Two years ago this July 14th I got on a plane to start the first leg of my annual journey from Chicago to our family beach vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The trip involves at least five hours of driving no matter how you do it, because no airport is very close, and once we get there we stay two weeks.  Two years ago this July 14th was the day our friend S. finally lost her battle with breast cancer at the ripe old age of 42.  The minute I heard that she had passed away I knew that I would be missing her funeral, and I hated to.  S. was well known and loved before her aggressive breast cancer made her into another kind of celebrity, and her memorial services were well attended reunions that spanned decades of friends.  I was sad to miss it but a little bit glad not to relive the sadness and bewilderment that accompanies such a senseless death, and not to see her parents, both alive and healthy, facing this loss.

As we packed up and left this morning I am sad again, because our dear, vibrant, much-beloved friend A. passed away, also from cancer, this week.  We visited her in the fall, as the leaves were turning.  She had just celebrated her fortieth birthday the night before, and apart from a blood clot in one leg and some hoarseness she seemed okay.  She wasn’t. 

The minute I heard that she had passed away on Tuesday I knew we’d miss her memorial, too.  We’re on the first leg of a complicated trip involving a U-Haul, a day spent loading it, the 8 hours’ drive from home to Nashville, a stop there for the organic farming conference, and then two more hours’ drive on Sunday to a storage space in our new hometown in East Tennessee, followed by some preliminary house-hunting.  This is only a rehearsal for our real departure – Our Stuff, Part I – because we need to get a large chunk of our stuff out of the way in order to get ready for the next phase of our move which is about getting the house ready to sell.  The real thing won’t happen until fall, probably.

Nevertheless, the enormity of it started to sink in as we left this morning before sunrise, seeing the city I love (but am no longer in love with) starting to wake up as we crept onto the interstate before the traffic.  I cried from exhaustion and packing and stress and the loss of A., and the loss of S.  I cried to think of how much we’ll be leaving when our final U-haul rolls out of town, and of the uncertain future that awaits us.

This move is unfolding the way it should, for me, which means it’s carefully planned and it’s taking its time.  Most of our friends are finally realizing that "the Tennessee thing" isn’t next year or some year, it’s this year.  I’m letting everyone know, bit by bit, that we’ll be gone by Christmas.  I’m trying to make the most of the social engagements we have, because I think big goodbye parties can be self-indulgent, speechy affairs and I don’t want to do that to my friends.  By the time we finally load up the last U-Haul, I think I’ll be ready, or at least readier than I am today.

So we’re in a depressing Econo-Lodge just west of Nashville and tomorrow almost everyone I know back home will be in one room to celebrate A.  It’s like we’re already gone, in some ways.  I’m glad we’re not, I’m glad we have time to get ready. 

Of course the senselessness of those two deaths is a gift to me.  I can’t begin to compare my losses and my infertility woes to what those women and their families suffered and lost.  I am especially lucky to have had the bad mammogram and biopsy experience I had last January, to bring it a little bit closer to home.  I had a guilty, fumbling lunch with A. just after that happened; I felt like a total heel telling her about how scary it was when it ended so well.  But she was wonderful – she said "Hey, cancer sucks!  I’m glad you don’t have it."  So much nicer than I have been when I’m the one who has drawn the short straw.   I’m glad to be reminded in this sad way that there are much, much shorter straws than mine.

So my annual mammogram will serve as my memorial to our lost friends.  Even though their cancers didn’t wait until they were old enough for mammography, and didn’t show up in the expected places anyway, I know my lost friends would want me to do what I can, and I know they cheer for every one of us who doesn’t have to go through it. 

I don’t have a neat parallel to draw among these things: missed memorials and these women taken too soon, my move and my uncertainties, except to say that in the midst of planning this move, this month, this year, I am also thinking I should stay in today.  It all will be gone too soon. 

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