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Old 02-17-2006, 04:41 PM   #1 (permalink)
Deja Moo
 
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Location: Olympic Peninsula, WA
Saying Goodbye To a Friend Who is Dying

I haven't done a search on this topic because it is far too personal and I need to test my ability to give something back to a friend rather than breaking down from a selfish sense of loss. I hope that anyone here that has gone through this before will offer any advice they might have.

I learned this week that a very close friend and former colleague has less than a year to live due to cancer throughout her body. We last worked together in 1991 and have remained friends for all of these years. We don't get to see each other very often, but we have stayed in touch via email. When my mail to her started bouncing back, I contacted a mutual acquaintance and learned about her health.

She has chosen not to tell anyone other than those who are an everyday part of her life. I have always thought that I would do the same when my time was coming to end, but now I am thinking otherwise. It is so important to me to tell her what I believe she already knows, but I have never spoken the words outloud. I need to tell her that her friendship was the rock that got me through some very difficult times.

My need may be very different than her wish for privacy. I think that I would want to know that I had made a difference in someone's life, but I also do not wish to violate her choice.

My intent is to call her and ask whether she is up for a visit. Would it be better to write and let her choose whether to respond? I want to be respectful of her wishes, but I also believe that her friends should be by her side.

I don't know what to do, but I think I know what I want to say.

Thanks for any advice you might have to offer,

Pen
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Old 02-17-2006, 04:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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man, that's a sad sorry. I know what it's like to have to say goodbye to someone who was at the end of their life however it was not so obvious as that.

I guess for myself I would just try and be as honest as I could, let that person know how important they were to me and promise to be there for them.

It's not easy to have to watch someone pass away over a long period of time. If she wants to be alone then respecting that is what you need to do, eventually she will come to terms with her own death and welcome those who are there for her in. I hope
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Old 02-17-2006, 05:00 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I'm not big into the 'last goodbyes' and tell the person what they meant to you... I wouldn't want that done to me (i'm of the mindset, if you didn't tell me when I was in good health, the only reason why you're telling me now is for you.. not for me) ... I would, however, want someone to stop by and take a walk downmemory lane... and share old times... and laugh...

you're good at getting people to laugh, elph...

your friend will know what they meant to you....

I'd call the caregiver, and ask when a good time to come over for a visit-- maybe bring lunch... or an afternoon snack.. the caregiver might even appreciate the break...
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Old 02-17-2006, 05:26 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Thanks, Mal. Her "caregiver", if you want to call him that, is her son who has left her in a home with nothing more than a sofa to sleep on and a cardtable. She spent most of the years I knew her getting him through college. Some payback, yes?

Jan and I shared many laughs; it is what kept us sane during insane times. That we might want to share a laugh again hadn't occurred to me.

Ms. M, you always know the right advice to give me. Remember that, ok?
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Old 02-17-2006, 05:40 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maleficent
I'm not big into the 'last goodbyes' and tell the person what they meant to you... I wouldn't want that done to me (i'm of the mindset, if you didn't tell me when I was in good health, the only reason why you're telling me now is for you.. not for me) ... I would, however, want someone to stop by and take a walk downmemory lane... and share old times... and laugh...

you're good at getting people to laugh, elph...

your friend will know what they meant to you....

I'd call the caregiver, and ask when a good time to come over for a visit-- maybe bring lunch... or an afternoon snack.. the caregiver might even appreciate the break...
Mal's absolutely right. From my experience, I always prefered people coming in and making me laugh. Those are important memories to me, the people who made me laugh when things looked their worst. She'll appreciate that more than anything you can do.
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Old 02-17-2006, 05:42 PM   #6 (permalink)
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i'm sorry to hear that ...my advice:

just be there. be present and listen

sweetpea
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Old 02-17-2006, 07:30 PM   #7 (permalink)
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My belief is that - although many people say they want to be "left alone", they still need to see that some of us will come to visit & bring along some laughs and a few good strong hugs, and tears too. It's all part of being human. Just being yourself beside your friend is a very enpowering and loving place to be. I have given Reiki to a friend, who knew he was dying and it was a joy (and insight) just to visit and say, "hi, pal of mine." These are the times to just let those who need you, feel that someone else cares and is there. Present, real & honest.
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Old 02-17-2006, 08:39 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Write, and visit. For both of you. It's a healing thing for everyone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
Thanks, Mal. Her "caregiver", if you want to call him that, is her son who has left her in a home with nothing more than a sofa to sleep on and a cardtable. She spent most of the years I knew her getting him through college. Some payback, yes?
I can't articulate the stuff bubbling up from reading that.

