When I was in high school, I fancied myself a bit of a poet. Like many an angsty teen, my own fabulous array of emotions provided plenty of fodder. Sensitive to a fault but determined to put on a tough face, I still remember a line from one particular poem: ‘let feelings never sharpen to the point of being felt’.
For a time, I followed my own advice, as I did my best to appear impervious to hurt. It was all an act; mine is, by nature, an open heart. There is a reason that the Tin Man was my favorite character in The Wizard of Oz.
Lately, my heart has often felt as if it were breaking, as too many of my friends with cancer have faced almost unthinkable challenges. Metastases in distant places—-bone, brain, liver and spine. Resultant pain and disability. Lungs that just won’t stop filling up with fluid. And in some cases, the sad realization that you have run out of options and that it may be the end of the line.
Tuesday evening, I just needed to stop feeling and thinking both. An alcoholic beverage might have helped, but is now verboten, so I plugged in the heating pad, popped an ambien, and went to bed at 7:30 pm. Too weary of spirit to visualize flying, I imagined instead floating in an inner tube down a dark river on a warm summer night. The moon was shining, and all around me were my friends who are battling cancer, each in their own inner tube. We held each others hands, as we gently drifted upon the warm water bathed in moonlight.
When I awakened the next morning I checked the text messages on my phone. There was one from Thao, only it wasn’t from Thao at all, but rather her husband. And he was letting me know that Thao had passed away on Monday morning, March the 25th.
Dear, strong and incredibly brave Thao.
She was only thirty three years old, leaving behind her husband, their beloved three year old son and a large extended family.
Last night, Thao and I once again took flight. This time, my companion weighed very little and was effervescent in appearance; as if composed entirely of twinkling lights. As we sailed through the dark skies, I recalled one of her final messages to me:
“Close your eyes, holding my hand, flying in the air, and sweet dreams tonight.”
I will never let go.