On New Year's Eve, I lost one of my oldest friends, Linda.
Many years ago, while getting her PhD., she contracted hepatitis C while working in a hospital.
She joked about it then; a resident stared at her, and she thought, "Well, hel-lo there!", till he leaned over and said, "You're jaundiced; see a doctor immediately." She had a brilliant liver transplant, and life went smoothly for the next thirty years.
She became a noted epidemiologist and professor whose area of research was women's health; after her retirement, she continued to serve as a volunteer in developing countries. Linda had a long, happy marriage. Having children was off limits; she poured her nurturing into her students.
We were friends since university days; I loved the contrasts she embodied so naturally: a fresh-faced beauty who swore like a stevedore, a late-night pub crawler who made the honour roll. She was deeply kind, and she also would warn me, "I'm half Greek and half Irish, don't get me mad."
Linda lived far from me; one of our retirement projects was to see one another again, "soon".
When I did not hear from her by New Year's, I had a premonition, and googled her name to find she had died the day before.
I wrote her husband; he replied immediately, saying he had dreaded telling me that a small problem begun by an infection had inexorably escalated through the fall. By mid-December they knew time was running out.
Near the end, he told me, they received dear friends for a special dinner, then lay in their bed, sleeping and talking, and she said, "It was heaven". She died surrounded by family and friends.
I have very few regrets, most of them trivial, but this one is not: that I delayed a trip to an inconvenient destination, that we did not 'make it happen', somewhere.
I never dreamed time was limited, but of course it is, for all of us. Now, my only choice is to go to that distant place for a life celebration, which feels surreal and sad.
I sit here, playing the songs that sparkling girl danced to long ago, mourning her and the mistake I made.