Today is my friend’s 47th birthday….only problem is she died nearly two years ago so the celebration will be “low-key”. Grab a chair, your coffee and some tissues and I’ll tell you about her.
I became friends with Christine when our boys were in preschool. I had heard about her from a friend who lived down the street from her. I even stopped by her house once or twice when I was visiting our mutual friend. This woman held an open house every day. If you or your kids were around you were welcome to visit, stay for dinner. She had an entire family move in once for a few months as they prepared to move back to Europe.
Christine was smart, kind and generous. I know everyone says this about their friends but I’m telling you she took it to a whole other level. She was also an M.D. so validation on the smart comment. I bet she was the best doctor ever. I can imagine her listening to her patients with love and humor and thinking of them well past the visit. She was definitely the kind that would check in on her flock.
Sadly, by the time we got close her days of practicing medicine were in the rear view mirror. Though she would still yell at you and make sure you got treatment if she thought you needed it. She could be stubborn and persistent. One time I mentioned that the back of my right knee felt swollen. I was immediately told to drop my pants so she could exam me. You didn’t say no to Christine. Since I had a history of pregnancy related blood clots she sent me straight to ER and placed some calls to make sure I would get the A team regardless of which doctors were actually on call that day. Truth be told she would have done that for anyone that crossed her path.
She collected people in the manner that others collect bells, stamps or whatever the hell people collect……except no one was left on the shelf, ever. If there was a party everyone was invited, EVERYONE within a 50 mile radius. Her parties were big, loud, fun and filled with her people.
She treated everyone with kindness and generosity. She could make friends anywhere – playground, waiting room, hospital, gas station….anywhere. Once you were her friend you were in the inner circle which was rather large. The only flaw I can find beyond the persistent stubborn nature was she liked to hear gossip. Whenever we spoke on the phone one of the first things out of her month was “what’s the latest gossip?” This was in no way to be mean she didn’t have an ounce of mean in her she was just inquisitive by nature and probably wanted a change of scenery from her daily grind of personal medical issues.
Soon after she gave birth to her son, she found out she had a rare cancer. Surgery was performed and the cancer was determined to be severe and rare. By the time we became close she had been through years of chemo, radiation and every other aggressive treatment known to mankind to treat her. She was a fighter. Unfortunately, the aggressive treatments permanently harmed her heart. To the point where she had some extra parts inserted inside her chest to keep things pumping. Even that didn’t go smooth as one of the “parts” was determined to be defective and was known to fray in which case she would have about half an hour to get to the hospital if she had any hope of survival. She was 35 when that happened.
Can you imagine? Here you are a beloved MD with a thriving private practice…….you have a young daughter and a new husband, with whom you have an infant son and BAM your world implodes. To make matters worse her father was diagnosed with a different but equally aggressive cancer within a week of Christine. WTF universe?
So when our boys were in the same small preschool class she had been dealing with this medical shit storm for 5 years. She had a damn good handle on it but at this point her father was dying. I never met the man but my God in the descriptions he sounds like Santa Claus, Jimmy Buffet and your favorite comedian wrapped up into one fun loving kind soul. The first day I met Christine’s mom was the day he died…..I hugged mother and daughter with everything I had.
A few days later there was a memorial in Christine’s house celebrating her father’s life…..hundreds of people were there. Two weeks after that the annual Christmas Party took place on schedule because these people knew the value of living in the moment and celebrating life…..right here, right now…..do not postpone joy.
I remember one day we joined our boys on a preschool field trip and she told me some of the details of her medical situation. She flat out told me “I probably won’t make it past his 10th birthday”. Of course I didn’t want to believe her but I trusted her judgement….she was after all a doctor and a level headed woman. That conversation is burned in my brain. Sadly her predication was pretty accurate.
When the boys were in 1st grade the world started to crumble yet again. I think it was the spring when she called and told me she had cancer again. Different area same shitty disease. She cried on the phone I just said how sorry I was that she was going through this again. Not sure of what kind of a cheer leader I was but she knew I was available to do whatever she needed.
At one point I went to visit her in NYC at Memorial Sloan Kettering. I just wanted to let her know I was there for her with whatever she needed. As I was leaving she asked me if she was going to be OK…..I put on the best game face I had and without hesitation I said “absolutely” with a certainty that I didn’t actually have but wanted so bad.
The last two years of her life were incredibly difficult and fraught with a series of medical issues that would have taken a lesser person down in an instant. She went through broken bones, blood clots, countless chemo and radiation treatments. All the while she kept her kids on track. She was planning her daughter’s college prep sending her to Ivy League summer programs when she was a Sophomore in High School. By the way that girl was Valedictorian at her High School Graduation. She is a kindhearted genius like her mom and if anyone has a shot a curing cancer my money is on her.
She made sure her son had a close circle of friends and family at all times. We are still around loving him like he is an adopted son….and his father is doing a great job in the parenting department. In her last years, she planned and attended multiple trips to Disney, Hershey Park, Atlantis……she made as many happy memories as she could while she was here…..because she knew she only had a short time to squeeze in a lifetime of love and laughter.
So my dear Christine I wish you a happy birthday in heaven where surely you have collected more friends and are nurturing the other angels around you.