At the age of 40, my spouse became a firefighter. Fifty men and women applied for the ten spots available on the part-time…
…this is where I was in a brand new blog post when my phone rang. I found it just now as I opened up Word to write something else. It was still here, unsaved and waiting to be finished. I was so proud of myself that immediately after the kids left for school I had opened up the ol’ laptop and finally started writing a new blog post. Usually, I scroll Facebook while I leisurely sip my coffee, enjoying the quiet after the always-crazy-get-ready-routine. It had been too long. This essay was going to be two things: an ode to my hero husband, as he was about to work his first shift in our new town and a testament to doing whatever you want to in life, no matter how old you are or how stuck you might feel. You can reinvent yourself. It was going to be good. I had an outline and everything.
Then that pesky phone rang.
It was my best friend. She calls me all the time, so no alarm bells went off. Plenty of people could’ve called me at 8:30am on a Tuesday that would’ve made me immediately think, “Uh-oh.” But not Heather. Heather actually prefers the phone for talking. She’s so old-school.
“Hey, girl, what’s up?”
“Are you in a position right now where you can hear some very bad news?”
This is where my heart dropped. (Note: this is excellent practice when you are the bearer of bad news. ASK.) In the three seconds it took for me to say yes and for her to tell me what actually happened, about four possibilities ran through my head. I was not even close. It was way worse than I could have even imagined.
Our friend died. Our healthy, 36-year-old friend, who had loved us and entertained us and amazed us for 18 years, died.
So I did not finish my blog. I screamed and I sobbed. And then I got dressed. Because my friends were coming to pick me up. And we would drive in a car for an hour to get to our other friends. And we would spend the day together. We would cry and laugh together, share pictures and make plans. Every few minutes someone would say, “This just isn’t right.”
And of course it isn’t. Of course. It isn’t right for a healthy mom of two to die. It isn’t right for a loving spouse to die. It isn’t right for a professor and activist to die. It isn’t right for a loyal, hilarious, kind, smart friend to die. But this is not an ode to Dr. Suzanne Berg (but you can read an excellent one here). I am not ready to write an ode to my friend that died just 15 days ago.
But I am ready to write this: holy fucking shit. People die. Real people you love just die. This is blunt and possibly callous, but shit. I have been to 23 funerals in my 36 years. I know death. Both of my parents are dead. All of my grandparents are dead. Death is not new to me. But something about this death, this sudden and inexplicable death, has shaken me to my very core. And here’s what I have to say about it: do the things. Do them all.
I find myself in the most cliché state of mind here. “Life is short! Make each moment count!” Blah, dee, blah, blah, blah, I know! BUT. It’s SO stinkin’ TRUE. When my mom died, I was super sad. Really, really super sad. But I didn’t feel my own life was precious. My mom did not live the healthiest lifestyle and she was certainly not 36. We had some unresolved issues requiring me to come to some terms. My mom’s death taught me to leave nothing unsaid. Suzanne’s death is teaching me to leave nothing undone.
On Friday, the same friend that picked me up 15 days ago will pick me up again. We will meet our other friends again, but this time we’ll meet them in a rental house many hours from here. For a vacation we planned in December, which was many, many, MANY years in the making. That Suzanne was supposed to attend with us.
Let that sink in. She died just 17 days before our girls’ trip. All but two of us hadn’t seen her in more than two years, because she also lived several hours from here. I can only think about that for a few seconds before I completely lose it. And while we texted nearly daily, she was the type of friend whose presence really mattered. She was the best in-person friend.
So no more waiting years for vacations. No more thinking you’ll see someone next time they come to town, or you’ll visit them when things calm down a bit. No more binging on Netflix instead of going to meet your friends for a drink. Say “YES!” when you’re invited. If you are not invited, plan the thing yourself. Then invite all the people. And tell the people you love them. And mean it. Because people fucking die. But even if they do, you don’t cancel the vacation, because you don’t know when you’ll see the rest of those friends again. And we will have ALL THE FUN in the name of Suzanne Valerie Loen Berg. Not just this weekend, but forever.