|Photo: Ian Taylor
I didn't know how to express my sympathy for an estranged friend.
Debbie and I had worked together in the clinical chemistry lab at the University of Kentucky. We had been good friends for fifteen years. But on the afternoon I invited her over for coffee and dessert to tell her I was pregnant, she was more shocked than happy for me. Maybe she felt a child was going to interfere with our friendship, that she'd have to compete. Maybe she was jealous. Who knows? She left my house with the saddest look on her face. And though she was civil to me at work, she became icy from that day forward.
Four years later, I retired from the lab but I still stayed in touch with the lab crew. We'd celebrate retirements, the holidays, and special occasions. One winter, a lab manager invited everyone to her farm for a little get together. I reached out to Debbie, trying to patch up our shaky friendship. I offered to drive us to Mary's party. But that day, the weather turned snowy and the thought of traveling 25 miles away on rural roads in southern Kentucky made me nervous.
I remember that day vividly, checking the weather constantly, anxiously trying to make the right decision whether to go or not. Driving out into the country in the snow was something I didn't feel comfortable doing. I called Debbie to tell her it wouldn't be safe or smart to drive given the road conditions.
But Debbie got angry at me for backing out. She felt obligated to go because she worked in the lab and didn't want to disappoint the manager. She felt it would reflect badly if she didn't attend. I felt sure Mary would understand. But Debbie didn't. She was furious at me.
My husband told me to move on. Let the relationship go. Ever since I had known Debbie, she had the habit of constantly being pessimistic. Her negativity would bring me down at work. In a way, it was really for the best. To be blunt, Debbie was toxic and I was better off without her.
Fast forward thirty years. I still stay in touch with my lab friends. That's how I found out about Debbie's illness. She had been diagnosed with ALS, a slow-lingering disease. We wanted to show our support for her and chipped in to help pay some of her hospital bills. But no one expected that she would pass away within eight weeks. She had only retired a month earlier.
I struggled with going to the visitation. My husband said it might help me with closure. Not that I really needed that. I had long accepted our broken relationship.
But it didn't take me long to make up my mind. I felt going to the funeral home was the right thing to do. To go say kind words to her family. To point out Debbie's positive attributes, to recall her talents. And I was able to do that for her mother and sister. They clung onto my words and clasped my hands, wanting to hear stories about Debbie, wanting to hear good things about her.
Afterward, I stepped into a separate room where she was laid out. Her silver hair was perfectly coiffed. She was dressed in a gorgeous white gown. The casket was strewn with red roses. But I felt nothing. No sadness. Just numb. It was hard to grieve for a person who felt you weren't good enough to be a friend.
Twenty years ago, I ran into Debbie at a shopping center. Meeting her out of the blue startled me and made me feel uncomfortable, but I invited her to call me so we could go out for coffee and catch up. She never did. And now she's gone forever.
I was told by a friend that I was brave to go to the visitation. Maybe so. Debbie and I had parted ways so long ago and we weren't close anymore. Our friendship was beyond repair. But that didn't matter. Paying respect and saying good bye felt like the right thing to do.
Rest in peace, D.