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Smell the Coffee: Learning to fight the wall

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I lost a friend to suicide once. She had been sick, on and off, for a while, and during her illness, suffered losses the likes of which few could've endured. It became too much. She grew tired of fighting and left.

Even though I tried to understand why she did what she did, I was still angry. She was this clever and efficient person, someone who, once she made up her mind, was near impossible to stop.

It was no different with death. Once she decided she wanted to die, she was determined to do so on her own terms. She wasn't shy or discreet about what she was planning. She even threw herself a going-away party.

There was no persuading her to stay. No intervention her friends and family and I didn't explore or attempt. She wanted out, and getting out was one of the many mountains she moved.

Over the weekend, I ran across some photos and a ring that she gave me, and it started me wondering if I wasn't selfish for wanting her to stay, and being angry when she didn't.

For months after she died, I experienced this daily void. I'd run across something I knew would make her laugh and I'd grab the phone to call her and have half the numbers dialed before it would hit me again. I missed her, but it was more than that. I was mad over what she was missing -- all these things I knew would've made her laugh, made her happy, interested her.

I could understand her wanting not to hurt anymore, but damn it -- it was like she thumbed her nose at us, saying we weren't worth her discomfort. The message I got from her actions was that she didn't love us enough, because if she had, she would've stayed. She would've mustered the resolve to stick it out.

But we weren't enough, so she didn't.

As I was typing the words in the sentence directly above this one, I received an email from my friend, Susan Crumley. I hadn't spoken with Susan in a few days or told her what I was writing about, so the timing of what she sent was odd. It was a story about what the dying want the living to know.

The woman who wrote the article, Alexandra Rosas, talked of being present for both her mother's and grandmother's final moments, and as the end was drawing near, the women each talked of what they wished they'd done differently.

"They want us to focus less on the big picture of building a body of evidence that proves our accomplishments, and more on the true wonders in our life," Rosas wrote, saying her relatives recommended that we stop chasing "what we think leads to happiness, and slow down before we rush past the very thing we'll wish we had more of at the very last hours of our days."

I suspect Susan sent the article because she knows I'm forever caught up in a frenzy of getting things done, of hurrying through life, rushing from this commitment to that responsibility and then over to some other obligation. But there's a hidden blessing to my crazy pace in that it's hard to hover on the sad stuff for long. Still, there are times -- often at 2 in the morning -- when it shakes me awake and insists on being noticed. It's a shame the many small blessings I'm missing in my rush aren't as loud.

I recently tore a page from the July 2013 issue of Golf Digest where Jim Murray is talking about golf legend Jack Nicklaus' reaction after having played a bad round of golf. Wrote Murray: "When [author Ernest] Hemingway found he could no longer write, he got up the next day and shot himself. When Jack Nicklaus found he could shoot an 83, he got up the next day and shot a 66."

I liked what that said about Nicklaus -- that he didn't hit the wall and quit. He climbed over.

I think there are going to be times when we all whack up against some barrier that seems insurmountable, but if we don't give up, we'll eventually either get over it or find a way around, or the wall will gradually become smaller and more manageable.

I wish my friend had fought the wall, that she hadn't been in such a hurry to reach the end of her days.

As for me, I'm going to keep reminding myself, as often as it takes, to linger longer and start savoring mine.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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