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When the Words Won’t Come

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Last week, the day before my birthday, my dear friend Kathleen Dughi breathed her last breath as I, along with her other close friends, stroked her head and talked to her, keeping our promise to guide her to the threshold of the journey beyond. I’ve been struggling to say something profound about the experience, something universal, but the words won’t come.



Four and half years ago, I was with Kathleen when she was told that she had breast cancer, that it was metastatic and aggressive, and that she had only a few months to live. In lieu of comforting words that would not come then, I suggested we go for a drink overlooking the bay. A drink or two helped Kathleen find the fighting words that defined the next four and half years: “Doctors don’t know everything.” Numbed by fear, shock, and confusion, I think I managed to nod.



As it turned out, the doctors did know how virulent this cancer could be. The only thing they didn’t know was Kathleen. I think that thriving four years beyond their predictions speaks volumes—about her courage, inner strength, stubbornness, intense desire to mother her son for as long as possible, and urge to push herself artistically.



She didn’t waste a day of those four years. If the doctors kept her sitting too long in the waiting room, she’d get up and threaten to leave (or actually walk out). If they told her she needed to stay in the hospital for five days after one of her many surgeries, she’d order the nurse to help her get dressed to go after only three. Her explanation required few words: “I have work to do.” And she did.



In the last four years, her jewelry designs have become internationally renowned. Tyra Banks has worn her creations for a photo shoot. Fashion magazines have done spreads on her. And her biggest source of pride, her son Oliver, has matured into a 14-year-old young man who cares enough to ask how you are or what he can do to help even in the midst of his own suffering. The morning before she died, he told her that she didn’t have to stay for him anymore, that he didn’t want her to suffer. None of us have any doubt that this is what released her to go in peace. None of us doubt the kind of man he is growing up to be. There are no words.



I can’t begin to describe the ache in my chest, the longing to hear her laugh again, to take one more hike together, to talk about our children’s latest achievements, to listen as she points to the latest blooms in her garden, naming them for me. The only words that will come are, “I admire you for making up your own rules. I will miss you, my dear friend.”

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