Quote:
Jan and I shared many laughs; it is what kept us sane during insane times. That we might want to share a laugh again hadn't occurred to me.
Visit. Hold hands. Let conversation & fun and the serious stuff go where it wants. She may not want to ask, or even want to want to ask, but her people are almost certainly the biggest thing to her right now.
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:34 PM   #9 (permalink)
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It would just break my heart if everyone I cared about didn't write and visit me a bunch. I know some people would have the exact opposite reaction, though.
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:59 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I just spent an hour on the phone with Bernice, our mutual friend. I would never believe her capable of even a "white lie", but she told Jan that she "accidentally" told me about what was going on. Jan's response was "does she know that I am bald?"

She wants to hear from me, and I have such beautiful hats to share with her and to laugh about. If she is up to it, we will do lunch once again.

Thank you, everyone.
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Old 02-17-2006, 11:43 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
I just spent an hour on the phone with Bernice, our mutual friend. I would never believe her capable of even a "white lie", but she told Jan that she "accidentally" told me about what was going on. Jan's response was "does she know that I am bald?"

She wants to hear from me, and I have such beautiful hats to share with her and to laugh about. If she is up to it, we will do lunch once again.

Thank you, everyone.
it's a lot to process when you see someone going through something like what your friend is going through... just be there.

and if it gets too much for you to handle here and there, don't hesitate to talk about it with someone.. or us

sweetpea
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Old 02-18-2006, 12:28 AM   #12 (permalink)
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I know exactly what you are going thru and what you are facing. My best friend of over 25 yrs recently died of an aggressive cancer that attacked his brain and my partner and I were there every step of the way. I dont know how, but you do cope, you help however and whereever you can, by simply watching his favorite tv show with him to the harder holding his hand when he has finally gone blind, and helping him with daily life acts that seem so simple but to him nave become so hard. Everything you do for your friend will be easy to do because you are not doing it for you or for what it will achieve, you are doing it for your friend and beleive me, we did some of the hardest things of our lives but at the time we wanted no one else to do them. Your friend will go through bad times and good times, dont be afraid to discuss whatis happening and let her know that it doesnt matter how rocky the road will get you will be there.The most important thing you can ddo for her is communicate with her and and sometimes that isnt verbal at all. Best of luck and it does take time to heal after, it has been nearly 2 years for us and I still miss him like a physical ache,but i comfort myself with the knowledge that he knew he could count on me to the final day. Please keep in touch cos talking bout your feelings does help cope every day.
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Old 02-18-2006, 04:51 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sweetpea
i'm sorry to hear that ...my advice:

just be there. be present and listen

sweetpea
I agree with this. Just being there makes all the difference in the world.

Also, don't put off going to see them.
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Old 02-18-2006, 09:03 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Elph, you have your chance to give back what was she so freely gave to you. She is now going through what is the most difficult time of her life, and she needs to be able to lean on her friends.
She knows what you were going through during those times, and I don't think a simple "thank you for being friend when I needed you" is out of line in this situation. Definitely spend some time with her, be there, let her know she is loved, then laugh, cry, do whatever comes naturally. Let her set the tone, you'll know what she needs from you, just as she knew what you needed from her.
Be prepared for just how fucking cruel life can be, good people often get the short end of the stick, you will likely be very confused, and very angry when you leave. Deal with this, kick, scream, beat up a trash can, do whatever it is you need to do, and then know that she will always be with you.
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Old 02-18-2006, 12:36 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Take your cues from her.
Ask if you can paint her toenails or rub glitter lotion into her dry skin and scalp.
Take her for walks/rolls around the garden or hallways and talk about all of the driving debacles you've each had over the years.
Bring her funky sheets.
Have you and your friends write her a love letter with all of the things you're proud of her for, or what she's done that was impressive and/or funny and meaningful on a top sheet so she sleeps surrounded by love at night.
Most importantly, laugh and cry and show all of your emotions. Nothing hurts worse than being treated with kids gloves and to know that people aren't being genuine.

