On June 24, I received news that a friend died in her sleep from heart failure. I was shocked beyond words, which is why it’s taken a moment for me to share my thoughts. Dede and I worked at the same university, and last January, she unexpectedly lost her only child to a congenital heart problem. I didn’t know Dede at that time, but a mutual friend gave her a copy of my book, and we hit it off immediately. With the deaths of our only children, we had a shared experience that made our relationship very deep and spiritual.
We work on different campuses at the university, and I went to visit her at her location. We talked, and she cried, and I remember how I felt after Nicole died, how at any moment I felt like my legs would give way beneath the crushing weight of grief. And now, with every mention of her son, Matt, I read that same soul-crushing grief in her face, heard it in her voice.
I generally don’t speak on things of a transcendent nature because it’s not a topic that tends to come up in every-day conversation. But as we sat together in her office, she began talking about things that fit squarely in this category. And since the door was officially opened, I also shared some of my experiences. This set our relationship on an entirely new and beautiful trajectory.
Since that day, we’d texted and emailed but had been unable to get together for one reason or another. The last time I saw Dede in person was at an awards ceremony on March 20. After the ceremony, we walked to our cars together, and she spoke of how fortunate she has been to know me and Cheryl, our mutual friend. We talked at length about how special and good-hearted Cheryl is, and she thanked me for changing her life by giving her a different way to think about death. “You might not need it at this point,” she said, “but I’m going to send you a book that has really helped me.” A few days later, I received Tom Zuba’s book, Permission to Mourn, with a very sweet note attached.
In her last email to me on April 24, indeed our very last conversation, she said, “Oh, the irony… Death really is a part of life.” To which I replied, “It certainly is!” And now, in the most visceral of ways, she has proven it.
I am forever grateful that our paths have crossed and for the richness it has added to my own journey. Dede, you are loved!