I rgirlsnightin.jpgemember asking my twitter followers the question “What do I say to a friend who is dying?” I was really upset and felt that I couldn’t speak to anyone who knew my friend Darlene and could figure out who I was referring to. I didn’t want to be spreading rumours but I really needed advice so I felt that twitter would be somewhat anonymous. It was.

I got great advice but I never got to put it to the test – my friend died within the week. 

Let me tell you about our story.
Darlene was one of my best work buddies. We met when I was in my early twenties while working for the company I would call home for many, many years to come. When we met, she was already a mom of two boys and one girl. I remember her daughter was in grade school when we became friends. She has now graduated college. 
Our relationship was a funny one. She scared the crap out of me when we first met. She had what I call a bit of a gruff demeanor to her. She was not what I call super friendly when we first met but I guess I grew on her and we became fast friends.
At work we sat beside each other for a few years so I knew a lot about her life. I spoke to her husband and kids on the phone in the early days. It didn’t take long before I felt she was like family to me. 
Darlene always looked out for me. She was protective, caring and we had many laughs together over the years.
She threw me a wedding shower and a baby shower. She was there with me through all my life’s big moments. Always thoughtful, she would send me presents for my kids when on maternity leave and after I returned. We always took each other out for lunch on our birthdays! 
I was also there for her exciting milestones….  I remember the joy she experienced when her 2 boys had children and she became a grandmother. She adored her family. She had an amazing bond with her daughter, I wanted a daughter just to experience the special relationship she had with her daughter. 
I was also with her when she experienced the lows. We went through work upheavals together and we experienced lots of changes in our workplace over the years. We survived it together – always working in the same unit. 
Then came a big blow for Darlene. She was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. 
Darlene was so brave, she only took off time from work for a very short time while going through treatments. 
She told me that if she stayed at home she would just feel sorry for herself. I honestly don’t know how she did it. She worked through exhaustion, pain and the loss of her hair – all while co-workers watched in amazement. 
She recovered. 
Her hair grew back and she regained strength. Things were back to normal. She looked amazing and felt good again.
Throughout her time at our company she was always involved in charity fundraising and was the go to person for the organizing many events at work for which she volunteered her time for. She was very generous with her time.  
But, the the last bomb dropped and somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was diagnosed with bone cancer. Darlene was experiencing problems with her legs and back and didn’t know why. The doctors thought perhaps the chemotherapy had weakened her bones. She went through many tests and then it was discovered that the cancer had gone into her bones and spread. That was close to two years ago. I remember feeling angry with the doctors. Why had they not discovered it sooner? Maybe should would still be here…
I went on my second maternity leave at that point, but I kept talking to Darlene on the phone and we would meet up for lunch every so often to catch up in person. I would listen as she would share with me her fears about the cancer. She would send me amazingly honest emails about what she was going through. I always felt very privileged that she would share her soul with me because I knew it was never easy for her. She always had such hope for the future. She wanted to be there for her family. It wasn’t fair.
I got a call from work saying that Darlene’s health situation was terminal in early May of 2010. I was given her home phone number. Darlene was a very private person and even though we shared so much with each other I was still incredibly scared to call her given my knowledge of her situation. I didn’t know what to say to her and I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. 
She was only in her early fifties – she had be angry. Or at least I was angry for her. What the hell do you say to someone going through that?
I got the courage to call and we talked for only a brief moment. She had family with her and the nurse was about to help her with something. She said she was going to call me back. I waited for a few days and was going to call her back myself to follow up. 
I never got the chance because my manager at work called to tell me that she had passed away. 
I was very upset because I felt like I was left hanging – just like when my adoptive father died suddenly a few years before.
I was also in the middle of planning a big event for Mom Entrepreneurs Network. I couldn’t have felt more stressed. May 11th was my first big event – 70 women came to see Julie Cole of Mabel’s Labels speak.  After a busy day of throwing an event I was then saying good bye to one of my close buddies at her visitation/service. I honestly don’t know how I got through that week. I shed a lot of tears. 
I miss Darlene very much. I think about her all the time. I even dreamed about her the other day. We had a conversation. I don’t really remember what the conversation was about but I woke up feeling like I had a connection with my friend which was really important since I didn’t have a chance to say good bye.
I think about Darlene every day. She was my friend, my protector and often, my guide. She taught me what it means to be courageous and determined. She taught me what real love is. She taught me about hope and what it really, truly, means to never give up. 
“Darlene I am sorry I never got to say good bye to you. Please know how much I loved you and how proud I am of you and what you contributed to every life you touched. I know you are in heaven still fiercely protecting the ones you love. Thank you for that and so much more.”
Looking for a cool and fun way to help save a life from cancer? Host Girl’s Night In to support cancer research. I am planning one this fall in honour of Darlene. To learn more about this amazing program visit their web site as well as their social media, twitter and Facebook. 

  • JackiYo

    …that, of course, should say ‘And’…

  • JackiYo

    Hugs. Beautiful. Ane you are an amazing person.

  • Sara

    What a beautiful tribute Leigh. And trust me – she knew how you felt. Two experiences for me – one – a very, close and beloved work friend died during an operation. I hadn’t talked to him in a few months before and when I went to the visitation, he had written letters (in case something happened) and he included me in one of them. I lost it and told his wife that I was undeserving of such a tribute. She just shook her head and said good friends are good friends no matter what and that he knew how much I loved him. and still do.
    Secondly – one piece of advice for everyone. As hard as it is – not knowing what to say…. just say THAT. My mom died at 59. I know there were many, many friends of hers and mine who just avoided the whole thing because they didn’t know what to say. Just a card or call saying – ‘i dont’ know what to say’ – means SO much. Trust me, the person doesn’t know what to say either…but just to get that little reach out means a lot.
    This was a beautiful piece Leigh – I’m sorry about Darlene.

  • http://mamma-razzi.blogspot.com/ kristen

    Your story really touch me. As a breast cancer survivor when I read stories it brings me back, I relive all the fears and pain. So why do you ask do I do that to myself. I do it because it reminds me to appreciate everyday. To tell the people around me that I love them and appreciate them, and strive to live out my dreams, hug my babies a little harder and kiss them even more. It soak up everything about them and document everything they do.
    Thank you for the touching reminder.

  • Jen

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, Leigh. I will definitely be looking into throwing one of these parties.

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