And my kids at work say, "Don't sneak something bad into the room. If you've got to do or say something that's going to hurt, don't just sneak, okay? And you'd better bring a really, really cool band-aid."
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Old 02-19-2006, 08:35 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Whatever you say to her, I wish you the strength to say it. I think holding her hand already is a great step. Connecting with a person in that way means a lot to them; it helps them focus away from their suffering. Make her laugh, I assure you that your last moments with her can be great ones.
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Old 02-20-2006, 07:07 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Forgive me for not thanking everyone sooner.

Jan hasn't answered the phone on the multiple times that I have called her. I reached her son tonight and learned that she knows that I have called, but she is heavily medicated for pain and primarily sleeps throughout the day. She no longer knows one day from the next and is not eating enough to sustain herself.

She learned of the cancer in December, had brain radiation treatments in January, and is already well down the road of "less than a year" to live in three short months. I am not waiting for her "permission" to be by her side any longer.
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Old 02-20-2006, 09:13 PM   #18 (permalink)
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
Jan hasn't answered the phone on the multiple times that I have called her. I reached her son tonight and learned that she knows that I have called, but she is heavily medicated for pain and primarily sleeps throughout the day. She no longer knows one day from the next and is not eating enough to sustain herself. -snip- I am not waiting for her "permission" to be by her side any longer.
Reading your posts, elph, has brought back some of my own memories and regrets from 2005, when my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within 6 months. I urge you to visit your friend as often as you can, regardless of whose "permission" might be necessary (unless she outright tells you she doesn't want you there... but at the point she's at, I don't see this happening). I wish I could have been there more often for my grandmother, especially when she had gotten to that point of heavy medication and complete dependence on other people for survival.

I am in school on the east coast but flew back to Seattle about once a month when I was able (I had to go to Africa and Iceland for fieldwork for about half the time my grandma was sick, which tore me up in many ways)... it was so very hard to watch her condition deteriorate further each time I visited her. But I wouldn't have taken any of those moments back, seeing her. I only wish I had more of them, and I see that more clearly now than I did then. The last time I saw her was about a month before she died, when she was still cogent enough to recognize me and converse. I could not go home during the last few days of her life... I made it for the funeral... but oh, how I wish I could have been there to hold her hand one more time.

Elph, be there as much as you are able. Hold her hand. Talk to her. Let her know that she is loved. And come back here for hugs when you need them.
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Old 02-20-2006, 10:10 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
... I am not waiting for her "permission" to be by her side any longer.
Good for you.

Your every post brings my things back to the surface. Not really a lot to say. My heart goes out to you, Pen.
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Old 02-21-2006, 08:03 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Jan called. Bernice and I will be at her side on Saturday. Jan's son brought in a bed for another friend from out of state that stayed for a week. Jan has invited me to stay the night, maybe longer?
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Old 02-22-2006, 03:07 AM   #21 (permalink)
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sounds like a pajama party is in the works... bring plenty of hats, tissues, and stories...
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Old 02-22-2006, 02:29 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
Jan called. Bernice and I will be at her side on Saturday. Jan's son brought in a bed for another friend from out of state that stayed for a week. Jan has invited me to stay the night, maybe longer?

That's wonderful. Take a *deep breath* and be a shoulder for your friend to lean on. Being there for someone, i think, is the most important act of being a real friend and i applaud you for truly honoring that.

sweetpea
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Old 02-22-2006, 02:31 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maleficent
sounds like a pajama party is in the works... bring plenty of hats, tissues, and stories...
Also, some chocolates and cupcakes and ice cream

I don't know if your friend will have much appetite with the pain... but if she's still eating okay, some goodies might be in order!

sweetpea
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Old 02-25-2006, 08:43 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Location: Olympic Peninsula, WA
Bernice and I visited Jan today. When I was told that she had less than a year to live, I automatically chose eleven months and 27 days. Clearly, two months would be nearer to the reality. I won't go into the details of her current condition, but even though she was having a particularly bad day she repeated how much visits mean to her. Ms. B and I will be there every week for as long as Jan can tolerate our silly selves. We did get a smile or two out of her and Ms. B brought her favorite comfort food.

To all of the people that comforted me and/or gave excellent advice, I would like to ask one more favor, if it suits you. Jan has always loved silliness and surprises. Should you run across a clever card or postcard in the next month or so, I would be so grateful if you sent it on to her. Using your TFP screen name, coupled with postmarks from everywhere would certainly be a surprise.

I feel so very trusting of the TFP members here, and yet I am not comfortable with posting her name and address in an open forum. If anyone is interested, please pm me and I will gladly give you her mailing information.

