The last eight months of a life

When I wrote of my friend and long-distance coworker who recently passed, some of you wrote privately to me about not having experience with a loved one dying. And about wondering what that was like.

I was honest with those who wrote. It sucks, for the most part. Because no matter how much you believe a person’s soul lives on and is going to a wonderful place, the very human pieces of you are selfishly sad. We don’t get that many wonderful fellow earth travelers now, do we? I mean, the ones we really connect with. So, when one goes, we look around us a bit bewildered, wondering how we will fill the void.

Today would have been Tersea’s 49th birthday. It is also my sister’s birthday. Happy, but bittersweet, day now.

Tersea gave me the thumbs-up, months ago, to publish any of our online conversations after she was gone. I’m sharing a few snippets below—the last eight months of a life—to show those of you who asked how very odd participating in someone’s final days is. Especially from thousands of miles away. The juxtaposition of the immediate and concrete—project deadlines, fact-checking—and the ethereal, the seemingly unreal (Where will I go when I die? How do I attend to deadlines when the chemo is killing me?) is the norm. At least it has been for me. When my mother was dying, her periods of lucidity included asking me to deliver wedding presents and save her books. Moments later, she could be pointing and talking about a woman in a veil in the corner of her hospice room—a woman I could not ever see. In similar fashion, Tersea and I mixed delivering on deadlines with trying to help her sort through cancer. There really isn’t a handbook for that.

Because Tersea wanted to help just about every soul she met, I am again introducing you to her via my blog. Perhaps in reading these precious few snippets, you will get a sense for how the last bits of a life play out. We juggle getting names and corporate titles correct with the knowledge that soon, none of that will matter because just breathing will be a struggle.

I don’t share because I think our conversation is exemplary. I share, instead, because I think our conversations were somewhat universal. We can all relate to loss, to friendship, to the need for support, to knowing courage when we see it.

I know Tersea would wish that this exchange will make you think carefully about how you spend your day today . . . and tomorrow . . . and the next day. Peace and love, my friends.

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5/18/16

Kristine-

Would love to use you on a new project for quarterly leadership update videos. Do you have the time? Tersea

ME: Would be wonderful. I’ll MAKE the timeJ. Will it be just the two of us on the kickoff call?

Thank you. I am SO happy to be working with you again! As Grover Washington Jr. said, “Just the two of us.” Tersea

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6/1/16

ME: Hi there, Tersea—Oh it’s so nice to be emailing you again. Have attached a draft of leadership script for your review. Kristine

Kristine–

Deadline just moved up by a week. Oy. Tersea

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6/2/16

Kristine–

Link: Why laughter is the best medicine: Joking your way through workplace stress. Tersea

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6/10/16

Hi there, Kristine–

Saw the oncologist today. Confirmed that there are five small tumors in my liver (on either side of my liver), fortunately none in my lungs. So they have to do two operations to remove the tumors from my liver, 6 weeks apart to allow it to regenerate. Also chemo. He is meeting with this team next week (which includes a surgeon who is regarded as the best liver surgeon in South Africa) to decide whether to do the operations first, followed by chemo – or chemo first, followed by operations. All in all we’re looking at a period of approximately 6 months for everything. So as soon as I know what’ll happen when, I’ll send you an update.

Hope you are doing well and that things are okay with your ex’s cancer– I was not aware and felt terrible for not asking how you were dealing with it. Tersea

ME: Hi there, friend—Oh, I am so glad they are not in your lungs! Truly. Liver surgery for my ex was actually easier than the colon surgery—again, because he insisted on laparoscopic method. I am sorry it requires two for you, but am glad you are in the hands of a wonderful surgeon. Makes a world of difference. My ex did op, then chemo. And is looking quite good. He is able to work, etc. right now without much issue. I am hoping the same for you—and am so glad you have benefits!

I know you go through all of this with grace. I know you have a strong support network. But know I am here for you, just to listen—or to compare your treatment with his, etc. Whatever you need.

