She was fine, yellow, but fine.
She slept but would wake briefly and smile at me; her yellowed eyes still sparkling. I would slip into her room as quiet as possible. If she slept I could pretend everything was fine, fine. I sat next to her bed and began to weep. She looked at me with her wide smile.
“Don’t cry, Erin. It’s okay”.
I held her hand. Those were the last words she ever spoke.
We had no unfinished business. I had spent her last weeks keeping her company, renting old movies, looking at pictures, watching her sleep, and laughing, always laughing.
I feared Lisa was going to die from the instant I knew she was ill. She, to the best of my knowledge, never thought she was going to die. It was accurately representative of our friendship. I would say I was a realist, she would say pessimist. She would say she was an optimist. I’d say she lived in a fantasy world. We chalked our friendship up to lack of exposure to normal people.
When it was clear she was dying, the thought of being witness to it was terrifying. Lisa had already lived three days longer than anyone should have to. I watched her suffer, struggle for each breath and slowly, painfully slip away. So overwhelmed by my own grief, I did anything I could to stay occupied. When I was not completely engaged I would fall asleep like a narcoleptic.
As is the usual death protocol, my phone rang at 3 a.m. Startled, I was instructed it was time. I got back in bed. I weighed this choice. Could I really watch my best friend die? Would she even want me to? I put on my Red Sox hat and drove numbly to the hospital where I had spent 12 hours a day with her, her family, our friends. We joked, laughed, told stories, ate hot dogs and cried. I know she heard us, well, I know she heard me, I recognized her occasional look of disgust, even unconscious it was there.
When I arrived at the hospital Lisa was barely breathing, it was the calmest I had seen her in weeks. She had come to accept her fate. I had not. She had found peace. As I stood there, half asleep and nauseous, waiting for Lisa to die, it dawned on me that this may actually happen. I was completely unprepared.
Then she left, just slipped off into her next life.
It was morning and there were arrangements to be made. I went with her parents to the funeral home. I picked out Lisa’s coffin. It was mauve with pick roses embroidered in the bedding. I went to her house to pick out her final outfit. As I sifted through her outfits, knowing I needed something loose to fit over her bloated shell, I could feel her guiding me to the “good stuff”. A pretty silk skirt and a cashmere sweater she had found in Paris the fall prior. I was sure the thought of her outfit being worn by a homeless guy outside the Goodwill was enough to flex whatever psychic muscles she possessed.
I spent the afternoon making arrangements for a post funeral luncheon consisting of the traditional after death fare of ziti and rubbery chicken.
I finally went home and tried to sleep but I could not stop seeing Lisa’s face. I found myself trying to find the exact moment Lisa died. There was no gust of wind, or religious occurrence, that would make you sense her passing.
She was just gone; out like a lamb.
The following evening I gracefully, numbly, greeted hundreds of old friends, Lisa’s family, co-workers and acquaintances, all with the same pained smile plastered on my face.
After Lisa’s wake, I thought to call Lisa and tell her whom I had seen. Tell her how fat, bald, old, divorced or enhanced so and so had become.
Lisa was not available to gossip.
We would never sit in confession together again.
There would be no more tangoing.