really did.
She let out this moan, that I hate remembering because it didn’t sound like her. And it was this crazy moment where I was totally startled, but also had this wild fleeting moment of thinking somehow Beth was coming back, and that we would talk about how she almost died, but didn’t. I didn’t know this then, but in coma’s its not unusual at all for people to make noises, moan, open and close their eyes, etc.
Beth died 2-days later, at the age of 43 on April 30th, 2010. 5-days later I joined hundreds of life she had touched, and we honored her life.
Beth changed the entire shape of her life because she was not willing to live a life that called her to make a giant difference each and every day. Though it was driven by the fear that she could die tomorrow and no one would care…that part becomes irrelevant to the knowing that Beth chose a life bigger than her. The courage to become who she truly was, from a realization that this was not it, there was so much more. Through her time in medical school she met her husband, had two boys, touched and healed the lives of so many kids who couldn’t breathe.
She made such a damn difference. And I am so proud to know a woman like Beth. Who taught me so much in our friendship. Who taught me about not settling, about momentum, about not giving up, about listening to that small voice inside of you, and nurturing that voice till it’s loud, clear, and relentless. This is not all there is. But this life…is.
I think about her all the time. I haven’t stayed in touch with her practice back at home, or her husband….I wonder about the little kids that had their appointment with their favorite Doctor, Dr. Friedman, and what did the new doctor say to them.
I wish I could have one more conversation with my sweet friend Beth. One where I don’t treat her like she’s sick. One where I stay longer than I am comfortable staying, because it’s not about me, at all, it’s about us, and what we are creating together each and every moment as friends.
and you know, there’s no one in my life who I wouldnt wish for one more conversation with should they go…and I’m reminded then, to try harder. To not hide. To have the conversations leaving the people who I love so much, knowing they are loved. If I get real honest about it, the majority of my conversations are not this.
I talk to Beth usually when I’m walking Moose through the park. I talk to her when I go to the Ocean. One thing about she and I is we would constantly laugh till we cried. The woman was freaking hilarious. So I tell her things she’d find funny, and I tell her things I know she’d want to hear about how the past 7 years have unfolded since we became friends. I let her know that I am still a disaster in the kitchen, and say yes to extra butter on things, just like she taught me to. I let her know that no, I didn’t choose to go to medical school, but that I am working each day to make the biggest difference I can, and believe that most days, I do. I let her know that she is one of a handful of people that taught me about the power of believing in myself…and for this I say thank you to my friend Beth, again and again and again.
I honor you sweet friend.
And to you I say…don’t let your fears become more important than letting yourself love so hard, so free…so unattached to inevitable, which is all things end eventually of course, but who can we be for each other right now.
When Beth died she taught me that.
Right now is all there is.
Thank you Beth. What a legacy you have left behind. And your twinkly eyes : ) I see you.
This is Beth in her monogrammed top chef coat. She LOVED to cook. And I love to eat. Yet again: another common thread.
This was her caption for it…like I said, always hilarious.
This is me in my very own, monogrammed Top Chef coat. I’m holding my two favorite Furi knives (not the orange handled Rachel Ray crap, mind you!). The coat was a gift from Kate. I sleep in it.