This is part one in a three-part series by Maureen Shockey on being a young person suddenly confronted with the responsibilities of death.
For my age, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. A LOT. Some friends, some family, some elderly, some my own age or younger. My late teens and twenties have made me feel a bit like Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal. Each loss hurt as much as the next, but as difficult as mourning was, I did not yet realize that the most difficult road came just before shuffling off the mortal coil.
I had just turned 24, and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in illustration.
About a month later, I got the text message.
A dear friend of mine of over a decade, and not much older than myself, had received a terminal diagnosis.
I felt like someone kicked me in the gut. With Dolph Lundgren.
I panicked, and in a daze of anxiety and anguish, shot off a 4 a.m. text to a very understanding and altogether remarkable friend of mine, begging advice on how the hell to even start to write a letter to comfort a terminal friend. His sound advice and sympathetic reply (with no hard feelings about the ridiculous hour I texted) arrived later that morning, and so I got to writing.
I didn’t write a sympathy note. I didn’t write “I’ll miss you,” or some solemn goodbye.
I wrote a thank you note. I told him how grateful I was that we had shared the time we had. A thank you for all he had done for me.
He was still my friend, and he was still here. I would be here for him, until the very last. If you knew me, you’d know I’m not exaggerating the stubbornness. I cried for an entire day after I sent it out.
Then, things got complicated.
Through an insane laundry list of misfortune and circumstance, my friend had become seriously ill, and even more isolated. Those who were normally close to him were treating my friend abhorrently, as if he were already dead, and his family was totally AWOL. My friend needed a will, and was too sick to write it. No one had stepped up to the plate, and time was of the essence.
It was about this time that I took a step back and really assessed the situation. I was unemployed and looking for work. I had the time. I wasn’t going to leave my friend high and dry. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. Not a clue. Moreover, I was two time zones away. It was hard to comprehend what I was getting myself into. It wasn’t heroics, but it was the best I could offer.
So, at age 24 — totally unqualified and in way over my head — I volunteered. I was drafting my friend’s will.
Next Week: “If there’s a will, there’s a hundred thousand hurdles, or how I learned to stop walking on eggshells and be a solid friend.”