You are one ambitious soul! I think perhaps you also signed up for the PhD in life. Next time, we do the community college cooking class version, ok? Much love, Kristine

Kristine–LOL. I’m in. And I’ll do the basic cooking class, thank you very much.

Thanks, Kristine, for being such a dear friend and an incredible source of support. I am thankful that you are in my life. And a part of my soul family. Tersea

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6/13/16

Kristine–

We need script as soon as you can get to us with final numbers. Thanks! Tersea

ME: Hi there—Am going to send you clean version of script—but I am in Hawaii (!) at a friend’s wedding next week—off beginning the 20th. Hoping, Tersea, that you can just slot the numbers in when they arrive next week? Or, I can do when I get back—just wasn’t sure on timing of filming.

Kristine–Good grief, life is just so tough. 🙂

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6/17/16

ME: Good luck today, friend. Keeping you in good thoughts! Am planning on using plane time to finish up/proof.

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7/7/16

Hi my dear friends

Thought to give you an update on my situation: I met with the specialist (Head of South Africa’s liver transplant unit) on Tuesday and the news is not great. They have found more than 30 tumors in my liver, which means that it is inoperable- they cannot even save 25% and wait for it to regenerate.

The team is pioneering a new treatment in South Africa, following the example set by Norway, to evaluate patients for a complete liver transplant. My doc did the first transplant on a fellow surgeon last year and he has been cancer free to date.

Qualifying for a transplant hinges on the result of a PET scan, which has to confirm that the metastasis is limited to the liver. If so, I will be one of 20 people in the country who will receive a new liver (the best livers will go to patients with liver disease, and cancer patients will be allocated livers that may be slightly less than perfect but still viable). I am waiting for a date for the scan and will provide an update after that.

If the metastasis has gone beyond my liver, I will not qualify and my hubby, kids and I will then decide what treatment approach to follow in order to prolong my life without sacrificing quality of life. There is no cure, so we want to be sure that the time I have left will give us an opportunity to laugh, cry together and do a ton of bucket list items. I want them to remember those things, not days and months of chemo hell. So, with the encouragement of my specialist, I’m also going to start using medical grade cannabis oil and will evaluate how it can help manage the side-effects of chemo.

My hubby, the love of my life and my soulmate, is devastated and struggling to deal with the news. As are my incredible kids. But we are looking at the news as a token of grace from the universe: we have time to love, make reparations where needed, live in the moment and say goodbye over how many months/years remain (expected survival rate the transplant is 18% at 2 years, with chemo).

Thank you for being my friends and advisors during this time in my life. From encouraging, listening and guiding. I love you and thank the universe for allowing our paths to cross.

Stay tuned for the next update xxx

Tersea

ME: So, I’m crying. Selfish crying, really, because I know you are an old, old soul just like me. And that all of this was plotted and planned, as part of our stupid PhD in ascension on earth.

But, I also know this is not easy for the very human part of you and your oh so human loved ones. I am praying for this to be limited to the liver only. Praying for peace for you. For joy in the every day. And really fucking mad that I don’t live near you—all my helper skills, cooking, laughing, listening—so much better in person.

So I will do what I can and hold you in my good thoughts. And be here to talk and listen from afar. You’re such a light, my friend. So brave and good.

Love,

Kristine

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7/8/16

Hey sweetie

Thank you for such a kind message. Yes, we had to do it all in this one life – we are such achievers, and oh so starry-eyed about every challenge.

I wish that you were close by as well. It would have been so great to just hang out and talk about all those things that we never seem to have time to do. But I’m OK. Yesterday I wasn’t, but today I am. It’s all part of the journey. Hans and the kids are not taking it well. Everyone is simply exhausted from the emotional trauma, to the point that Kevin has been vomiting steadily for the past day.

But, I have found a volunteer who has offered her councelling, time and whole heart to the South African Cancer Society to help families who are going through this kind of thing. And she is going to counsel each of them individually. They need to talk and cry to find a way to acceptance and to rid their bodies of the emotional build up that they are struggling with.

