A Life Unfinished


June 11, 2014 by Melanie L.

Are you afraid to die?

I wondered ever since I learned of Ali’s diagnosis.  This particular visit to her hospital room was no exception.  I searched for an answer in Ali’s once-bright blue eyes, steroid-swollen cheeks and cancer-decimated half-smile. Does she even know?  What is she thinking!?  But I dared not ask.

Instead, I tasked myself with filling out her hospital food order for the next day checking those little empty circles next to the alternative choices like “mushroom barley” or “chicken noodle,”  “milk” or “juice.”  It was like filling out SAT practice scantrons, only this time, without the promising future.

Junior prom  - Age 16 - not long after taking the SATs.

Junior prom – Age 16 – not long after taking the SATs.

“Do you want Jell-O?” I offered Ali.

“Yeah.” Ali’s voice was nasal, her speech slurred.  It was not a fully-formed answer.  The “yeah” hung in the air unfinished.

Jello.  Check.

June, 2011 - Still smiling and full of vitality

June, 2011 – Still smiling and full of vitality

It was late August, 2011, and while the rest of the Eastern Seaboard prepared for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene, inside Ali’s quiet hospital room, a much smaller swell brewed beneath Ali’s furrowed brow.  She was disappointed over spending her 34th birthday in a hospital.  Although the nurse allowed some cake, it was an unfinished celebration.

Her disappointment had been magnified by the reasonableness of her birthday wish.  She didn’t wish for a cancer-free birthday. She didn’t even wish to be home for her birthday.  She had simply wished to have spent her birthday in (a physically grueling) rehab.  But she wasn’t ready for discharge.  Not yet, anyway.  And that had put her in a mood.

I searched for clues of her internal existential dialogue amidst this new mood.  What does her mood mean?  Does her mood say anything about what she understands her future to hold?  Before cancer invaded our friendship, we (over)shared everything.  No topic was ever taboo.  I left that day with my questions unasked.  An unfinished visit.

Although Ali was discharged to rehab the next day, she was re-admitted to the hospital less than two months later.  I visited her often and each time I wondered whether I would gather the courage to satiate my curiosity.  But with an ever-present flow of her numerous other best friends, she had at least eight, as well as her large and supportive family, I couldn’t seem to find a minute alone with her to ask.

Finally in mid-October with only one other best friend, Melissa, in the room, I got my opportunity.  Before I even asked though, Ali spoke.  Once loquacious, now nearly mute, we could just barely hear Ali’s small voice over the din of the nurses’ shuffling feet and the beeps of machines.  We leaned in.

“I’m tired.  I feel like an old man. No more surgeries.  I’m done.  Mel, you know what I’m saying?  Right? Mel?”  Her eyes looked into mine and pierced my soul.  I nodded.  I excused myself with tears welling.  Melissa followed close behind.

“What did she mean?  Did she mean what I think she meant?”  I desperately hoped for Melissa’s denial.

“Yes, honey, she did,” and Melissa pulled me in tight.

That was the last time Ali ever spoke to me.

Less than a month later, surrounded by family and shrouded in love, Ali’s tangible essence slipped away leaving a life unfinished.  She was not afraid.





29 thoughts on “A Life Unfinished

  1. This was beautifully written and is currently something that I battle with. I think that I am beginning to accept death is a part of life and that we all die. I just want to live a life giving back to others before I leave this earth.


  2. beautifully touching and heartbreaking. my heart hurts. i know what it’s like to lose someone too soon. and i know what it’s like to have to pull the plug on someone you love. life ain’t easy. you just have to keep finding all the smiles and good you can.


  3. Ali was so lucky to have you there, supporting her. You hear so many horrible stories of friends drifting away, not able to cope with everything that comes with sickness. This is beautifully written and I will be back to your blog for more.


  4. sorry to read about the loss of your friend. this is a sweet tribute that gives great honor to her presence, memory and life.

    what a beautiful testimony of real friendship.


  5. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.


  6. I’m sorry your friend was not able to finish her life, but it sounds like she lives on in your memory and in the hearts of others.


  7. Natalie DeYoung says:

    Oh how heartbreaking. I’m so sorry for your loss.


  8. Mere says:

    Wow you are great at putting things in perspective and saying how you feel. You truly are a great writer. I. It’s Ali so much it is such a loss that she is not here with us. Truly puts life in perspective.


    • Melanie says:

      Thanks, Mere! I miss her too so so much. When I write about her, though, it feels like she’s still here. Thanks for visiting me and commenting on my blog’s actual site! I hope you’ll check out some of my other posts. Ali’s in quite a few. And, I guess I’ll see you soon, too.


  9. innatejames says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a strong woman. Thanks so much for sharing this. I hope writing it helped in some small way! ~nate


    • Melanie says:

      Yes, writing makes it feel like she’s still here. I write about her frequently on my blog. I hope you’ll come back to visit and help me remember her.


  10. Tears are streaming down my cheeks. I wanted to ask my best friend those same questions but I was too scared to know the answers. She is two years cancer free. I am very sorry for your loss.


    • Melanie says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! Cancer is so scary and so unfair. I’m glad to hear your friend is doing better. I’ll pray it stays that way!


  11. Kathy Berney says:

    Your writing is honest and unsentimental which gives it its power. I’m sorry your vibrant friend had to leave too soon. I can tell by your effort to understand her innermost reality that you loved her very much.


  12. Melissa says:

    Mel that was beautifully written and so very sad it made me cry. I think I needed that cry. I miss her so much I shamely try to forget she isn’t here. Thank you for including me in that blog. Looking at her when she was sick reminded me of the little bit of how she felt in me not so long ago. I didn’t look much different and it was so scary. I’m so glad we were there for her so much because I know how much we helped her through!!!! Love you!


  13. Robin says:

    I was in tears by the time I finished this heartbreaking and beautifully written post about your friend, Ali. Death is such a difficult subject to talk about with someone who is facing it. How do you start? Your friend was thinking of you when she said those last words. It sounds like she was saying goodbye. I am very sorry for your loss.


  14. bkpyett says:

    What a caring and beautiful post about a subject that is often considered taboo, yet death is part of life! Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory.


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Behind the Blog

Melanie L.

Melanie L.

Wanna-be writer, amateur oil painter, practicing law and motherhood with varied success.

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