Rob: Songs at my funeral: "Many Rivers to Cross" by Jimmy Cliff, "Angel" by Aretha Franklin, and I’ve always had this fantasy that some beautiful, tearful woman would insist on "You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" by Gladys Knight. But who would that woman be?
—High Fidelity (2000)
A few months ago my friend Aime (it’s pronounced the same was as “Amy”) wasn’t feeling very well. She went to the doctor and got checked out, and the doctor ran a few tests. When they came back, she was pretty startled to learn that what she thought was some discomfort in her back was, in fact, pancreatic cancer. What’s more, she was already at Stage IV. Those of you familiar with cancer probably already know that there aren’t any stages beyond IV, so this wasn’t good. In the case of this particular brand of cancer, it’s not uncommon, because the symptoms don’t usually manifest until it’s pretty far along.
Aime went through some of the usual steps for getting treatment. She started a chemotherapy regimen and ultimately retired from her job with the school system as a disability retiree. A few weeks later, we threw her a retirement party attended by a small circle of friends of her choosing. That was three weeks ago. In between, there were visits to her house from me and/or Wife, during which we talked about some of her plans for the future, specifically late-stage care and who would take care of her grandson, of whom she had guardianship.
A week after the retirement party, Aime’s brother invited her out to a bar where a friend of his was playing in the band. Because driving was difficult for her, Wife and I picked her up and took her down to the Ram’s Head Tavern to see the band play. The band (called Bushmaster) was pretty good, playing some bluesy rock, and her brother purchased a copy of their CD and gave it to her. About 90 minutes into the evening, she said that she wasn’t feeling well and she needed to get back home. On the ride home, she asked me to play the CD. It was short enough that we were able to hear it twice between the bar and her home. Our goodbyes that evening were brief. She was going to her brother’s for Thanksgiving, and we’d visit her for lunch on Saturday the 24th.
Lunch didn’t happen. I never saw her again.
Aime wasn’t feeling well enough to go to her brother’s, so she spent Thanksgiving at home. On Friday morning her son visited her and then went out on a couple of errands. About two hours later he returned and found her. He called Wife, who stopped her Black Friday shopping immediately—as in, left a pile of stuff on the floor in the middle of the store aisle—and spent the rest of the day with him. I’d been laid low with a horrific back spasm (I’m not prone to these, and suddenly it occurs to me that this may have been a sign from somewhere), and Wee One wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed at home with her.
Despite Aime’s diagnosis, this was a huge surprise. We knew the clock was running, but I don’t think anyone had an idea of just how fast it was going.
I have a couple of friends who I see once in awhile, over a long period of time, but Aime is someone I’ve had frequent contact with since I first met her through America Online’s chat rooms back in 1993. Consequently I considered her to be my oldest friend. It was because of her that I moved to Baltimore when I was dealing with some ghosts and demons of my own up in New York. When I made that move, it was in a car that she’d given to me because she’d gotten another one. It was because of her that I got to see the beauty of southern Utah (and picked up a speeding ticket while I was at it), the showers of the Flying J Truck Stop in Omaha, Nebraska and the St. Louis Arch whipping by at 70 MPH. It’s because she and I shared a rental property for two years that I (and she, for that matter) was able to get the money together to purchase my first home. It was her prodding that led me to bake a couple of obscene cakes about ten years ago, largely so we could embarrass her then-teenage sons. It’s because of her that I keep the house stocked with Jack Daniel’s, in case she wanted a Jack & Diet Coke. And at my parties, she usually did want just that.
Aime had some reach; she had friends in a lot of different places that I don’t think anyone suspected. Aime tended to make friends with lots of people but she wasn’t especially gregarious in a crowd. It was a quiet sort of thing, and she was able to offer up all kinds of support to people who might not get it otherwise. As I scroll through her Facebook wall, I see names and locations from all around the country; people she’d befriended in one way or another and all of whom cite some level of support she’d given them. One of them, in fact, was dealing with her own recent loss of a friend to the same form of cancer and was getting encouragement from Aime.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life that I haven’t had a lot of close-up experience with death; I’ve lost some older relatives, of course, and some other acquaintances who weren’t especially close from either a personal or a distance standpoint, so while it’s not exactly new to me, it’s not something I’ve had much opportunity to get used to. I’ve always been glad that I’m alive and absolutely furious about the fact that I’m going to die, and some of that anger carries over to the fact that I’m moving into a part of my life where it’s going to happen around me more frequently.
This post is feeling pretty disjointed; I think I’m still processing this whole thing. Aime’s been cremated and there’ll be a memorial service later this week, but who knows if the reality will set in by then.
Goodbye, Aime. You’ll be missed by me and by many, many others.