Thank you for being such a dear friend and such an important person in my life. I’ll let you know what next steps are as soon as I know xxx

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7/18/16

Hi, Team–

Such fantastic feedback in just a couple of hours on this video. Well done, Matt, as our executive star. You’re the weaver of magic.

Kristine, well done on a super script and results!

Tersea

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8/10/16

Dear Colleen, Lo and Kristine–

You have all been such an integral part of my journey at the firm and so unwavering in your support and encouragement during the past year that I wanted to provide you with an update on my situation because I know that you care and also because it will, inevitably, become an unavoidable topic.

The results of my PET scan weren’t good. The cancer has metastasized and spread to my entire liver. They have also discovered a new tumor in my colon. The spread has been so aggressive between the March CT scan and the one done in June, that there are more than 30 tumors in my liver and it’s inoperable.

Suffice it to say that I sat down with my hubby and oncology team last week and mapped out the road ahead. While we are never in control in life, although we’d like to imagine we are, I wanted the right to decide how to move forward. So my cancer is incurable. And the only thing they can do for me is prolong my life through chemo and major surgery (colon removal, liver transplant, immune suppression therapy for life). And that’s not how I want the story to end. So I’ve made the decision, along with my hubby and kids, to undergo chemo for 2-3 months to shrink the tumor in my colon, have an operation to remove it and then allow nature to take its course. I’d rather spend what time I have being with my family and not in hospital connected to tubes and machines.

Hospice are already on board and will work with my medical team to give me palliative care and manage pain for as long as needed after that.

It’s been an incredibly difficult two months, but we are in a good place now. I have accepted the news and have been blown away by the support I’ve received from the team.

My work has been critical to keeping me sane and focused during this time. And I’ll continue working for the foreseeable future – good grief, what would I do without this work I’m so passionate about 🙂 ? So I’m not going anywhere yet.

I want to use the time ahead to grow spiritually and to share kindness and empathy where I can. I am going to live and love vicariously and make sure that my hubby and kids are left with memories of me smiling and being positive.

Thank you for being such incredible friends and for supporting me during this journey. We still have lots of good stuff to do for this company!

With lots of love from South Africa xxxx

Tersea

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8/11/16

Hi there—If there is anything that I can do for you, you know I’m right here. Strong like bull and always ready to listen.

Love and hugs xxx

Tersea

ME: Oh, trust me—an incurable diagnosis does not relieve you from the awful duty of hearing my moaning and groaning about dating. Not in a New York minute, sister. Have yet to tell you about the latest failed escapade.

I love the love, light and prayers that people are offering you. I hope it lifts you along for a bit   . . . I’ve got a great group of followers who know their juju. –Kristine

Kristine–

I didn’t want to ask about dating, but yes please, let’s talk about that next week. He’s out there, Kristine. Just needs to find his way to you. –Tersea

 

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8/17/16

Hey Kristine

Had chemo today and feel terrible already, so if you can help drive the call with Matt I’d really appreciate it. I’ll be on, just not sure that I’ll think of all the possible questions to put to him.

Tersea

ME: I will drive—no worries. Take care of yourself.

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8/29/16

Thank you, Kristine. Flawless turnaround time and delivery! Another leadership message with record results! –Tersea

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9/4/16

And then it became really real. This appeared in my inbox from a coworker:

Hi Kristine. To get this running, we have to tell a story. This is what I came up with. Can you proof/edit?

You may have heard that our good friend and co-worker, Tersea, has been diagnosed with terminal liver and colon cancer. While she conquered a first round of cancer last year, she received the news a few months ago that it had not only come back, but spread in an inoperable way.

Tersea has been a gift to us, going above and beyond, using her endless energy and creativity to make our work and company stronger. More than that, she has been a friend and an inspiration—always showing up for others, even in the most difficult of days. She has accepted her situation in the most elegant of ways and is making every day count with her family.

