Not long ago, I read an interview with Candace Bergen. She spoke of the passing of her husband, Louis Malle, as being the saddest, lowest point in her life.
But, she went on to say that the wonderful person he was – a man who lived life to the fullest with such enthusiasm and grace – made her realize it would be almost disrespectful to him if she didn’t try to continue living her life with as much joy and gusto as he always had.
Sometimes the journey is so much fun we just can’t believe it, and it is then that living it with joy and gusto really isn’t an issue. And then we hit a major bump in the road and we wonder how we will even go on.
Tomorrow marks three years since my dear friend Wendy was in a single-vehicle accident. It was a day that changed us forever.
My strong, amazing friend was a woman so healthy that she never needed a doctor for anything. Suddenly, on a chilly November morning, I found myself in the emergency room holding her hand, trying to grasp what I was being told – Wendy may not survive serious spinal injuries. She would be flown to a bigger hospital for care.
In the meantime, I promised Wendy I would go break the news of the accident to her two children.
It may forever be the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
The next 20 days were, as it turns out, an incredible gift.
Wendy weathered the agonizing traction for what seemed like endless days and nights, then came through the stabilizing spinal surgery in good spirits. Though she fought through dark moments, she was jovial and joking most of the time.
She was amazing, as she always had been. Every day she spent in the hospital, she was surrounded by the people who adored her.
A horse barn was under construction on her new property, so every morning I would swing by and take Polaroid pictures of the progress for her.
She was concerned about her future, but she was determined to work hard to regain her health and her life.
The day before she was to be moved to a hospital rehabilitation center much closer to home, I had the chance to have a long talk with her alone.
I read her my Farm and Dairy column, which was a tribute to her. Through tears, she whispered “thank you…” and then she said, “I just know that I am going to get through this and I am going to get better.”
We both cried some tears of joy and hope for all that she had been through and all that was ahead. I left there that night feeling hopeful.
The next night, I would be leaving a different hospital, devastated and in shock. Wendy suffered a pulmonary embolism shortly after her arrival at the rehab center. After many hours of fighting to save her, doctors let us know that she was gone.
Three years have passed, and the sorrow still stings. It is still hard to grasp that this woman of great strength and vibrance is gone.
There have been dark, questioning moments for those of us who adored her. But, there is the profound reminder that Wendy repeatedly told us, in many different ways and on many different occasions, “I just don’t want to get old!”
I jokingly told her she was aptly named from the Peter Pan world where no one ever got old – she was so child-like in every way. So golden.
As empty as the world feels without her here, she would want us to embrace each day with laughter and smiles, with hope, with vibrance. It is the way she lived her life, right up to the very end.
Love the journey, embrace each day, and find a way to laugh along the way.