I’ve traded the white sands for the white mountains and have arrived in the Rocky Mountains for a few weeks. I have had this visit planned for quite a while and had planned while I am here, in addition to seeing my sister and her wife, to visit a friend I met last year. I met this friend only a couple of days before she entered the hospital in Denver to have a stem cell transplant and, as I am sure you can imagine, it was quite the extraordinary circumstances under which to meet someone. The circumstances were fitting though because my new friend Marsha was pretty extraordinary herself!
Have you ever met someone and just knew right away that person you were meeting was special? Meeting Marsha was exactly like that. I was in Boulder to meet her actually; having agreed to house sit and pet sit for her while she was in the hospital for at least three months for her risky transplant as part of her battle against lymphoma. And in meeting Marsha, I almost felt sorry for lymphoma…because I knew right away that anyone and anything in a battle against her was in for a real fight. A four-time Olympic skier, independent business owner, lifelong successful single woman, award-winning advocate for battered women and animal rescuer, Marsha was a force to be reckoned with and had a big personality that filled the room and demanded attention. She was, I was soon to learn, somewhat of a local legend!
I quickly fell in love with her fur babies (two dogs, Mr Spencer and Chase the Face, and two sister cats, Queen Zuzi and Princess Loki) while she was in the hospital and became close friends with Marsha over our many texts and calls back and forth and our quick familiarity; the kind that forms when you’re living in someone’s home and caring for their fur babies while they undergo a battle for their life. Anytime I pet set for someone, it is fun to get to know the furries and their “power structure” and Marsha’s brood was one of the most interesting I have encountered! The most dominant furry of the four was Queen Zuzi; a long haired calico with permanently flattened ears, wide owl-like eyes, long sharp claws and an attitude that clearly spoke “I am here to be petted, human, and you will pet me now.” If the other three furries were lounging around me, they would scatter the instant Queen Zuzi entered the room and meowed to announce her intent to take up space on the couch. Next in line of command was Mr. Spencer, a senior dachschund with grey around his snout, a belly that flirted with the floor beneath it and a grudging acceptance of his second in command position; always relinquishing his space on a couch with “a look” and a grumpy bark or two. Next was Chase the Face, a precious gregarious wiry haired terrier mix who could play fetch for hours upon end and had a face that resembled a puff pastry decorated to look like a cute little white dog. And finally there was Princess Loki, the most beautiful and sister to the Queen, a skittish kitty who only approached me after I had been there several days, quickly becoming my regular evening companion during the cold snowy winter months; warming and massaging my lap while she purred contentedly. I gave and received a lot of love during my months with these furries; loving it all despite the skeins of fur I could have surely rolled from what I collected on my clothes each day.
The furries listed in order of dominance and home rank:
(Top Left) Queen Zuzi
(Top Right) Mr. Spencer
(Bottom Left) Chase the Face
(Bottom Right) Princess Loki
The Olympic torch Marsha has hanging in her living room. Can you imagine decorating your home with your own torch???
Last fall, before I left for Florida, I visited Marsha and the furries and it was so good to see her looking pink instead of gray, smiling with hope instead of with grimacing in pain and brushing the hair back from her face when only a few months before she didn’t even have eyebrows or lashes because of the aggressive cancer treatments. Despite being scheduled for surgery the following month to address some intestinal issues resulting from all of her super aggressive cancer treatments, she was vibrant and moved about with an energy that contrasted sharply with my own sloth-like manner. She asked if my property in the Ozarks had sold yet and, when I told her it had not, she offered me a place to stay with her when I returned from my stay at the beach; telling me I would “always have a place to hang [my] hat” at her house. Isn’t that incredible? I was reminded once again of Marsha’s extraordinary nature and zest for life and how I was to call her my friend. When she texted me after our visit saying she felt the same way about me, it made me feel so special. That was definitely a time in my life when “special was something I very much needed to feel! While I was in Florida, I would send Marsha pictures of the sunsets and she would send me memes and holiday wishes.
When Marsha sent me this text, it was perfect timing. At that time I was really struggling with knowing where I belonged and where I was supposed to be. What a great feeling it was to have someone tell me I they were glad to know me and that I was always welcome where they were.
In mid January, I received another text from Marsha and, expecting another funny meme or cartoon showing her immense dislike of Trump, I smiled when I saw her name pop up. But my smile disappeared as soon as I started reading Marsha’s message. The unthinkable had happened…
Amy…this is one of the hardest parts of getting older. When we’re younger, serious illness is a remote possibility only the really unfortunate encounter and imminent death is a far off place where old people go. Far too often these days, I am visiting with friends in declining health and wondering to myself if it will be the last time I will get to see them alive, the last time I’ll be able to share time and laughter with them and the last time I’ll get to call them and have them answer. This is true in consideration of their health as well as my own and, as the years continue to sprint past me, the realization that only one or two of my friends have living parents and our generation is the next to leave this world becomes very clear. It is one thing to consider my own death and reconcile myself to it’s approach as I age. It’s a whole other sordid process to consider that if I live to a ripe old age, I’ll like see most of my friends die…and the only way to avoid this is to die before they do. Death is, at times, such an unsettling backside to all of the joys that life brings to us.
February has arrived and despite the couple of weeks I’ve had to prepare myself to be positive, upbeat and supportive during my visit with Marsha, I find myself woefully unprepared for what cancer has brought to her. I keep crying and I can’t stop thinking about it. I know I won’t be able to be “strong” and hold myself together and pretend I am not devastated by the news. No matter how hard I try to recall the pink in her cheeks and the light in her eyes as she smiled last fall, it will be impossible to pretend I can see them this time. It will be impossible to pretend to be anything other than devastated.
Because Marsha died on February 2nd…10 days before I made it back to see her. And I’ll never get to see my extraordinary friend again. And from what I’ve been told, the furries have already been sent off to rescues and distant family members, so I won’t get to see them either. And I know that in the grand scheme of things and to Marsha’s sister, brother and nieces and nephews, I am no one special and I won’t be allowed to visit her home again in order to feel close to her one last time. And part of me wants to mourn her in a way that feels much bigger than what is proportionate to how long we knew each other but I have to honor that place in me and let myself feel what I feel. And what I feel is this great sadness in knowing that someone like Marsha is gone from this world and has taken her light with her…and that I never had a chance to say goodbye…that I no longer have a place with her to hang my hat.
Sorry for two depressive letters in a row, my friend. It has been a rough couple of weeks. Hopefully I’ll have some happy news to write about soon.