What Would You Do If You Had Less Than A Month To Live?
This is not a hypothetical question. Mid-July one of my best friends from grade school through high school went to the emergency room with severe abdominal pains. A CAT scan showed cancerous lesions all over her liver and surrounding organs — stage 4 metastatic cancer. The ER doctors told her she had a fast-moving, untreatable cancer that would claim her life within days to weeks at best. This was a very sad diagnosis because she was only 56 years old and had already survived breast cancer about 15 years earlier.
The earlier bout with breast cancer had changed my dear friend. I wrote about it in my blog about ten years ago because the change in her was so dramatic (for the better). My friend Remy (I don’t see any reason I can’t use her name) was always a bit of an Eeyore when she was younger — never able to quite see the bright side of things. I’ll never forget what she said in our eleventh grade English class — our teacher went around the room and asked each student what they wanted to be when they grew up, and Remy said she just wanted to be happy. Her statement could not have been more true. Remy was not a very happy person, and I really wasn’t sure why. I knew she had a strained relationship with her mother, and while she was not the most popular kid in high school, she certainly wasn’t the least. I felt sad for her that her greatest desire in life was to “just be happy.”
Remy lost touch with most of her friends after high school. I moved to the other side of the country, but I always made a point of reconnecting with all of my high school friends when I returned to visit my Dad and siblings. After several failed attempts, I finally found Remy who was still living in the area, only to lose her again. She would move and not inform friends of her new address, but we were persistent. So, we had this on again-off again sort of friendship where years could go by without hearing from her. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer around 40 years old. After chemo, rad, and a mastectomy, she beat the cancer and became a changed person. For the first time, Remy seemed to be happy. I can only suppose that the cancer scare had changed her outlook on life, helping her to realize that life wasn’t really all that bad. She went on to leave her abusive husband and opened an online store in 2009 — The Sample Seed Shop — so she could pursue her real passion, which was gardening. Eventually, she reconnected with her old high school boyfriend who also experienced a failed marriage, and together they were really happy.
She soon left her job as a grocery store manager to pursue her passion full-time. Business at the Sample Seed Shop grew, so much so that Remy had to hire an assistant to help her package orders. In her spare time, Remy taught gardening classes and she became a regular on social media, answering questions about gardening. The woman who did not want to be found by her old friends now had friends all over the world!
Then the tragedy of that ER visit struck, and while she really didn’t know how much time she had left, she knew it wasn’t much. How would Remy spend her remaining time on Earth? Well, the first thing she did was complete all her online seed orders because according to Remy, “everyone looks forward to receiving their seeds,” and she didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Next, she took care of funeral arrangements, writing her obituary, and organizing her finances to spare her loved ones the ordeal. And finally, she let everyone know she was dying and asked them to visit her.
People came from all over the United States in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic to visit Remy (practicing safe social distancing and mask-wearing of course). I left New Mexico for the first time since the start of the pandemic and headed straight back to New York. Friends came from Ohio, Michigan, and other states to visit and share stories. I spent the last week of her life with Remy. I watched several people come and go. Each day she became weaker and weaker, but she still wanted people to visit. Sometimes she would drift off to sleep mid-conversation, but if the talking stopped she would quickly open her eyes and say “don’t stop. I like to hear your voices.” One day her entire college sorority showed up to say their good-byes. Hobbling along in a walker, Remy stood for hugs and photos. She even smiled. And she really enjoyed the last days of her life. I thought about how unfair this really was, but Remy never complained. She accepted her fate and made sure that her life and the lives of others were happy during her last days on Earth.
Yesterday was Remy’s memorial service. Her final wishes were granted. She was cremated and half of her ashes were thrown over Niagara Falls because according to Remy, “she always wanted to go over the Falls.” The other half were given to her high school sweetheart.
The story really is a tragedy, but a lesson that it really is the small things in life that matter the most. Remy’s life and tragic death touched me more than she had ever known.