Friday, July 31, 2009

My Friend Linda

My friend Linda O'Loughlin passed away yesterday. Sadly, I got the news coming out of the Imax screening of Harry Potter (I am a glutton for punishment I know, but I determined I was going to be able to handle things like this and not shut that part of myself down so I made myself go again, this time with other people). And, at this point, if you're thinking, "She has got to be making this stuff up." I would not blame you. But, sadly, I am not. I do oddly feel as though I have landed in the middle of a John Irving novel, but every word of my tale is true. Not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Linda was older than I was by a good dozen years and had multiple health issues that had sidelined her the last few of those years, so in and of itself her passing was not all that surprising. And perhaps my reaction to her death is heightened by the fact that my wound is already open, and her passing is just so much more salt. Maybe. But, no matter how or when she died, I would be in mourning because she was a good and generous person. Linda was one of three ladies who worked for us at my management company that were all very close to one another, and with whom I was good friends, despite our dissimilar views. I cannot say what they saw as worthwhile in me, but for my part, I loved their spunk. Each had suffered loss and hardship, but had overcome it with a sharp wit and fierce determination. All three could be described as feisty, but all three were hard working, fiercely loyal and honest. Their lives had been set in the fire of real life, so they were truly real life Steel Magnolias.

Linda's best friend, Francine, brought Linda into our fold, but it took some doing. I had mis-read Linda's resume and thought she had stated her previous wage in hourly terms, which would mean that she made more than I was making at the time. I kept telling Francine we could not afford her. Francine persisted. Finally, it came out that she in fact was stating an annual amount, was not at all worried about what our small, family business could afford to pay her, and the rest is history. She outlasted me in the company. As a matter of fact, after letting her go at one point, they brought her back. I think they found, as I already knew, you just cannot buy that kind of work ethic.

But Linda lived with the knowledge that she had a time bomb inside of her. I had known her for a long time before I learned of it, she bore it in silence and good humor. Linda had contracted Chronic Hepatitis C, which impacts the liver, in her younger, wilder years. Eventually, she knew, it could kill her. I think I learned of it when we all decided to bring in photos of ourselves from our pasts. In the years before Facebook and Photo Bucket it was a fun way to get to know one another a little better. To see what we had all been before we became the women we were presently. I remember a specific photo of Linda taken in a nightclub in the 60's. She was strikingly beautiful, with long, flowing blond hair (her hair when I knew her was white and always bordering on a hot mess). I couldn't look away. I think it was then that she told me. Very simply, with no drama. It just was a part of her. She took care of herself, took her medication and lived her life. I will never know how she truly felt about it, but on the surface, it was barely a ripple.

Unfortunately, life was not done kicking Linda around. She contracted cancer a few years ago and, to make a long story short, she was cancer free, but at a toll. The multiple medications she was taking left her muddled, she was falling asleep at her desk, and often incoherent and confused when she was awake. Finally, the company let her go, and she went on disability. I saw her only rarely after that, I am sorry to say. We corresponded through e-mail occasionally, but even that was less frequent over the last few months. She called me after the Steelers won the Super Bowl, but it was a difficult conversation, with her drifting off in various directions, sometimes within the same sentence. Fortunately, unlike my mother, she was not driving, so she e-mailed me after Kelsey's death to say she would attend the funeral if she could get a ride. Francine wasn't available because her mother had surgery that day. The third musketeer has a detached retina, I learned. All three of my feisty friends were having a rough summer. I responded that I knew she would be there with me in spirit, and that was literally the last thing we "said" to one another. Apparently, shortly after that she decided to stop taking all her medications, including the ones that kept the Hep C at bay. Sunday, her husband came home to find that she didn't know who he was and he took her to the hospital. When I saw her on Wednesday, she was deep asleep, hooked up to a respirator in ICU, fighting for her life due to liver failure. She lost the battle about midway through my movie last night. I looked up her symptoms on Wikipedia this morning. They were almost textbook cirrhosis, a condition caused when the liver begins to fail.

So, today is a sad day. I keep thinking of Francine, who is trying to care for her elderly mother who is recuperating from surgery, and who has already lost so much in her life. I will miss Linda, but for Francine, I would speculate that she must feel as though a limb has been taken from her. And I wonder why life is so hard and so cruel, then I feel guilty for that thought because there are so many in the world for whom life is a whole lot harder. And then I realize it's thoughts like these that drive people to drink probably, so I will end here and try to finish the work I left yesterday when I rushed out to the movie and tend to Mother and hope to catch a glimpse of the Steelers on ESPN since training camp opened today and do all the things humans have done for a millennium in the face of loss, which is just to try and carry on with a heavy heart.

1 comment:

  1. Cheryl, I really have no words. You wrote some wonderful things about Linda. I remember Linda as the manager who didn't take crap from anyone..but she did it with a smile on her face! I know she was a dear friend of yours and am so sorry. I guess life figures if you're gonna get hit with horrible things, that you should just have to deal with it all at once. Almost like taking the bandaid off quickly, but it still hurts like hell! Well, I could sit here and go on and on about how unfair things have been in your life but I know you are like me and you don't want to think of it that way. I will be thinking of Linda and her family and pondering why it is always the good who die young.