Those of you who have read my book, “An Alpha-1 COPD Love Story,” already know that I believe in Angels. My Angels are or were real live people who inspire me. Gordon is definitely one of my Angels, as is my dear friend Rita. The following is my tribute to her.
I first got to know Rita in 1985. Four years later, Rita was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Typical Rita, she didn’t let it get her down. The way she talked to friends and family about her treatment, you would have thought that we were the patients. It was all about reassuring us. But, that was my friend Rita. She was always taking care of someone else.
Fast forward to 1997. I can’t remember when or how I first found out. I do remember that Rita hadn’t been feeling well for a while. When she finally made time to go to the doctor, he ran some tests. Then came the bad news. After almost twenty years, Rita’s breast cancer had spread. She now had stage four liver cancer.
Everyone else I know would have been devastated by this diagnosis. I know I was. Not my friend Rita. As always, and in her words, she just “picked herself up, dusted herself off and moved on.” She quickly found herself an oncologist who promised to use his arsenal to keep her alive for as long as possible. Then, she set out to put her affairs in order, to reassure her children, her grandchildren and her friends and to prepare them for what was to come.
I don’t know any other way to say it. My friend Rita was amazing! She knew she was living on borrowed time and she was determined to make the best of every minute of it. I will never forget her infectious laugh. Whenever we were together it was impossible not to catch it. At the same time, however, Rita was continually preparing the rest of us for life after she was gone. In her words, God hadn’t taken her yet because he still had people for her to take care of.
Rita talked openly about her death, but never in a morbid way. Instead, she used her keen sense humor to ease what could otherwise be painful discussions. For example, Rita told me that when she died, she didn’t want anyone saying she was at peace. That’s because, she continued and then she started to laugh, “when God finally takes her, she’ll be kicking and screaming.”
More than any other person I know, Rita loved life and lived it to the fullest. More than any other person I know, Rita cherished her family and her friends and, in turn, we all cherished her. More than any other person I know, Rita found happiness in life by taking care of others.
Yes, my friend Rita died yesterday. But I believe she’s still watching over her family and friends. All we have to do is to listen carefully enough and we’ll hear her. Sometimes life is tough, she’s telling us. But then you just, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.”