Monday, February 16, 2009
A farewell to a friend
I don't do death well. Never have. I hate funerals, hate the somber eulogies that rarely capture what a person was really about.
They say funerals are supposed to be for the living. If so, why are they always so full of B.S.?
My dad, rest his soul, had it right. At funerals, he would make us laugh. He would remind us of the funny things and quirks about the person who died. A lot of people thought we were sickos when we were sitting in a corner laughing like idiots (they were probably right).
But we celebrated life.
I bring it up, because I had a lot of conversations with Terry Hayes, my former secretary and dear friend, about that very subject. The last really serious conversation we had a few months ago was about exactly that, among other things. She hoped people would celebrate her, not mourn her passing.
She finally left us yesterday after a long battle with cancer, an ugly, crippling disease that has no conscience and no concern for who it touches or why.
I thought a million times about what this blog would say when I got the news. I wanted something that would be poignant, funny and capture what Terry was really about. I knew no matter what I wrote, it would fail miserably.
I apologize in advance for that.
I had no idea how to start until this morning, when I read the obit in the Chronicle by David Barron, a terrific writer.
And I started laughing out loud.
There was a quote that said, "Terry's loss will be felt not only by those of us who had the pleasure to work with her, but by the many who knew her only as the caring voice on the other end of the line."
Terry was the best secretary ever. She was organized. She was tough. She would call B.S. on you in a heartbeat.
But her phone conflicts were legendary.
It made me think of the two or three times a day I would have to talk down an angry caller who had gotten into it with Terry.
We would get some weirdos calling in -- a lot of drunks (yes, even at 8 a.m.) and sexists who resented a woman answering the phone in a sports department. Needless to say, that never went over very well with Terry.
Some mornings when I got in, I would already have a list of people to call who wanted to talk to Terry's supervisor.
(She was almost always the one in the right).
I can't tell you how many times I had to try to talk the rednecks off the ledge. Almost every call would start with, "that &@!@$!&$ woman answering the phone..."
A couple times, Terry joked about going to the, "I'm sorry if I'm cranky; I had chemotherapy for my terminal cancer this morning" card to disarm them. When she finally did, I laughed my ass off. It got better when the redneck on the other end said, "that doesn't mean a woman should be answering sports questions."
It's one of a thousand hilarious memories I will have of her.
Even when Terry was mad, she made me laugh. When she was sick, she would make me laugh. When she was upset, I would try to make her laugh.
It's that Terry I tried so hard to hold on to; the Terry who was brave enough to share her story with the world in her blog. The Terry who approached everything with no B.S. and a beautiful sense of humor.
I hate cancer for what it did to that Terry.
Terry was incredibly organized in the office. She planned everything.
So it was no surprise that when she got sick, she planned to go to London and Paris and travel the world.
And oh, how she would agonize over her blog entries. They had to be perfect.
I would frustrate her to no end when I wasn't organized. (Trust me, she would would hate that I am writing this totally on the fly).
She also surrounded herself with wonderful people, especially her sister, Bev, who is one of the strongest and most incredible people I've ever met.
I can't tell you how much I admire Bev and the others who took care of her. Those people are true heroes and real inspirations. Terry was fortunate to have people like that in her life at the end.
For her sake, I am relieved that she is no longer in pain. That faith or no, a better place awaits. In the end, her life had true meaning, and that deserves to be rewarded in the next world.
What more can a person ask for out of their life? More than any of us, Terry had a purpose. Her blog touched thousands of people, gave them hope. Gave all of us hope.
I have to believe there was a reason for that.
A few months ago, I was in the hospital. When I was admitted, the nurse said, "oh, you used to be the Cancer Diva's boss! I love her! She is terrific!"
I couldn't help but smile, even though I was sick as a dog. I wonder if Terry ever realized just how popular she became.
For a lot of people who truly needed it, she was an inspiration.
She made it personal. She made it OK to be sick and talk about it.
I was proud to be the Cancer Diva's boss.
But we'll leave others to talk about Terry the Cancer Diva and how they will remember her.
That's not the Terry I wanted to share.
The last real time we spent together, I got her drunk. It made her sick for a couple days, but it was worth it (at least to me). We just kidded around, downed way too many margaritas and talked about everything from life to death and how to deal with both of them.
As always, we laughed.
Of course, she called B.S. on me for a few things. (She was right, as always).
And that's what Terry will always be to me. Not the inspiring Cancer Diva; not the sick person who I couldn't bear to see at times.
She was the one person you could be completely honest with.
Because she, too, could be brutally honest with you.
Before she became the Diva, Terry transformed herself through weight loss. She went from a beautiful person with no self confidence to a beautiful, thinner person who could take on the world.
She inspired me -- and encouraged me -- to try to do the same.
And she was an inspiration in a lot of other ways. She taught me to take chances.
To try to inspire others. To be a better leader. A better boss. A better person. To be honest.
To make people laugh.
Unfortunately, I haven't always lived up to her expectations.
That is what makes me sad. I always wanted to inspire her -- and others -- as much as she did me.
As much as anyone, I loved and respected Terry. She was more than a secretary to me; she was very much the little sister I never had. I loved her as a friend, a co-worker, a confidante, a person I trusted completely.
We rarely get friendships like that in life.
So she asked me to do one thing when this day came: make you laugh. Tell funny stories. Celebrate her life.
Once again, I am letting her down. As much as I want to joke, I miss her. I miss her sense of humor, her sarcasm, her stuffed cats. I miss Secretary's Day. I miss the mornings where she would critique whatever hideous tie/shirt combination I had on. I miss her trying to get me to eat one of her damned vegetarian meat substitutes. I miss talking angry rednecks off the ledge about her phone etiquette. I miss the office parties and the Patron shots. I miss the Buffy the Vampire Slayer conversations. I miss talking 1980s rock music. I miss her blog entries. I miss our talks about Shawshank.
That movie will always be special to me. When she found out she had cancer, she lived by a simple line in it, and I once shared it on her blog:
"Get busy living or get busy dying."
More than anyone I've ever known, Terry got busy living.
Today -- on a day I am supposed to make you laugh -- all I can think of is another line from the movie, one that makes me see her smiling face pop in my head whenever I think of it.
"As for me?
"I just miss my friend."
And I always will.