About five minutes before I was leaving for the office this morning to teach my 9:20 class, I found out that a friend of mine had died. Well, not a friend, exactly. More than that. One of my main supporters, mentors, sounding boards, cheerleaders. Since January 2017, I’ve been working with a business coach to help me change my life (in a nutshell). Nancy was working with me as I laid plans to start a freelance environmental communication business. I’d been talking to her on the phone twice a month for 22 months, and she had radically changed how I thought about myself and my potential contribution to the world.
I can’t believe I’m not going to talk with her again.
I can still hear her voice from our last conversation, on October 30. She was getting up at 5:00 in the morning to talk with me at 8:00 pm Mongolian time. She sounded a bit tired, but still summoned her trademark enthusiasm when we talked about my plans for the next eight months. At the end of the call, she said that she had to tell me she was taking time off from coaching, but that she would have one more call with me, just not at 5:00 in the morning. I emailed her some possible times, but I never heard from her after that.
I knew she was ill, or that something was up medically, though I don’t know what. She was a very private person and didn’t talk very much about herself with me, since we were working on my business and my plans. She would give examples from her own relationship with her daughter when we talked about balancing family and work, and I know that she was in India at some point. I also know that she was allergic to mold because it came up in a conversation. Otherwise, I know almost nothing about her.
But she knew a lot about me. She knew all the details about all the crap I had been through as an adjunct professor, and why I was working on getting out of it. She helped me think about what it meant to be in charge of my own life, to run my own business with my own clients, and how I was completely capable of doing that. She also knew what I was dealing with as a single parent, having sole responsibility for the well-being of my child as I tried to sort my own life out.
She was my cheerleader, but she was also honest and gently told me when I was going off track or not doing what needed to be done. She never told me what I should do, but she helped me figure it out. She had a genuine gift for helping people discover what they already knew, and for pointing them in the direction they needed to be going.
I will miss her.
I will miss her more than I can realize right now.
I have gotten to the age when losing people happens more and more regularly. Last year I lost a good friend and colleague at UCSD to metastatic breast cancer. Right now, several friends are struggling with cancer, and I am hoping for the best for all of them, but you never know.
Every loss is like an amputation, a part of ourselves gone, but lingering on as a phantom limb that we can still feel, though not see. This is life.
Every loss is also a reminder. A reminder that life is temporary, that you don’t know how it will go or how long it will last, that you have to make the most of it and not hold back. No one lives forever, and we shouldn’t try to live like we will. Nancy got me unstuck. She helped me start down a path that I could see I’d been moving towards for years but hadn’t quite had the courage to take. She helped me to find that courage and get going.
I’m on my way again, thanks to her.