Thank you all, for walking me through this, especially those who have shared the pain of loss of another or the loss of personal health to cancer.

Pen
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Old 02-25-2006, 11:21 PM   #25 (permalink)
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A lot of people, when faced with the definite end of their life, don't wish to have to say goodbye to everyone they once held dear. To every one of you, it's saying goodbye to one person- to the person dying, it's saying goodbye a thousand times. Every goodbye hurts. You get your closure... but they just get more goodbyes.

Unless you were close enough for her to want to tell, you may just want to keep your closure to yourself.

The thing is, she likely also wants to know that people care about her and will miss her. The best way to broach the subject is to say you felt bad for losing touch, because your friendship meant a lot. If you're meant to know, she'll tell you.

Don't take it personally if she doesn't, though... everyone grieves differently.... especially over their own death.
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Old 03-02-2006, 02:19 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Pen, I sent you a PM..
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Old 03-02-2006, 08:29 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Thank you.
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Old 03-03-2006, 07:49 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Oooh, I have a TROVE of silly postcards. I will even donate one of my beloved unique ones off my fridge. Please PM me with her address.

I am so glad that you chose to visit her. People often state their wishes before they know what they truly want. It's clear that your presence means a lot to her, and I'm glad you are able to be there for her. You're such a blessing, Pen. I'm glad you exist
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Old 03-18-2006, 10:01 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Location: Olympic Peninsula, WA
I just spent a few days with Jan and I want to thank all of you that have sent her greeting cards. It has been the pleasant surprise that I hoped it would be.

After returning from a week's vacation, I found that Jan's health has declined dramatically. She now wants her friends around her as much as possible, and I thank you all for your kindness and thoughtful suggestions. I will be spending as many days with her as I can.

Pen
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Old 03-23-2006, 01:48 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Janet passed this morning and I am so thankful that I spent her last few days with her.
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Old 03-23-2006, 01:50 PM   #31 (permalink)
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Sorry for loss Elphaba.

It doesn't matter how ready your are or how inevitable it is, it still hurts to loose a friend.

My thoughts are with you.
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Old 03-23-2006, 01:52 PM   #32 (permalink)
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ditto that...

Know that her final days were spent with people who cared about her and loved her and will remember her fondly...
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Old 03-23-2006, 04:45 PM   #33 (permalink)
 
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What an incredible person you are, Elphaba. I am sorry to hear about your loss. I want you to know how meaningful this thread has been to me, seeing the progression of feelings and decisions from when you first heard the news... really, thank you for sharing this all with us, and for being such an example of what friendship is about.
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Old 03-23-2006, 06:50 PM   #34 (permalink)
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Location: Olympic Peninsula, WA
Thank you...
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Old 03-24-2006, 05:33 AM   #35 (permalink)
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I've been following, but haven't contributed. Sorry to hear about your friend and her fatal illness.
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Old 03-28-2006, 03:07 AM   #36 (permalink)
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I'm so so sorry to hear of this news.. I hope she received my card in time.

Pen, she was very lucky to have a friend like you. Hang in there, lady.
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Old 03-28-2006, 12:23 PM   #37 (permalink)
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She did, Plummie, and she enjoyed the reference to the "demon spawn."
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Old 04-01-2006, 09:43 AM   #38 (permalink)
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Elphaba:

I am sorry to hear about your friends passing, It was great of you to spend the time with her. You will be glad you did, even more so as time passes. My wife passed away in December of 2004 after a battle with cervical cancer. She did not want the kids to know (they were 11 and 14) that she was not going to make it. It was very tough to honor her wishes, yet still get the kids a final conversation with her. I managed to do both, but it took until the 11th hour for the kids to get it, and I know they have some peace about that. Again my sympathies, and I am glad you got to spend some time with her.
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Old 04-01-2006, 06:28 PM   #39 (permalink)
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Location: Olympic Peninsula, WA
And my heartfelt sympathies to you for the loss of your wife and your childrens' mother. I can't begin to know a loss of that kind.
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Old 04-02-2006, 09:03 AM   #40 (permalink)
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I'm very sorry for your loss, Elphaba... I am fortunate that I have not yet lost anyone I am close to, but I think it is fairly certain that this will happen to all of us at some point, and I have learned and been encouraged so much from your story and experience, and I am very grateful for your sharing.
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