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Farewell, My Friend

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What do you do when you receive word that a friend has died? What do you do with the memories that flood your head and collide with the cruel knowledge that you will never see that person again? How do you stem the endless flow of tears, and how do you deal with the hurt of loss?

When do you start to believe that they are really gone?

My friend Fran had cystic fibrosis. In her almost 41 years, she never experienced the feeling of being healthy. Intravenous antibiotics, nebulizers and hospital stays were a regular part of her life. None of that stopped her from living, though. Fran was not one to let chronic illness slow her down. Life was one big adventure to her.

There are so many things I could say about Fran. I could talk about the fact that she had one of most fascinating jobs I’ve ever heard of (she fixed helicopters). I could talk about the beautiful music she made and how honoured I was that she played the flute at my wedding. Or I could talk about the epic phone conversations we had from opposite ends of the country, and when we got together, the late nights of talking and drinking wine.

Or I could talk about the running.

Yes. I think I will talk about the running.

Fran started running in earnest shortly after she moved to Canada, and I kind of became her running mentor. A few months later, she flew to Toronto for a few days to celebrate Easter with me and my family. During her stay, we ran a race together. This race, a scenic lakeside 5K, was her first. Throughout the run, Fran kept having to slow to a walk to rest her lungs. At times she would have to stop entirely while she had violent coughing fits lasting for several minutes. When she was able to catch her breath, she would grin and start running again.

Fran finished the race in about 45 minutes. She was exhausted and her face was purple, but she had an enormous smile on her face that lit up the space around her. She was glowing with her accomplishment, and I was so proud of her.

Two days later, Fran woke up wanting to go running again. We laced up and I took her around my neighbourhood, letting her set the pace. We stopped often, sometimes because Fran’s lungs would go into spasm, and sometimes just to chat. I don’t remember what we were talking about as we ran the final stretch back to my house, but we were laughing so hard that we had to stop running to prop each other up as we walked towards the driveway.

It was with this image in mind that I went running just three days after learning of Fran’s passing. I hesitated for a minute in the driveway, and then set out, retracing the steps that I had taken with her. It didn’t take long for  the tears to start streaming down my face as I remembered the conversations, the sound of Fran struggling for breath as her lungs constricted, and the special way she had of embracing life so completely.

I shed many tears while I ran, but in the last kilometre, something very strange happened. The music playing from my running playlist abruptly stopped mid-song, and a different song started – a Celine Dion song that’s not even on my running playlist.

Let the rain come down and wash away my tears…

How had this happened? My screen lock was on. How could the music spontaneously change?

Hush now, I see a light in the sky…

Was it really possible for loved ones to send messages from wherever it was they went?

I can’t believe I’ve been touched by an angel with love…

As I ran towards home, a new picture filled my head. I imagined Fran running beside me, healthy and strong, the way I like to think she is running now.

 

Comments

  1. Once again – real tears.
    I am both sorry to hear this and amazed at the change in music.

  2. Dear Kirsten,
    Thankyou so much for posting this.So beautifully written!Life was certainly one big adventure for Fran and you have described her fighting spirit,love for life and incredible strength so well.Fran was indeed a very special and unique person who taught me and I am sure many others that life should always be lived fully with an appreciation for each day and a ‘can do’ attitude.
    Warm Regards,
    Emma

    • Kirsten says:

      Thanks for the comment, Emma! After hearing of Fran’s passing I went into total meltdown mode for a couple of days – was just too much for me to handle so soon after losing my job. Then I realized that if Fran saw me moping around she’d give me a good swift kick in the butt. She’ll live on in our memories.

  3. Morganna says:

    My friend and mentor Catherine died a year and a half ago. I miss her so much. She was South African like me living in Ireland. She was 43 years old and just the loveliest person I have ever met. On the morning of her funeral, I went for a walk. It was a beautiful South African day – not something we usually see in Dublin, Ireland. The sky was high and clear and the day was sunny and fresh. I walked for about 6 kilometres – at times with tears streaming down my face knowing that in a few hours I’d be seeing Cath’s coffin and would be saying goodbye. Suddenly someone touched me on my shoulder. I got such a fright. This was about 6am and there was no one else about. I swirled around to find….no one was there. But I felt that touch as real as real can be. And all I can attribute it to is Catherine. You write so beautifully Kirsten. I don’t always read your blog…but when I do the stories you tell do touch me. Morganna

  4. george macdonald says:

    That is an amazing story, and one of those wow moments in life that telling people almost doesn’t do it justice. It reminded me of a time many years ago when something similarly bizarre happened to me…
    I was once on a 2 month journey at sea. disconnected from the world except for a telegram every 2 weeks, I lived on an old 386 laptop I picked up in the cape ads for R500. All it had on was one game which was master wu’s mahjong. If you happened to finish the tile set on this game a fortune cookie would crack open on screen and you would be enlightened with a short message. During this journey we made a sudden detour to reunion island. We were sailing for 5 days to get to port and the evening before arriving at the island I played mahjong.
    Master wu gave me a tailor made message that night which blew my mind. It read as follows : “A joyful reunion awaits your arrival”
    I kid you not.
    Sometimes our little digital gadgets are instrumental in relaying messages from the eternal stream of truth, the same stream of truth I believe Fran is now a part of…
    regards
    George MacDonald

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