We’ve started this online fundraiser to help Tersea and her family when she is no longer able to work. As a contractor, she doesn’t receive the many benefits that full-time employees receive. As well, there are many programs (such as Hours that Help) that aren’t available to her. Tersea would never ask for such support, but we want to do whatever we can to take even the slightest bit of worry from her.

Please donate now and share this with anyone who knows and cares for Tersea, keeping in mind that we want to respect her privacy.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

On the same day, from Tersea:

Hi there, Kristine–

As soon as we get executive sign-off on the video, I’ll publish it and share the link with you in order to download.

Had chemo today so not feeling great, but at least I have two days off to rest so that should help. Need to have 2 more sessions, then CT and PET scans to see what we’re dealing with and as soon as a decision is made, surgery should happen at the end of October/beginning November. –Tersea

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11/4/16

This year, if you read only one book, get The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (my icon) and the Dalai Lama.

Unforgettable and inspiring. –Tersea

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11/23/16

To all my favorite coworkers in America: Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Enjoy the time with your families – and all the delicious-sounding food I get to hear about.  –Tersea

ME: Happy Thanksgiving to you also, friend! Even though this is an American holiday, I hope you take time tomorrow to feel the love. I’m so grateful and thankful for having you in my life.

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1/4/17

Hi everyone

I will be permanently transitioning from my program with the company at the end of January (or earlier, should circumstances demand) and saying goodbye to all my friends and colleagues. Unfortunately my health has declined to such an extent that I am no longer able to give my best to the firm – so I’d rather leave on a high note than otherwise. This company has been a part of – or really rather, the focus – of my life for six years and I have enjoyed and treasured every moment.

Please note that during January my focus will be on compiling a comprehensive handover document on all things cloud – ranging from credentials to new wins, leadership videos and more – to ensure all WIP and pipeline work are accounted for and properly handed over to the relevant person/s.

Thank you to the many teachers I’ve had, to the kind people who have guided me and to those who have become more than colleagues. Never in wildest dreams did I imagine that a team could be so empathetic and compassionate during a time that one needed it most. I wish all of you the best for future.

Take care and live – every moment. And remember that in any given challenge you have two choices: curl up like a victim and feel sorry for yourself; or surrender to the process and take from it the learnings that life wishes to share with you xxx

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1/6/17

ME: So I haven’t responded yet because no response seems adequate. I cannot imagine seeing your name and sweet face on Facebook and knowing you’re leaving us. Even though I knew we’ve known that for some time, right?

I’m glad you’re going, though. Time to focus only on the important things, right? Funny, but when I think of you—very little of it is work related, although I’ve always admired your work. I think instead of our talks about books, life, the afterlife. I expect you to send me some signs, come to me in a dream—something. I want to know that you’re brilliantly cared for on the other side and having the time of your life.

I know we will talk voice to voice again—but just wanted to say—how very much I admire you, how lucky I have been to have you in my life, how sorry I am that we can’t sit and have tea and solve the world’s problems. I don’t know how I’ve managed to love someone so much that I’ve never met in person—but I guess that’s just you, Tersey Goose. Wishing you and your family more courage, more love, more stamina as you take the last leg of this crazy journey.

I’ll look for you online soon so we can chat . . .

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1/12/17

Hi everyone

Today is my last day at the firm and I wanted to say goodbye to everyone who has been an important part of my journey. Thank you for your love and support during the past few months and your encouragement when times became tough. See you on the other side.

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4/3/17

I receive a form email telling me that there are broken links on a site Tersea and I created. It is addressed to her also, although she passed away almost six weeks ago.

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If you read to the end, this may seem anticlimactic. And it is. We had our final phone conversation before the very worst of it. She was a bit fuzzy from the morphine but we both said what we needed to say. And I have absolutely no doubt that she will be waiting for me, with yet another good book or movie recommendation, on the other side.

The form emails continue to come addressed to us both, a weekly reminder to live my life now and not put off the important stuff.

