A dear friend died last night after a couple years of battling serious illnesses. Dawn, who I had yet to meet in-person, was working on her doctorate degree at the same time I was working toward my Masters, and we met through a grad student support group however-many years ago. We would make each other laugh throughout long nights--and years--of reading, researching, and paper-writing by describing our "work clothes" to each other. "I think I have you beat tonight," I would tell her. "Charlie Brown 'zig-zag' t-shirt, candy cane-striped pajama pants I got for Christmas, and my hair's pulled back into one of my dad's Pirates baseball caps. It will be a sad day when I have my degree and am not this fashionable anymore!" She would share her own crazy outfit--and no small amount of love and wisdom, as well--and another night spent trudging along on the long road toward our goals would pass with much laughter to combat the exhaustion and stress. I finally earned my degree in 2006, and she finally became "Dr. Dawn" in 2009. In a recent email, she wrote, "You are so dear, and I miss our chats about the most outrageous outfits. I'm currently wearing a worn-out Henley 4 sizes too big, and boat shorts. . . . will shortly add an ancient 2 sizes too big maroon sweat outfit and white fuzzy slippers."
"I don't know how you do it," I told her as she plodded along on her new and more difficult journey of cancer treatments a year ago. "But you do it. I admire your persistence." Big-hearted and brave, Dawn responded, "I do it because I'm one stubborn old broad, and because I have a lot of help from my friends and my dear sister and from God." To all her friends and family, 62-year-old Dawn has been the epitome of love and friendship, so often the one we would all look to her inspiration and advice even while trying to support her in her own battles. The student group through which I first met her is heartbroken today. To find anyone in this life who loves you and makes you laugh is a gift, and to find someone who loves you, makes you laugh, and makes you try to be a better person is a whole other level of a blessing. Dawn was a treasure.
"OK, I am tired, gotta go," she signed off in one of her last emails to me. "God bless wonderful, faithful Val." Bless you too, my dear. But friendships do not die. If you're sporting sparkling wings today, Dawn, then you finally have me beat. But you would want me to try, at least, and as a respecter of tradition, I don't mind telling you that I am wearing an oh-so-80s neon green nightshirt with screen-printed stars on its front, rainbow-striped underwear that is probably showing through in the back, and pink rabbit slippers. And I miss you so much already. And even when I'm 102 years old and find myself wearing some nutty mismatched outfit, I will think of you and laugh. And always, always, I will be grateful for your goodness to me and to so many others. Your heart was as big as your sweatshirt.