I remember meeting Meri on the commencement line for high school graduation. We had a mutual friend who knew we were going to the same college and wanted to introduce us, hoping we'd connect and become friends. When I met her, I was overwhelmed by her positive energy, zest for life and absolute happiness. Those were the qualities that made Meri one of the most fabulous people I have ever known. In that moment, little did we both know that we would become the best of friends.
Meri and I had some incredible times together in college, most of which are best left out of print, but we eventually became roommates with 2 fabulous other gals and we had a BLAST together! Meri and I always had a close relationship. I was always a good listener and she was often giving her advice (even when unsolicited) <smile>. We had great conversations, fantastic times and built memories that would last a lifetime.
After we graduated, Meri stayed in Tampa, Florida, where we went to college and I went back to our home town. We spoke often and visited when we could. Life happened and we grew up. We had jobs, husbands, kids...time got away from us and then one sunny Sunday afternoon while I was cleaning the house the phone rang.
"Are you sitting?" her voice did not sound vibrant and robust as it usually had. I knew something was wrong. She was not calling to tell me she was pregnant. I remember a feeling of absolute fear spreading over my body. I didn't know why and I didn't have a reason for it, but I sat down and braced myself for whatever news she was going to tell me. "Yes."
"I have breast cancer." We were 30.
I'd love nothing more to write the words 'she survived,' but I can't, because she didn't. Sadly, Meri lost her battle with breast cancer at 39 years old. When she died, a light went out in this world and it's been just a little dimmer since.
We crammed a lifetime of adventure and memories into those 9 years and I cherish every moment. At the time, she was living in Atlanta and I would travel up to see her several times per year. Sometimes with the kids, and sometimes alone. On one of our girls weekends together, we had a very heartfelt conversation that really impacted me; through the years, we had a lot of those, but this one was different.
"You know you have a choice," she said. This was completely out of context for what we were doing. At the time, we were at an outdoor mall near her house looking at sandals (to which we got matching pairs!) We were walking back to the car and she looked very tired. "What choice are you talking about Meri, I got the sandals I wanted?"
She stopped walking and looked at me. It was unlike her to stop moving or doing, this was a serious moment and I could tell that she wasn't feeling well.
"I have cancer, Gail. I'm dying. I die a little bit every day and as much as I want to live and as much as I fight this, I won't succeed. I don't know how much time I have, but I know I don't have a lifetime like most people do. By that time, the cancer had metastasized to her liver and her brain. It was spreading rapidly and they were fighting to keep it out of her other organs.
"Gail, you are dying a little bit everyday too, but by choice." She was talking about my weight. At that time, I was well over 250 lbs. I was absolutely mortified that she brought it up, it was a touchy subject for both of us, but it needed to be said.
"Do you know what I would give to be in your shoes? To have the opportunity to take better care of myself and actually have the potential to live a long and happy life? Raise my daughters? See them grow up and get married, become a grandmother? I don't think I'll ever see any of those things and there isn't a damn thing that I can do about it. BUT YOU CAN," she paused briefly and sat down. I was crying.
"I don't tell you this to upset you. I tell you this because I love you. I never want you to feel the hopelessness that I'm feeling now. Please, promise me that you will do something about it? Please, Gail?"
I looked at her, tears flowing down my cheeks and with good intent, I said, 'yes.'
After that conversation, we went into Old Navy and she bought 2 cart fulls of clothes for herself and her girls and I bought myself a pair of jeans in a size 16. They were too small for me, but I told her that I"d use those as my 'goal jeans" and the next time I would see her, I would be wearing them off the plane. That made her smile.
Unfortunately, Meri never had the opportunity to see me wear those jeans. I didn't fulfill my promise while she was still alive. I visited her a few more times after that conversation, but my weight was never brought up again, and although I felt guilty for not coming through on my promise, I justified and rationalized the guilt away.
Those jeans sat in my closet for 7 years collecting dust. I slid them over my hips last spring and with a sigh of relief I knew that I had fulfilled my promise, it was a bit later than either of us wanted, but at least I made good on my commitment.
Today, those jeans are way too big on me, and I'm grateful for that. I only wish I would have done it sooner so that Meri could have seen me fulfill my promise. Better late than never. xoxo