This story is by Ann McDonald and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My best friend died today. Her name was Claire. I can see her beautiful smile as I try to process the horrible news, as if she’s trying to tell me it’s going to be okay. But that’s not what I’m telling myself. This is more than a death and I may never get past this.
To make this worse, as if that’s possible, I learned about her death on Facebook. We had a mutual friend who had been keeping me aware of Claire’s condition as her cancer progressed. I haven’t heard from our friend since Claire left the facility and came home.
“What if she never left the facility after all and no one told me? Or, what if our friend was upset that I hadn’t visited Claire and that’s maybe why she didn’t contact me before Claire passed?”
“Stop it! You’re making it worse, as I always seem to do. Okay, enough talking to myself. Maybe it happened so quick that …? Stop it, just stop it!”
Moving on – Claire had been very ill for almost a year and was on the verge of death a few months ago but then a new treatment gave us all hope and she was able to go home.
I talked to Claire a couple of times when she was still in the facility, and she seemed so much like her old self. The last call was wonderful. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about at that moment, but she said, “Oh! Hold on, someone’s coming in.”.
While I was ‘holding on’, it was obviously the nurse who came in to see how she was doing. I could hear the nurse talking to her and asking questions. “Claire, how are you doing this afternoon? Are you up for a movie? The library lady dropped off five DVD’s” and proceeded to list each one.
While on hold, I remembered how she was two weeks before, when she was so close to death. Tears of joy ran down my face as I listened to Claire and the nurse talking about movies. I couldn’t wait for her to get settled back into her own home. I can almost picture her being excited opening the front door, and greeting her two beloved little dogs as they go crazy to see her.
The nurse inserted the movie into the DVR and left the room. Wrapping up our call, we agreed we would have a visit when she got home. “I’ll call you when I get settled and we’ll go from there,” Claire said, as we said goodbye.
Time passed and I didn’t hear from her, and I lost track of time when everything at home changed, and I became caregiver to my husband suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Trying to think today how long it had been since I talked to Claire, it became very clear. It had been too long.
I didn’t call her. I had time to call. Why didn’t I call? I feel so guilty. Claire was like my sister so why didn’t I call?
Thinking about this now, I know it will haunt me for a long time.
Somewhere in my mind, I’d made a plan to meet Claire for lunch like we use to. We really didn’t care where we went it was just one of those, “where do you want to go?” Clair asks situations.
“I don’t care, you pick.” I answer.
“No, I chose last time so you pick.” She insists, and on it would go. Eventually one of us would make a decision.
Or, if Claire was up to it, maybe we could go to an Association meeting. It’s been a couple of years but it’s always fun when a bunch of realtor women get together and we all end up talking at the same time. Crazy! I miss it so much.
This reminded me of an overnight business trip we took about 10 years ago. It still makes me laugh to this day. We were there to attend a class on how to teach other Realtors about purchase agreements. We drove down the day before to make sure we would be there on time the next morning. We checked into the hotel then got back in the car to check out the area. We found a great outdoor shopping center and spied the restaurant we decided to try later that evening. We wandered through different shops and came upon a wine shop. We both enjoy wine, so we decided to buy a bottle to take back to the hotel for after dinner.
Things got sillier the later it got. We had dinner then went back to the hotel. I went down the hall for ice while Claire rinsed out the hotel glasses and took the wine out of the bag. With all five bottles we ended up buying, what we didn’t buy was a corkscrew which is rather essential since our wine was corked, not a screw-top.
“Did you bring the corkscrew?” Claire asked, as if we have a specific corkscrew we carry around wherever we go.
“No – why didn’t you?” I asked. “So now what?”
Off we went again. Of course, all stores were now closed, at least the ones you would typically assume carried corkscrews. I don’t know why but driving around in the dark in an unfamiliar area was really creepy. After about an hour, and no monsters attacking us, we found a gas station that had a small store. Way in the back with all the beer and wine, there was a tiny foldable corkscrew. We took our newly found, one dollar, treasure back to the hotel, put on pajamas and successfully opened the bottle of wine which we purchased for this particular event. I still have that corkscrew on my keychain. It means more now than before.
I can still remember seeing Claire with her long hair hanging loose instead of up in a bun, laughing as we made a toast to eventually getting some sleep. We talked way too late into the night to be able to pay much attention to the instructor teaching class the next day but somehow, we both passed the test and went home qualified to teach other Realtors all about purchase agreements.
I realize now that my plan was actually a wish, and it will never come true. My tears today are not of joy but of sorrow.
——- # ——-
The problem, you see, is that Claire’s not really dead. Oh, her body is, but her spirit and her soul are very much alive and will be alive for eternity. The knot in my heart is my own guilt based on the fact that I don’t know her eternal address. I could have talked to her about this many times to make sure she was ready to choose the right address. But I didn’t. I thought about it a lot, but I never said a word.
I loved her. Claire was my kindred spirit in this life, and I so looked forward to keeping it the same way in the next. But now, I don’t know. I may never see her again.
The last few years Claire and I both went through too many changes, mostly hard and almost impossible to bear. We both lost track and lived our lives the best we could. I needed a way to deal with all this, so I joined a Bible study to recommit my faith that I had ignored for so long. It helped so much, and through the years, peace has replaced most of the stress.
I only bring this up because I knew for a long time that I needed to tell Claire about this. I knew we needed to have a talk about God and how, through Jesus, the problems in this life are in His hands and we can know we aren’t alone, and that there is glorious light promised at the end.
I pray that before Claire died, someone else talked to her about God and Jesus, and that Heaven is her new address, being with them both for eternity. I failed her. I let fear believe that it would ruin our friendship to talk with her about this. What a stupid thing to think! There is nothing, and I mean “nothing” more important than this.
So, how do I sleep now, when the knot of guilt in my heart won’t go away? How can I keep this from happening again? I’ve learned a hard lesson.
“My dear Claire, you will haunt me forever and I’m grateful for it. This was a major wake-up call for me and with God’s help, I’m going to do the best I can to not let this happen again. I pray I see you later.” I say, hoping she can hear me.