My friend Debbie died today. We were very close when we were younger, in our twenties. She introduced me to my first husband. She was an honorary “Auntie” to my children.
Her legacy will be a kick-ass attitude that should have scared cancer away for good. She showed more strength, spirituality and grace than most anyone I’ve known going through the battle. And I’ve known too many. I’m sure we all have.
I had Debbie in mind when I picked this book from my shelf today.
I found Use the Good Dishes by Dr. Elaine Dembe in a thrift shop. I remember the day well. On the way to visiting a friend for tea, I passed a new thrift shop that looked really neat. Half antique/ half thrift/ all personality. I promised myself that on the way back, I’d stop. Obviously, I did!
I love the photo of Dr. Elaine Dembe on the front cover. There’s something very inviting about her eyes, her smile. I felt something in the back of the book and noticed a “credit card” tucked into a plastic sleeve. It’s a $25 gift certificate for the Willaim Ashley store (long-expired but what a neat idea!). Then I saw the dedication page, where along with the author’s dedication, there was a handwritten note (in cursive) for the original recipient of the book:
What would our year have been without your love and care shown in so many ways. Can’t help but love you for being you.
And in shaky writing at the bottom: Love, Norma
I pictured Norma… older and possibly ill, asking her daughter to write the first part. And then, insisting that she be the one to sign it at the end.
This book was meaningful to Norma. I wonder if it was meaningful to the person she dedicated it to? I wish we knew her name. Maybe she passed on and this book became part of her estate. The “credit card” was never used and expired 07/01/2001. Who knows the provenance of this book? It’s just neat to think of where it’s been and whose life it touched, you know?
In the book, Dembe asks her wisest friends to answer the question: “What does ‘Use the Good Dishes’ mean to you?” The resulting answers become chapters dedicated to ideas and people… and short answers along the bottom of each page.
It makes me mad that it takes a death to remind me, yet again, that I’m not relishing the life I have. I’m not unhappy, mind you. But I’m not as grateful as I wish to be. If you’ve been reading along, you know how hard I try. In fact, the whole reason I write here is to bring information, joy, understanding, nuance, hope and love to my readers.
(And in return, I get the same. What a blessing!)
Debbie went public with her cancer diagnosis less than a year ago. At least, I think so. It’s all kinda blurry right now. The point is, up until four months or so ago, you would never have known she was sick. Her mother died young from cancer after battling it for years so she had every reason to be scared or curl up and die. She had recently lost her dad. Her house was being remodeled and in a shambles. Only three months ago, she told me a story about how the contractors threw out all her clothes in error. All this while she’s going through the fight of her life. Yet she never complained. She always looked at the bright side of things. I never, ever, ever for one second thought she’d die. Not until the very end.
I talked to her on the phone three days ago. I told her I loved her. She sounded so tired and I could tell it was difficult to be on the phone. The last thing she said to me was “I love you.” When I got off the phone, I knew it would be the last time we’d ever talk. It broke my heart.
“Use the good dishes” … to me… means loving… appreciating… what (and who) you have.
My lifelong friend Debbie passed away this morning. I will miss her… but her legacy will live on.