In my favourite photo of my friend Diana and me, we are standing with our arms around each other with her Golden Retriever sitting between us. We look happy because Diana is healthy two months after a surgeon removed cancer from her oesophagus.
“I’m away having major surgery because I have cancer and what do you do? Fall in love!” Diana said after she’d returned from the hospital and I’d told her what had transpired while she was away from Pugwash Point that summer of 2006.
|October 2006, Pugwash, NS|
Our friendship had begun two years earlier with morning dog walks and evening Scrabble games but what I cherished most were our trips to the movie theatre. We went about once a month, to see a “chick flick”. As we made the hour-long trip to the theatre, we chatted about our dogs and husbands, books and country music videos. I told stories about substitute teaching and Diana talked about her three grown children. We laughed a lot.
“I’m not much of a chatterbox,” Diana once said to me, “but you don’t seem to notice.”
It was my way of creating a cancer-free zone for her.
Six months after my wedding, Diana’s cancer returned and a few weeks before she was to begin radiation treatments in March 2008, we went to see a movie called P.S. I Love You. When the trailer for Mamma Mia had appeared on the screen, I’d leaned over and whispered, “We’re going to see that when it comes out this summer!” As I sat back, anticipation changed to horror: I’d just made a future date with a woman battling an aggressive cancer.
Four months later, Diana couldn’t attend our first anniversary party because she was in the hospital, finding out that the reason she couldn’t breathe was the liquid around her heart, which was actually more cancer. In a card, I thanked her for being such a big part of my happiness then wrote, “As soon as you are having a good day, we must go to the movies.”
A week later, Diana phoned.
“I’m having a good day,” she told me. “Let’s go to the movies tonight.”
Sitting in a dark movie theatre, eating popcorn and watching Mamma Mia, I concentrated on my intense gratitude for this moment, not on the fact that given Diana’s prognosis – two to twenty months to live – there weren’t many more of these evenings to come.
In early October, I was working at my computer on a Saturday morning when I thought, “I should call Diana and see if she wants to go to a matinee this afternoon.” As I put my hand on the phone receiver, I thought of the deadlines I faced and how much I could get accomplished by staying home so I didn’t call.
A few hours later, the phone rang.
“Diana’s gone,” her husband, Matt, said.
A massive heart attack had taken her, quickly, in her own living room. She’d had exactly two months to live.
Thoughts pinged around my brain: If only I had called her! She might have died in my car! I thought we had more time! Who will I go to the movies with now?
The next morning, my husband suggested we take the ATV for a drive through the wood lot.
“You can cry whenever you need to,” he said.
When I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket to pull out a pair of gloves, I also pulled out a small piece of paper. It was the ticket stub for P.S. I Love You.
After the funeral, I was wracked with guilt. Why didn’t I visit more? Why didn’t I go over for games of Scrabble? Why didn’t I call that morning? My rational side reminded me that a weakened heart made her tired, medication made her groggy. I remembered how laughing made her cough which made her gag. I remembered that Matt and Diana had been at our place for supper just two weeks before she died.
“You were a good friend,” my husband assured me. “You went to the movies all the time.”
Now that Diana was gone, it wasn’t enough.
Two weeks after the funeral, I stopped at the bank machine in Pugwash and when I reached out to shove my card into the slot, there was a small white piece of paper wedged under my palm.
It was the ticket stub for Mamma Mia.
I’d used this card many times since we’d seen that movie in August and I certainly wasn’t wearing this sweater coat then. I had no idea where that stub came from, didn’t even recall keeping it. It simply appeared in my hand on a day when I was missing Diana and wanting to drive to her house for a cup of tea and wishing for the millionth time I’d been a better friend.
My friend Diana Roach died five years ago this month. I still have those two movie ticket stubs, tucked in a picture frame with that favourite photo, as a reminder that sometimes, just doing one special thing is enough.