I still have not read “The Book of Joy” and will hop to it soon, or Tersea will be sorely disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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52 Comments Add yours

  1. Very moving and insightful, Kay. Thanks for sharing.

    My friend in Scotland sent us her last email a few days ago. She’s a blogger — never met her — but we became friends, and I’ve been hoping and praying. Then came the email. Painful to receive, but so full of grace, faith and light.

    1. candidkay says:

      Amazing how so many of us form tight bonds without ever physically meeting. Soul connections. Sending you love.

  2. Barbara says:

    Such a poignant post. I went through all of the above with my sister 3 years ago from a 12000 mile distance. I am full of regrets now about what I could have and should have done. But there is no point to that. I’m glad you and your wonderful friend had each other.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. I’m sorry you had to go through that. It changes everyone involved, doesn’t it?

  3. fritzdenis says:

    My wife is disabled, had to quit working at least nine years early. She’s read the Book of Joy, and it’s helped her cope with a lot of things. She’s gotten a lot stronger as a result, and now she’s the one who helps me hold it together.

    Thank you for sharing these messages. My sister and I communicated via facebook near the end. We hadn’t made contact in a while as I was busy dealing with my wife’s deteriorating health. We chatted about unimportant things, but now I realize that she was saying goodbye.

    Someone hacked her e-mail account after she died. I still get occasional bogus messages from her, and it hurts every time I see them in my inbox. But everything’s getting better.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, my. I am so sorry. I am sure it hurts every time you see her name in your inbox. Have to believe karma will take care of that one. And I’m sorry you were dealing with your wife and your sister simultaneously. It’s more than enough to deal with this with one loved one. I plan on getting The Book of Joy to read soon–too many recs not to do it (and Tersea would haunt me:)). Thanks for commenting so thoughtfully–and for sharing so honestly.

  4. Very moving and poignant. It’s wonderful that you were able to accompany Teresa through the last part of her Earthly journey. Thanks for sharing. ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for reading and for the thoughtful comment. I was lucky to know her.

  5. I was in tears when I finished reading Kristine – long before, actually. I’ve said goodbye to a number of people in the past 15 years, sometimes there has been time to know that they were going, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that grace and enjoyment that we should take every minute of in life, sometimes we get a reminder from someone like Tersea who shows us so well.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, Andrea. Thank you so much for feeling this one. Tersea is a great reminder of so many things.

  6. Aunt Beulah says:

    First I read this with emotion and admiration for both you and your dear friend. Then I read it again and then once more for my learning. I studied the openness, vulnerability, and detailed love with which you communicated. Thank you for writing this, Kay.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, you’ve made me tear up:). Thank you. Truly.

  7. Beautiful and so vulnerable. Thank you for sharing!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you–glad it touched you.

  8. Thank you for sharing Teresa with us. The grace and courage she displayed in the face of such adversity, and her imminent passing is truly inspiring. Her words serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to be present in each moment and live with all our heart. I am sorry for the loss of your friend. I am so happy, though, that you were blessed with the friendship of this beautiful human being, and that she had such a profound and positive impact on your life – I wish everyone could be so lucky.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, truly. I feel lucky to have had the few short years of our friendship. I think how easily life could’ve gone in another direction and we never would’ve met. Had I not been filling in for someone on maternity leave, my path would probably never have crossed with Teresa’s. And I would have been the sore loser in that situation.

  9. mekathy2 says:

    So nice that she had someone she could talk so openly to, too many would rather ignore the elephant in the room..

    1. candidkay says:

      I agree. People either wanted to focus on her cancer to the detriment of work, or completely ignore. A happy medium seemed to work best . . .

  10. George says:

    I don’t know how to respond to this very beautiful and personal snapshot of Teresa’s final months. So many things stuck me but the one that I think speaks volumes is this love/relationship you had with someone you never met in person. It’s so beautiful and yet I can feel the frustration in your words. The inability to do more, to help her in any way possible; to put your arms around beer just once.
    Thank you for sharing this, Kristine.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks so much, George. I know this tech ether we all swim in has its pros and cons–but i guess my relationship with Tersea portrays a clear pro. Despite never meeting face to face, we bonded and I talked to her more often than some of my in-town friends. I love that tech can connect us all so we are not limited only to those who live within throwing distance.

