A tribute to my dear friend Lis Smith who died on February 2, 2015.
“I’m sliding,” Lis said last night on the phone. “Sliding down towards the end.” I checked in every day from Tofino. She had told me in no uncertain terms to go on vacation. “You need a break, you’ve been working very hard,” she said.
Not slipping away but sliding down. I thought of sledging as a child on the road next to our house in Glasgow. The road covered in snow was short and steep, with a sharp left turn at the bottom. One, two, three, kick off, then surrender, clutching tightly to the rope or the person in front, scary and exhilarating at the same time.
“Is it scary?” I asked Lis.
“Not particularly. It’s boring.”
I wasn’t sure what to say next. It never occurred to me that dying might be boring, but if you don’t have the energy to do the things you want to, and the goodbye conversations have been tackled, then I guess dying could be boring.
Lis has been my friend longer than anyone else in Canada, my friend for thirty years. We met at a Tai Chi party, two weeks after I emigrated from Scotland, and she told me there were nursing jobs at the B.C. Cancer Agency. A great place to work she said, and I believed her. I applied and got a full time job on the in-patient chemotherapy unit. Her social work office was just down the hall.
After I published an article When Words Don’t Take the Pain Away, in a B.C. Nursing magazine, and it ignited nurses around the province to learn ‘Therapeutic Touch,’ we travelled for two years together, teaching nurses and social workers how to relieve pain and anxiety. I remember being tucked up in our adjacent beds in our hotel room at night, laughing hysterically about life, with our shared British humour. We thought of each other then as 'anam cara,' Gaelic for ‘soul friends.’ We still do.
Lis, my soul friend, is dying and I’m heartbroken, not so sad for her, she always said she didn’t want to live to be very old, seventy-five was about right, but I’m desperately sad for her husband of fifty-five years, her kids and grandkids, and her abundance of good friends, including myself.
“Are you in Tofino yet, Janie?”
“Yes. I’m looking out the window at a crowd of surfers bobbing around in the ocean, in the middle of winter?”
“I never did like the sea,” she said. “It scares me.” I heard her laboured breathing, and imagined she was propped up on the couch in the living room. She wasn’t ready to stay all day in bed yet. “And I certainly wouldn’t be in any fit state to bob around out there now, would I?” she said.
“No, that’s for darn sure.”
“Listen, have a lovely time and get lots of writing done,” she said.
“How would you feel if I wrote a story about us?” I asked.
“Of course you can, just don’t tell any of my secrets.”
“Course not. See you in a few days. Phone any time, day or night and don’t slide too far, until I get home, okay?”
“Okay love,” she said.