I still remember when Vicki first joined my work group at a former employer. She was an incredibly cheerful and outgoing person at all times, even in the mornings when I would drag myself in hardly awake and not really wanting to be there—much less being even remotely cheerful! Everyone else in our work group had learned to let me work alone for the first hour or so of the day (barring any emergencies) until I had enough caffeine in me to be awake enough to interact. No one thought to warn Vicki of this. She would appear at my cubicle door every morning as soon as I arrived full of cheer and ready to brightly chat about the day. This did not bring out the best in me (please note the extreme understatement here). I could be downright cranky in return.
Her response was a game changer for me. She directly and forthrightly sat me down and proceeded to work with me to find a way we could work better together. She never once seemed to doubt that we would find a way or that there was any other reasonable course of action to consider. For someone who was raised on passive-aggression from birth, to calmly and reasonably work through our differences to find a way to interact better was an amazing concept! We compromised in the end; I agreed to be a bit more pleasant first thing, and she agreed to limit her early morning greetings to a brief interaction. It completely changed our relationship from what could have been an antagonistic working relationship to one that grew into a close personal friendship.
At the time, we were working in an extremely stressful situation that involved a great deal of interpersonal conflict (particularly with our boss), intrateam conflict, and a high level of organizational conflict that was a result of cultural changes that our team was created to produce. It was challenging and incredibly draining, but the fact that we dealt with our budding conflict early (thanks to her!), we became great supporters of each other through the challenges and, over time, were able to build some great successes in the work we were trying to do.
One of the greatest things we shared was our love of reading. I am a very fast reader, but she read even faster than I do! She could read the long Harry Potter books in just a few hours. We had our differences in reading preferences, but there was also great overlap. We were constantly sharing books with each other, passing along recommendations for good books, and hanging out together at the book store. When a Half Price Books opened in a new shopping plaza directly across the street from the office, we were in seventh heaven. On the most stressful days, we’d head over at lunch to get away from the negativity of the office and spend some time among our shared friends—used books of all kinds.
When I got married a few years later, she was the only friend of mine that came to the wedding. She came even though she had family visiting her from out-of-town. My moving away meant that we didn’t get to see each other very often, but we still talked frequently on the phone. It was always a challenge to get together because she was so busy with her two girls who were the light of her world, but whenever I was in town, we still headed out to the bookstores to chat and browse. The last time we did that was September of 2008. I was in town visiting friends of my husband’s, but I took time away from that to meet her for lunch and a good round of shopping at a book store. She had been trying to lose weight for years and had gone on a new diet where she had numerous small meals every day and was having great success. She had even found that she just couldn’t eat more than a small amount several times a day; big meals just didn’t agree with her. She’d lost almost 50 pounds and was looking so good! Her husband had promised to take her on a cruise if she kept it off for six months, and they were already planning the cruise. It was something she had always wanted to try but had never done.
She called me in late October not sounding her usual cheerful self. She had developed a severe back ache and had gone to the doctor. She had experienced kidney stones before and was fairly sure that this was the same thing. A scan did indeed show kidney stones, but it also showed a mass of some kind. Tests continued over the next couple of weeks while the pain increased and her breathing deteriorated. Within a week or so, she was on oxygen. It was cancer. Two weeks after getting that first call, I got the news that it was a rare aggressive form of cancer and was in her bones, her ovaries, her lungs, and her stomach. They were going to start chemo and radiation that week to provide some relief for her and to give her more time, but she had only months to live they said. I talked to her on the phone the day before she went to get her port put in for chemo. I was desperate to visit, but she was in pain and overwhelmed with visits from family and local friends. She asked me to wait until the chemo brought a little relief.
When she went for the first chemo treatment, the doctors said that her condition had worsened to the point that the chemo would kill her, so they canceled all treatment and sent her home with hospice care. She died three days later—two years ago today—just three weeks from the first indication that something was wrong. I never got to say goodbye. She was my best friend, but I never told her I loved her until she was dying. We had always thought we’d have years together when we’d have more time to spend together once her girls were out of high school. We didn’t.
I still miss her. She was my greatest cheerleader when I made the decision to go to library school a few years ago, but she died before I graduated. How I wish she could have been there for that and for all of the changes in my life since then. She would know the “then and now” part of the story that no one else will ever see as clearly as she would have. I wish she could have seen her girls grow up and blossom into adults. I wish she and Tim had shared many more years together; I’ve known few other couples that shared the kind of loving relationship that those two did.
And yet, I’m so grateful that I had the chance to know her. She taught me so much about myself, about how to more effectively relate to others, about the value in styles that are different from my own. She taught me much about being a true friend. She was always there, always caring about me, always making contact even when I retreated into isolation. Her dying taught me to that I can’t count on tomorrow to do or say the things I want to do or say. It inspired me to love more fully and to make sure I let those I love know I love them while I can tell them. It is giving me the courage to go after my dreams because I have no guarantee that I’ll have time to do it later.
Thanks, Vicki, for everything. I wish I had been a better friend while I had the chance, and I am so incredibly grateful that you were the kind of friend to me that you were. I do love you. I still miss you.