I recently wrote about saying goodbye to people I love. My friend Donna commented with a positive, warm message that was very her, genuine and openly appreciative. She passed away unexpectedly a week after that. She was 63.
Donna had a unique role in my life. She was my friend, mentor, career adviser, and cheerleader. I first met her when I was in college; she was a career adviser there, a profession perfectly suited to her and one she found later in life. She gave the perfect mix of practical advice and real encouragement. Post-graduation, I would send her emails once in a while, as I would with professors or staff that positively affected my college experience. Most of these correspondences tapered off. To my surprise, Donna was very responsive, and we continued to keep in touch for several years after.
Shortly before I left for Paris a year and a half ago, I asked her if we could have a brief phone chat while I was still in the States. At that point, I was stressing a little bit, as I didn’t have an apartment in Paris yet and was about to leave a stable job and everyone I loved for a city where I had one friend, one former host family, and several acquaintances. In my recollection, our phone call was only about twenty minutes, as it was in the middle of her work day, but I left it feeling lifted. She was a master at giving a pep talk.
Once I was abroad, our friendship evolved to a new dimension. We handwrote letters to each other, and she would send me greeting cards for those holidays that people usually don’t send cards for—Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Halloween. She always expressed appreciation that I took the time to correspond with her in what many consider a lost art, but I felt lucky to have someone who thought about me and sent me a steady stream of wisdom, positivity, and love. No matter what kind of day I had, if I came home and read a letter from her, I would smile.
Sometimes she seemed to me like a wisdom machine, and yet she was anything but a machine. Everything she said came from her, and she had a knack for making a person feel special.
Her last card to me was a Valentine’s card with a message on the front that said, “Most of all, let love guide your life.” On the day I found out she had passed away, I picked it up and read it again and realized that I had missed the part of her letter that she had written on the back of the card. It was like a bonus message from her when I expected no more. Her note made me laugh—she was funny—and cry, because her last line said “Next time—thoughts on” and then two subjects that I had pondered in my last correspondence that she would address in the next letter. I want to know what she was going to say on those topics. I just want more of her.
At the same time, I feel blessed that she was the type of person who leaves you without loose ends. She constantly openly expressed her appreciation of people to them and espoused their good qualities. That made it easy to express appreciation of her in return. In that way, there was never anything left unsaid.
Donna had a lot to give, and she gave freely. She was incredibly loved. I loved her.