One of my college roommates passed away the week before Christmas. So did my grandmother. And oh, in the middle of that week, I had to have a biopsy because of a “suspicious” mammogram. (Thankfully, the girls are fine. PSA: Get yours checked.)
Not my most favorite week ever.
Then again, the last few years haven’t been my most favorite. My marriage of two decades ended, and both my kids moved into dorms in other states. I had to quit a job that I loved. The career path at my other job changed, and I lost the title I’d worked so hard to earn. We had to sell the house we built eight years ago, because it made no financial or logistical sense to keep a 3000 square foot house where I lived alone 75% of the time. And my hairdresser stopped doing hair.
But I digress.
Although I managed to keep my completely inappropriate sense of humor during this time (because God is a pretty funny guy), I was slowly, almost imperceptibly, losing myself. An unwelcome sense of hesitation and fear had begun to permeate the edges of my life. I became way too comfortable being alone, not because I necessarily enjoyed hanging out with a hot mess who should have bought stock in Kleenex, but because it was easier than having actual face-to-face conversations. Social media and texting became my main means of communication, because it was a lot easier to live life behind a screen. Don’t get me wrong—I still went out; I still did things. But I was gradually losing the parts of me that took risks, tried new things, and truly enjoyed life and all its craziness. I spent more days than I liked in survival mode, worried about what the future held.
And then one Saturday last December, Rebecca passed away. While it wasn’t unexpected—she’d been battling stage 4 metastatic breast cancer for several years—it was sudden; the weekend before she passed away, she’d been making Christmas break plans with one of our other roommates. Reb was a neuropsychologist, and she’d quit her practice when she was diagnosed. But she wasn’t one to just sit around and wait to die. She started The Cancer Couch Foundation to raise funds for MBC labs, and raised over $3 million in four years. She and her husband built their dream home. She traveled. She made her stand-up comedy debut. And she did all of these things while being one of the smartest, kindest, funniest people I’ve ever met. She packed more into four years battling a terminal diagnosis than most people do in a lifetime. As a friend of mine said when she read Reb’s obituary, “No one will ever say half those things about me. I have some work to do.”
Don’t we all.
The last time I saw Reb was at the beginning of October at the annual benefit concert she organized for The Cancer Couch. I had to force myself to drive the six-hour round trip—I’d cycled 150 miles that weekend—but it had been a while since I’d seen her. She looked beautiful. As always, she was the consummate hostess—she gave me a hug, asked how my ride had gone (and told me she still thought I was crazy), and said how grateful she was that I’d come. One of our other roommates later told me how sick she’d been that night, but you’d never have known it by looking at her.
Ten weeks later she was gone.
The line at Reb’s viewing was over two hours long, and somehow, what should have been one of the saddest experiences of my life was one of the most uplifting ones. We reminisced, shared stories, and laughed at her crazy antics over the years. You see, that was Rebecca’s essence. She made you feel loved. She made you laugh until you cried. She made you want to be a better person. She made you want to try new things. She made you want to LIVE each day.
She was fearless.
And that reminder could not have come at a more perfect time.