by Erendira Alvarez, OBOC essay contest finalist. Art by Janet Trenier.
“When we’re 88, we’ll still be friends and we’ll be complementing each other on our cute orthopedic shoes.” Simple words on a birthday card can give you a different perspective in life. This card was a gift from a special friend who changed my life forever. In the novel The Things They Carried, author Tim O’Brien recollected the Vietnam War, writing, “And yet the remembering makes it now…which makes it forever.” My friendship with Jeraldy only lasted two years, but seeing this birthday card made it feel like forever. This card once gave me joy, but now it only gives me grief and sadness. Losing a loved one is hard to go through, but the hardest to deal with are the unspoken words. Losing my friend Jeraldy to cancer was heartbreaking, but having this guilt inside of me is a life changing experience that has made me stronger.
I had just given birth to my son and was in need of a friend. I felt depressed and disconnected from everyone. I missed being happy, loving, and outgoing. In a word, I was not myself. Jeraldy came into my life and changed it for the better. Jeraldy was what I used to be and what I was longing to be again. I remember the first time we met, our girls went to kindergarten together. Right away, we hit it off. I could not believe how much we had in common. We both enjoyed spending time with our children. Our favorite was taking trips to the park together. Many times we took them out to eat and the movies. We loved to go shopping, dancing, and, most important of all, talking. In fact, we became so close, she became my son’s godmother. For a Hispanic family being a godmother to a child is an honor because you become a second mother to that child.
Everything ended when she announced she was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and she only had one year to live.
I must admit when she told me I was mad with God. I questioned why I was given such a wonderful friend to only get her taken away by a disease of which I knew very little. I was hoping with surgery the doctors could save her life, but there was nothing they could do. I did not know how to cope with the news. In fact, I had never dealt with the passing of a loved one. I must confess I was so afraid I stayed away, which was cowardly and selfish of me. However, I was so afraid and had no idea how to deal with it. Once she said that if I visited her, I should pretend like nothing was wrong and talk to her about everything and anything. How could I act like nothing was wrong? When I knew that soon I would never see her again, I did visit, but I would automatically start crying, making her cry. I would be upset at myself for making her sad instead of cheering her up. I was heartbroken seeing how this disease was slowly and painfully dimming the life of what was once my brightest friend.
I kept my distance. I regret so much not being there in her final days. Not being able to tell her how much I loved her, how much she meant to me, and how I will never forget her. I wish I could have kissed and hugged her for the very last time. There is not one day that passes that I do not think about her. Three years have passed and I cannot get it out of my head. I hate myself for what I did. I always thought of myself as being the perfect friend, but it is a lie I tell myself and others. The more often I tell people about what a good friend I was the more real it would become. Of course, I am only lying to convince myself.
Jeraldy was only able to fight back cancer for six months. O’Brien recalls “Sometimes people don’t ever get better. They die sometimes.” She was only twenty eight years old and left behind three beautiful children. There are instances when I wonder if there was anything she wanted to tell me before she died. That is something I will never know. I often wish she was still here so I can ask for her forgiveness. Tim O’Brien recollects, “You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead.” How can I ask for forgiveness when that person is no longer here? I miss my friend, and this guilt that lives inside of me is a reminder of the devastating choice I made. I cannot forget it.
I was finally able to summon the strength to see her the night she passed away. She lay in her bed covered in a Hello Kitty blanket that belonged to one of her daughters. I was stunned to see her; I told myself that it was not Jeraldy. I hoped for a miracle at that moment. I wished she would wake up and tell me everything was going to be ok. But that miracle never occurred.The only comfort I have is remembering her the way she wanted me to. Jeraldy always said, “I want you to remember me with my heels and makeup ready to go out. Not sick.” That is the only comfort I have because I have honored that request. Recently I received the news that my daughter’s godmother Arabela is battling leukemia. I cannot believe that this is happening again. I believe I have grown with Jeraldy’s passing and I am no longer afraid. According to O’Brien, “It’s a hard thing to explain to somebody who hasn’t felt it, but the presence of death and danger has a way of bringing you fully awake. It makes things vivid. When you’re afraid, really afraid, you see things you never saw before, you pay attention to the world” (183). Now, I can visit Arabela, control my feelings, and talk to her without hurting her or making her cry. I want to be there for her no matter what happens. With the love and support of her family and friends, I believe she will overcome and defeat leukemia.
Dealing with the passing of someone you love is devastating. We all react differently. I unwillingly chose to stay away for fear of not knowing how to react to the situation. I will never forgive myself because I will never forget Jeraldy. Life can change unexpectedly. One day we are here, and the next we are gone. I realize life is too short we must enjoy it. If you need to say something, say it or forever regret it. In addition, always hug, kiss, and say I love you to the people you care about. Learn from my mistake. Do the right thing no matter how much pain it may cause and how afraid you might be. As O’Brien says, “It’s about sunlight. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow” (81). Even though, the memories of Jeraldy make me sad it is also a reminder of how much I loved her. Every day I thank God for the wonderful times I spent with Jeraldy. Even though it was short, I will have a lifetime of memories. Jeraldy sometimes visits me in my dreams. O’Brien wrote, “My dreams had become a secret meeting place, and in the weeks after she died I couldn’t wait to fall asleep at night” (231). I also have faith that some day we will meet again. When and where I do not know.