Dear Selma —
It’s been almost two months since our last coherent conversation. For some reason, even though I knew the day would come when I would feel your absence — there was a part of me that truly believed your ability to fight would always trump whatever was trying to kill you. I somehow thought you would keep going on shear inertia.
From the day we met, there were always three of us in the room even when we were alone. You. Me. Cancer. Fucking cancer. There really is no other word to describe it. This thing — this cancer — was slowly sucking the life out of you. Most days it was imperceptible, but this year even though I lived in my “New Mommy Bubble,” there was another track feeling you pulling away from the station.
I’ve known many people who have lost their battle with cancer, but never anyone who was so present in my life. I’ve never been with anyone at the end of their life, knowing each visit could very well be the last. I’ve never prayed for anyone to let go the way I prayed for you. All the mishegoss that comes with cancer, the one thing everyone fears the most — and you were certainly no exception — is pain.
I wanted you free from that. We all did.
I remember asking you once if we really had to talk about palliative care one more time? After all, we spent the entire last year filming countless interviews on the subject. When you became a palliative care patient, we all did. I always admired the fact that your personal health struggles always became your public passion.
Primary peritoneal cancer.
When they found a spot on your esophagus, suddenly every doctor we interviewed had a question about esophageal cancer.
Palliative care. I’ll be honest, it was not the most fun to edit, but as I would sit stroking your hair and talking to you during that last month making sure I told you everything I needed to. Things I may have forgotten while I was in Mommyland.
Ultimately, I was glad I had done all that editing.
The first day at the hospital I was scared to touch you. I didn’t want to hurt you, but by the end, all I wanted to do was touch you. I was hoping somehow, you would know I was there. Hoping you would hear me as I told you again how there was absolutely no way I could ever run Vital Options. Even in a sedated state you appeared to be laughing at me as I said it. Now, as I have agreed to run it, I can hear you laughing even louder.
You got your way. Perhaps that was the plan all along.
Almost six years of memories came flooding back as the plane touched down in Chicago on May 30th. Somehow I got through all of emails and e-blasts and phone calls. I even got through your funeral. But ASCO, I barely made it through ASCO.
You were everywhere.
Everywhere I turned we had been there together the year before, and the year before and the year before and the year before. It was strange, but every time I was feeling alone or unsure about what to do next, it was like you sent me a friend. Gracemarie. Dr. Funmi Olopade. Eva would call from Vienna. Dr. Quinn. Linda. Jill. H-J. Elyse. Liz. John. Kevin. So many people. So many friends. Your friends.
This morning I was thinking about you as I drank my Orgain protein drink and warmed the bottles for the two most beautiful little dumplings born on your birthday. I laugh every time I drink an Orgain because so many people I know drink them because you began your own one-woman infomercial for the great taste of Orgain.
Then I remembered it was Friday, and I thought, Shabbat Shalom, Selma. You were the only person that ever really wished me Shabbat Shalom with any sort of regularity. Every Friday like clockwork, we either spoke or you sent an email. Shabbat Shalom.
I always loved that the rabbi’s daughter embraced me in all of my confusion about religion. You somehow got it better than anyone.
Then I thought about how you always wrote the most beautiful cards.
How I could call you and more than 90% of the time, you picked up the phone.
How I used to yell at you because whenever I answered the phone you always said, “Terry, it’s just Selma.” — and I would say, “You’re not JUST Selma, you’re Selma. You’re my very important, Selma.”
How you were the only person I could really let myself cry to when life seemed overwhelming.
How you were so sentimental and incredibly sensitive, despite that cool exterior.
How you always let me vent and never tried to fix it. Even when you should have, like last year at ASCO.
How you had fresh herring ordered by the hotel when we went to Amsterdam. (Among other things .. after all, We’ll Always Have Amsterdam.)
How you could always get the kitchen to make you something spectacular when everything on the menu was shellfish.
How you always knew the best restaurants and showed me where to get the best sushi in Los Angeles.
How you always mispronounced names, and when corrected, would continue to mispronounce them with absolute certainty.
How you always brought instant coffee to Europe.
How you were a neurotic cat mother; when we were at La Scala in Milan and you were in the lobby calling home about Eli who at that point was on at least life 27.
How you saved me from having to sit next to the “smelly man” on Virgin Atlantic.
How you had warm scones and clotted cream sent to me in coach when I did not get the upgrade.
How you finally put on the neck brace so we could get better service through Heathrow.
How you would spend hours picking out the perfect outfit for on camera, but every time we went to dinner or lunch alone you always looked like you walked out of Flashdance. Those leggings and sweatshirts.
How you asked a homeless man to get us a credit card taxi in Italy. I can barely type this I am laughing so hard. Always. Carry. Euros.
How you insisted on having a phone for phone calls and a Blackberry only for email.
My salt lamp. Enough said. I think we all have a salt lamp, Selma. My salt lamp was on last night when I turned off my light to go to bed … and I don’t remember turning it on. Perhaps that is your sign?
Your obsession with reading glasses frames has been transferred to me, as I get ready to order my first pair …
But what I miss the most — besides all the hilarious and meaningful memories I won’t get to have with you going forward — is your heart. Your heart was so very big, Selma. I feel so blessed to have had it in my life on an almost daily basis for six short years. Yes, you could be irritating, obsessive and neurotic; often on the same day, sometimes even in the same sentence. And so could I. But your generosity, your empathy for people going through hardships — all people, all hardships — your ability to bring so much meaning to the moments we had … all of these things made you a most spectacular friend.
I have more memories with you than I have with anyone else besides my parents and my husband. There was hardly a day and certainly never more than a week over the past six years where we did not speak or connect in some way. You were part of the fabric of my life. My every day life.
Despite the fact that I have been absolutely prepared for your absence since we went out for sushi at Brothers on January 2, 2013 — I was absolutely not prepared for this hole in my heart. This emptiness in my day to day life.
Even though my life is so full of joy, there is a piece of me missing.
So wherever you are — I hope there is a beach there, with lots of sushi, sake and an occasional star fruit martini. Possibly even a Coffeehouse. A Nordstroms. Orgain. A perfectly dumpy but utterly delicious Mexican restaurant. An unlimited supply of funky jewelry and reading glasses. Great wine. And last but not least, the perfect ambiance and lots of friends.
I miss you, Selma. More today, than yesterday. I’ll try not to let you down.