She was a rabid Washington Redskins fan, she took pride in her well-kept hairdo and manicured fingernails, and she loved to have a good stiff drink with a cigarette.
She was also a cancer patient and a kind soul who would help you in any way she could.
Sadly, yesterday morning, I received a phone call telling me I had lost my good friend to cancer.
I had known this lady from Spokane for almost four decades. I first got to know her and her husband when they lived and worked in Washington, DC. Then they retired, bought a home in Bethany Beach, Delaware and happily moved there. Along with many of my other good friends and their children, we spent endless hours at their lovely home enjoying friendship, fantastic cookouts and long relaxing weekends at the beach.
The rhythm of that part of her life changed unfortunately when she lost her wonderful husband almost ten years ago and then she lost her sweet poodle, whom she was devoted to, about five years later.
Perhaps because she watched her husband die in the hospital, she decided that she was not going to follow him on that path. Even as the awful pain from the cancer increased within her, she was determined to stay in her house. Another friend of mine characterized her attitude as “true grit.”
She definitely did things her way.
Such as when she decided not to pursue chemotherapy or radiation when the doctors discussed her diagnosis. Such as when she took off the MedicAlert necklaces and didn’t want nurses to come to the house to take care of her. Such as when she continued to drive herself almost every day to her local hangout for Happy Hour drinks.
She continued to do the things that she always liked to do before she was diagnosed with cancer: play bridge, meet with her tried and true group of friends and travel: she even had planned to go on a cruise for Thanksgiving.
When you see someone you care about become terminally ill, you walk a tight rope of friendship.
You want your friend to be safe and free from pain but when she voluntarily and lucidly turned down medical help there is not much you can do. You can’t just butt into someone’s life and take away all the bad and unhealthy substances they are ingesting just because you know it is unhealthy for them. You can’t order them around. Unless they are unable to take care of themselves. It was getting close to that point but it wasn’t there yet. I am not a member of her family so I was not in a position to make health decisions for her and even if I could have made decisions, she would never have listened to me.
She wanted to do it her way.
At some point it becomes about a person’s quality of life and their decision not to let their medical condition get in the way of the way they want to live their life. You can’t take away all the things that give them pleasure and then expect that they will obey you just as a child might do.
I feel as though the news about my friend is marking the end of something that my friends and I will talk about for years to come. In reminiscing about that time, I know we will tell stories that will make us laugh and cry. Stories that will help us heal.
You can rest now Darlene and know that I, and many, many of your friends will miss you!!