"I don't have much time. I'm dying."
Her eyes were focused on mine, willing me to accept along with her the words she spoke.
I'd quasi-prepared in my mind to talk about death prior to my trip, but I felt numb -- almost tingly. She was dying. In the moment, devastation about Em's impending departure from the only world I know was replaced by stress about what I should or shouldn't say.
"Is there anything I can do for you? On your behalf? Help you do?"
"There's not enough time," she said softly.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
"Do you want me to call your pastor? Is your spiritual house in order?" Mine wasn't.
"No. I'm okay." She was so calm.
We continued to sit in silence. She looked at me for a long time before turning her head to stare straight ahead. Everything was slow, her movements, her speech.
On her bed that Thursday afternoon, my friend Wendy (nicknamed Em) released the team reins and decided to let her carriage coast to a stop. She looked at me again and said, "This sucks."
She was brave. I didn't feel that she was scared about where she was going, but at 43 and the mother of a young boy who's battling cancer himself, she didn't want to leave where she was.
We had that conversation on Thursday, March 31, 2011.
Throughout our friendship, which began in late 1985 [or early 1986], we processed many life situations together. Once we got to the root of our feelings, often the next step was... So, now what do I say to [friend, boyfriend, roommate, teacher, boss, parent, spouse, child]. We strategized the big communications.
I remained in Phoenix for three more days and was able to spend meaningful time with Em. At the end of my visit one day -- not the last, because I intended to return the next morning -- I approached her and let her know I was getting ready to leave. I didn't want to say "goodbye". I told her I would be back the next day, we hugged and kissed, but the reality was no one really knew when her time might be, so the ache was palpable when a loved one left her.
In her calm, soft voice, my sweet friend said, "See you later."
I returned the following morning. She was tired and she hurt, which were feelings she'd experienced every day since early January when she was told her ovarian cancer had returned. The fatigue and pain were like a boulder rolling down hill. Momentum roared her last few weeks.
That beautiful spring day, April 3, 2011, was the last time I would see Em. We both knew it. I had to return to my life in Utah. She scolded me for leaving that life to visit her, but stopped immediately when I asked her what she would do if I was the one who was sick.
Heavy moments were too much for Em. They're exhausting as a well person. She didn't want or need intense goodbyes with tissues and tears.
We hugged, kissed and exchanged I love yous.
"I'll see you later," I said.
She replied with one more, "I love you."
Wendy died on April 18, 2011, surrounded by her mother, two brothers, sister and sister-in-law. Amazing, compassionate, strong people.