  11. Wow. I’m at work reading…and one of the posts mentioned emotional build up. Such an accurate term for my life in this moment. What grace she exhibited, and I love how you have perfectly summed up the fact that people don’t always have to be present to impact our lives in a major way. Thank you for sharing with us.

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes. Tersea talked about her family needing to release the emotions they were carrying around. I hope you have a safe place to do that. Thank you for reading and your thoughtful comment.

  12. hollyhinson says:

    Thank you for sharing g this beautiful journey with us. Love and blessings to you. Wake up call for me to stop the pity party and get on with living and loving and joy!

    1. candidkay says:

      Right?! I could never have a true pity party with Tersea around because she was going through so much worse with so much grace. Wishing you joy today:).

  13. Ninasusan says:

    Powerful and heartbreaking!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. As was her death.

  14. RuthsArc says:

    I have not been in this situation, so thank you for sharing the honesty, inspiration, hope within such sad circumstances. I have noted the last paragraph 4th Jan x. Bless you.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m glad you’ve not had to deal with this! My hope is we find a cure and no one has to.

  15. I don’t know what to say. Or how to say

    1. candidkay says:

      And that’s ok. You came. You read. Thank you:),

  16. As I wipe the tears I thank you – sharing this.
    I prayed for her & you… it never seems to feel real especially when you can see words and photos from them… I’m so thankful for those!
    I’m praying you get her sign if you haven’t already!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for those tears. Truly.

  17. To touch that place within us all Kristine, and feel the empathy from the love that we have discovered in those connections…and see, that in the end, it is all that matters 😀
    Much love, and a big hug from down under my friend ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Mark. She certainly was a special soul . . . a true light worker.

  18. Your post is overwhelmingly generous. It could never be complete, even if you cited every word and deed of Tersea’s life. Thank you.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Rachel. You are so right–so much not said, not shared, unable to be shown or grasped in a life. But I thank you for reading about hers. Makes me feel like she is smiling at still having a positive effect . . .

  19. Beautiful, sad, inspiring. Thankyou for sharing Tersea’s special soul journey and for reminding me I have a choice each day no matter what is going on to surrender and move forward . Death is the reason we need to appreciate every moment.

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes! I loved her reminder about the choice. Coming from someone who was dying, the words had such impact.

  20. So sorry to hear you have lost your friend (in this world at least), Kristine. Your post – as often – moved me to tears. But I get the message – let’s keep living life to the fullest while we can! From another friend you’ve never (yet) met xx

    1. candidkay says:

      Intrepid traveler that you are, Lee, I’m hoping we meet sooner than later! Or, maybe I’ll surprise you (and me both) and have an adventure Down Under:).

      1. I sure hope so! One way or another!

  21. Judy says:

    It isn’t so much the big things… it’s the little things… seeing a new book out by her favorite author and want to tell her or wanting to hear again a bit of her unmatchable gallows humor. Glad she became a part of your life.

    1. Judy says:

      I should probably mention that my friend’s name was Flo.

      1. candidkay says:

        I am sure Flo feels your love still. I bet she looks out for you.

      2. Judy says:

        She never saw one of my books published, not even close, but she always encouraged me. She was an avid reader. We traded books… so many good memories. Thanks for the chance to wrap myself in those bits of happiness.

      3. candidkay says:

        I am somehow sure she is cheering you on:).

    2. candidkay says:

      So very true. I miss our weekday AM (my time) catch-ups. She always had a rec for something new and interesting I should read or watch . . .

  22. Tourang Nazari says:

    Totally heartbreaking… and just want to give you a virtual hug.

    Best, Tourang

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). I’ll take that virtual hug and wing one back your way . . .

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. I think, in the end, that’s about all we all do for each other. But it’s BIG:).

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