Thursday, January 6, 2022

Loss of Another Friend

Ron and Dottie at one of my book signings (when I dressed up like a character from my YA fantasy novel).

The bookkeeper peeked into my office. “Some guy’s on the phone, says it’s imperative that he speaks with the publisher.”

“Did he give you a name?” I asked.

“Barrett. Ron Barrett.”

“That doesn’t ring a bell.” I tapped my fingers on the desk. “I’ll take it.”

Laurie turned around and chuckled. “Of course you will.”

“Hello, this is Elisa, the publisher of the Morning News,” I said.

“Well, hello there, little lady.”

I paused I don’t remember names or faces, but I always remember a voice. This happened to be one I’d never heard before. “I don’t know you. Care to introduce yourself?”

“I read your articles d*mn near every day. You’re a character, so I want you to join my band.”

“Well…sir, I’m already in a band and—“

“Listen, we’ve both fought cancer. What was it you had removed on your wrist—when they took out muscle and bone and you worried you might never fiddle again?”

“Melanoma,” I said. So he had read my articles.

“Well, my wife plays the piano. I play around on the guitar and sing.”

And before I knew it, I’d grabbed my coat and headed toward the door.

“You gotta quit doin’ this, Elisa,” Laurie said because we’d become like sisters. “What crazy story are you covering now?” 

I broke out laughing because she’d seen me livestream stories about fires, car accidents, and even when a deer jumped through a storefront window.

“It’s not a story this time.”

“You’re going to meet another stranger, aren’t you? Good Lord—I swear if something bad happens to you one of these days…”

“He wants me to fiddle with him in a contest. It’ll raise money for cancer awareness.”

She just shook her head. “Share your location with me this time!”

Over the next few months some shocking things happened with the Barretts. We actually won the competition and raised a substantial amount of money for the event. Ron gave my daughter, Sky, guitar lessons, and Dottie (his wife) taught her how to garden.

“I have to pay you for this,” I said one day because not only had they shown Sky love and generosity, she’d begun learning the value of hard work.  

“This is something we want to do,” Dottie said, giving me a huge hug. “You don’t owe us a thing.”

I’ll never forget when I told them my cancer came back as stage four. Dottie, that tough-old broad, actually quaked a little—I heard it in her voice. And every week for months she messaged me asking how I was, giving advice about what to eat, and sending me things in the mail.

“Dottie?” I messaged her one day. “I haven’t heard from you in a few weeks. How are you?”

“I have cancer.”

“Oh my gosh…. Are you okay?”

She never responded, and a month later she was dead.

Sky, Indy, Mike, and I trudged into the funeral home. Family members whispered about “who in the hell” we were. At the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone else—not in the program—wanted to talk about Dottie. No one stood. Seconds felt like hours, and my heart began chugging in my chest. Ron looked around.

“Maybe you should…,” Mike whispered, gently squeezing my leg. 

“You’re right.” I got up, standing much straighter than normal. My black dress was probably too lowcut for a funeral and maybe a bit high on the legs, but I hadn’t planned on giving a flippin’ speech in front of an entire family of strangers!

“He—hello!” The microphone squealed. “Ummm…I’m Elisa… And Dottie—and Ron…well, they changed my life.” And then I told them everything about the laughter and the kindness. I said how she’d been such a support through my journey. People laughed and cried. “I’ll miss her,” I finally said, and then I almost sprinted back to my seat.

“Anyone else?” the pastor asked again when I’d finished. Then Sky stood and told her side of the story. I beamed with so much pride as she spoke about gardening and spending time with the Barretts. And when I saw Ron, every bit of the whole thing seemed worth it.

Following the closing prayer, Ron struggled to walk, and a woman held onto him as he started moving toward the back of the funeral home. “Wait,” he said. “I have to tell some people hello.” Then he worked his way over to me, Mike, and the kids, and he gave all of us each such big hugs. “I’m so grateful you’re here—and for everything you said.”

“If you ever need anything, we’re here,” Mike said. 

“I appreciate that. And I’m praying for all of you every day. Praying that you’ll get better, Elisa.”

“Oh, Ron! I’m fine. We’re worried about you!”

Then the woman said they needed to leave because Ron seemed visibly weaker. As he hobbled to the back door I couldn’t help wiping tears from my eyes. A woman came up to me and shook my hand. “My mom just loved you guys,” she said to all of us, tears filling her eyes as she nodded to Sky. 

“We loved her,” Sky said. 

And when we walked from the building, I couldn’t help feeling like Dottie had seen us there, and she knew the profound impact she’d made on our lives.

It’s sobering how many friends I’ve known who have died since my cancer diagnosis in 2020. If they can see me from Heaven, I sure hope they know how grateful I am to each and every one of them.

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