I remember her phone call like it was yesterday. “Are you sitting down?” she asked. “What’s up?” I responded, as thoughts of divorce, pregnancy, or a new job ran through my mind. “I have a brain tumor,” she said. “It’s malignant, and it’s bad.” Silence. Diane, my friend, college roommate, maid of honor, mom of three, was dying, at age 45.
Old College Friends
“Impossible,” I thought. It couldn’t be. It was. Diane fought, and she fought hard. She endured four brain surgeries, chemo, radiation, and clinical trials. Through the pain, she’d say, “I can’t give up, because of my kids.” She lost her fight–and left a husband and three teenagers behind. “If you ever want to know anything about your mom’s college life, we’re the go-to people,” I told her oldest daughter as the college roommates gathered at her funeral. She nodded and smiled. Like so many of us in our 30s, life gets busy: husbands, jobs, children. Diane and I lived in different parts of the country, but we kept in touch with phone calls, family pictures shared in Christmas cards, and a few girls’ weekends. She had three kids, and I had three kids. Life was as busy. But we were always there for each other. When my younger brother died, unexpectedly at age 35, Diane put her husband in charge of her family, jumped in her van, and was by my side. There is something about true friendships that allows time to pass but when you do reconnect, it’s like you just saw each other yesterday.
Several months before the ten-year anniversary of Diane’s passing, I received a Facebook message from her oldest daughter. “May I send you an email?” she politely wrote. “I have a favor to ask. There are parts of my mom’s life I know very little about, so I’m asking the important people in her life to share with me what they remember of her. Her college years are one of those times. I was wondering if you could maybe write a letter sharing what you remember. Was she a good student? Did she date much? Did she drink before she was legal? Maybe you have some old pictures?” Letters and photos are lovely, but it just didn’t seem enough. Through Diane’s sickness and after, there was always so much more I wanted to do for her and her family; but, besides a few visits, phone calls, and lots of prayers, I wasn’t sure what else to do. It was ten years later, and I could finally do something for my friend. “Can you get to Boston?”, I asked. We coordinated flights and confirmed hotel reservations, and a few months later, Diane’s three 20-something kids and her four 50-something college roommates met at her alma mater.
We started the morning at our freshman dorm, our beginning with their mom. And in one, very long Saturday in April, we walked the campus, the city, and all the places we shared with their mom. We talked about what it was like to live with their mother in a dorm room for two years, and then an apartment for another two (“Yes, she was neat then too”). We laughed about the time she firmly told one of us to get our act together when we were in danger of failing a course (she was always a teacher). And we cried about what a kind, compassionate, devoted friend she was. We hesitantly shared about the time she met a boy at a party and drove off with him on the back of a motorcycle (she did have a wild side). Together we celebrated Diane with drinks at the “Top of Hub”–the site of 99 cents happy hour drinks back in the eighties, which also had the best view in Boston. I know she was with us that day, as I could see a part of her in each of her children. Hopefully, they were able to experience a part of their mom in us. Grieving is a strange thing. It’s horrible, and inexplicably, it’s simultaneously beautiful. Rest in peace, Diane.