February 9th, 2012
Last night I dreamt of Rachel. We were both young and healthy and on an adventure together. At one point it seemed like we were in the South Pacific, and at another it seemed like the Mediterranean. No matter. Our adventure was about meeting people and sharing experiences, not seeing the sights.
As my grief over her death sinks in, I am starting to see the shape of the hole it has left in my life. This dream offered me a clue. Our friendship took place through an almost unspeakable experience, not a fixed place in time.
If I were to answer the question, ‘What did you do today?’ most likely I would describe activities like running errands, shuttling children, going to work, and cooking dinner. Rachel was not a part of the identifiable, geographically-bound fabric of my life.
But if you asked me what was in my heart, where my mind was, what concerned or upset or preoccupied me, I would say the questions of my health and mortality, the pain and injustice of being young with cancer, the persistent experience of people misunderstanding this disease that has upended my life. It is there that you would immediately understand who Rachel was to me and the nature of what we shared.
If my life is a quilt, our friendship did not live in the panels. It lived in the seams.
In fact, I have never been in the same place at the same time as Rach. We had plans to meet in real life, in a gathering of our online friends, next month. Although we had never occupied the same physical space, we shared a frightening psychological one. We both had breast cancer at an improbably young age. I have not had metastatic cancer but I lost my 36 year old stepbrother to it less than 2 years before my own diagnosis.
So where did our friendship live? It was born on our blogs, blossomed over email and social networks, took root on skype and phone chats. We were friends in all the in between places of everyday life.
We shared this experience, this hell of cancer. We talked about many things but one of our recurring themes was the Stuff You Can’t Write About. Although we were both plain spoken and unflinching, there was still territory in this shitstorm too personal, too raw and devastating, to broadcast to outsiders. I knew I could share those places with Rach and she with me. Even if we did not know firsthand exactly what the other spoke of, we could count on each other to listen and understand.
The emptiness I am left with is distinctly modern in its shape. A void in my twitter stream; a dim bubble on my Skype. But the depth of our bond belies the superficiality of those electronic connections. Our friendship went beyond the physical to the realm of the existential.
My life may look the same on the outside but it is lonelier without Rachel around to share it with.
There have been many beautiful tributes to Rachel on different blogs and I am sure there will be more to come.
Here are some of them:
Rachel’s Obituary on her blog
Jody Schoger’s tribute
Gayle Sulik’s collection of Rachel’s incredible comments on the Pink Ribbon Blues blog
Marie remembers on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer
AnnMarie talks about Rachel’s contribution to our community
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