My best childhood friend died two weeks ago today. She was diagnosed with a rare form of adrenal cancer in May of 2015. Stage IV. I didn’t realize it was stage IV. I never asked. I didn’t realize my dad’s cancer was stage IV either. Perhaps it was better I didn’t know in either case, as I found myself with a certain amount of optimism throughout the end of each of their lives that others likely didn’t experience. Pessimism wouldn’t have changed either outcome, and optimism is a more comforting feeling. That said, perhaps had I been more aware, I wouldn’t have waited to do what I kept telling myself I needed to do over the past several months – visit Amy. (Likewise, perhaps I wouldn’t have left my father to go back to Brooklyn to live my life while he was in hospice, because I was fully expecting to return to see him a few more times before he passed away – he died the morning I was due to arrive for my next visit.)
My friendship with Amy was unfinished. Amy’s life was unfinished. She was 41.
Perhaps it was best articulated by another old childhood friend of ours in a Facebook response to one of the seemingly thousands of posts people have written, this one by Amy’s brother – “Your sister will always be 10 years old to me, sunburnt and smiling, splashing fearlessly in the pool at North Andover.” Despite growing up with her and having gone to high school with her, learning how to and how not to drink with her!, this is how I best remember her as well. It was at that point in our lives that we had not a care in the world, and she and I were joined at the hip, never ever tiring of each other’s company, never ever getting into a single argument, never ever belittling each other the way little girls so often do. We were just comfortable in our own skin around each other. I can’t say I felt that way about any other single human being, ever. Yet Amy might be able to say that about everyone she ever knew. She had an air of confidence about her that was never affected, it was always just quietly reassuring – especially in retrospect. Unfortunately, retrospect is all I have, all any of us who loved Amy have, when it comes to Amy now.
So much of what her friends and family have been talking about over the past two weeks is Amy’s tremendous athletic talent, and the spirit with which she played. I had the benefit of playing lacrosse and soccer with Amy in high school, and was her humble lacrosse co-captain my senior year and her junior year. Looking back, it’s fair to say Amy was far better than I – far better than everyone (in fact, she made it into both our high school and her college halls of fame the first year she was eligible) – and yet I don’t remember that at all. I remember her being really good; I remember us all being really good. But I don’t remember her dominating, though it’s safe to say she always did. I don’t remember this because she was the best damn athlete I’ve ever known – her athletic talent overshadowed by her love of the game and her unique and natural understanding of what being a teammate is all about – sharing the spotlight with whomever she could, casting the attention on the team as a whole, never on herself, passing the ball to members of our team who had a 50/50 chance of missing it simply because it was the right thing to do and it’s the way she played. I’ve been envious of fellow athletes in my past, yet never did I feel that way about Amy. She simply didn’t allow you to feel in awe of her. That was her way. So yes, I too remember Amy as an athlete, but my stronger memories are of her as my friend. As everyone’s friend.
Amy was born with a maturity most people don’t develop in a lifetime. That maturity manifested in numerous ways, but perhaps the most important way was making people feel good about themselves. Whether that was the new kid at school who felt like she had no friends, the homesick kid at boarding school, or the teammate who hadn’t managed to score a goal for the entire season (until Amy passed them an assist that instantly changed that record.) Empathy, something Amy displayed since day one, is a trait I am trying hard to instill in my children as I firmly believe it’s the key to a successful, fulfilling life. And Amy did indeed have a successful, fulfilling life. Perhaps more of one than many people twice her age. And yet, she left this world with so much unfinished.
Cancer seemed to think Amy packed enough success and fulfillment into 41 years, that it could take her next 50 away from her. To think of the number of lives that could have been touched by this lovely human being in that time, and to think of the number of lives that will never be the same because this lovely human being is gone, is guttingly painful. But it’s also futile. At this point, I need to be comforted by the number of lives that have been so positively and permanently affected by Amy having loved this earth and all of its gifts for the short time she was given. Despite the fact that she was unfinished.