You can only do what you can do. That’s not to say that there’s not room for improvement, but to think that you can fix something in someone else, that you can solve a problem that is not yours, is both arrogant (in believing in your own power) and unkind (denying that other person power of their own). There has to be a middle ground, good faith efforts on both sides.
I know this. I know this is true.
I know that being a good friend to someone on my terms does not necessarily mean that I am a good friend to that person on her terms.
A week and a half ago, Susan died. Barry called me on Monday afternoon nine days ago to tell me. She died at home, asleep. She’d called to him around 4:30 in the afternoon, he said, and was in good spirits. She wanted to know what the music was. There was no music that Barry heard, but Susan, for the twenty years that I’ve known her, has always been inclined to see and hear things outside of my experience. Not in a crazy way. Barry gave her some morphine to help her get back to sleep. The cancerous assaults of pain had been increasing in previous months, he said, which had motivated their return from California to Minnesota in January.
He wanted me to know how much our visit had meant at the end of that month. Given the progression of Susan’s cancer, Lisa and I had long planned on a visit. California didn’t work out, but Minnesota did. We ran errands for them most of a Saturday. A pharmacy. An art supply store for Susan – pens and pencils and notepads. Spiral bound for us 0ne-armed people! she said with a laugh, sounding so much like the person we knew and remembered. She was in hospice treatment at home and her meds made her anxious, however, so she would only talk to us through the patio door, unlike the person we remembered. We finished the day at a bar, drinking stiff liquor and talking about love.
And time. Because – of course. What else were we going to talk about?
Barry said that our time, even that one day, the phone call, the movies we picked up, the groceries, were important in her transitioning.
All of which is to say, when my phone rang with Barry’s name and number nine days ago, there was only one very likely reason he was calling. He was relieved in a way. He didn’t sound aggrieved or strained. Susan’s cancer, originally diagnosed as benign-ish and requiring only some radiation therapy along with the amputation of her right arm and shoulder, was only discovered a year ago. That’s a short time in some regards, twelve months, but even with her terminal diagnosis from September, seven months, that’s a long time to die. I expect that, as torn up as he was by Susan’s death, knowing that she was no longer suffering day to day was a kind of relief. Who wants to see someone they love in pain? Who wants to see someone they love gone forever?
That was really the two-choice option.
The memorial, he told me, would probably be scheduled for mid-April. Lisa and I talked it over and figured, between her workload and our lack of cash (I’m not working at the moment), we couldn’t afford to make it out. Barry completely understood and reiterated how much our earlier trip had meant.
And today Susan’s brother writes to say that Barry died last night.
And I can’t convince myself that if we’d said we’d be at the memorial that that would have made a difference.
But I can’t convince myself that I could have done more. Said more.
Even though I know I’d probably feel exactly the same way no matter what I might have done or said, however much.
Because – I think – in the end, when there is an end – it is never enough.
There is never enough love to make up for the time we do not have.