In late October, I wrote a post about my friend, Megan, who passed away. Yesterday we celebrated Megan’s life, and I want to share what I said — along with a link to a memoir about her travels.
Although the length of time I knew Megan pales in comparison to most of you, I also feel like I knew her forever.
I wouldn’t say Megan and I were at the prime of our lives when our paths crossed. Megan had recently been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and was undergoing treatment to prepare for a stem cell transplant.
I, too, had just learned about AML when my husband, Ramón, was diagnosed soon after Megan.
So, what initially brought us together was our shared enemy, AML, with help from a little thing called Instagram. We started courting each other on social media with a like here and a comment there, and eventually we took it to the DMs — aka direct messages —where we got to know each other a bit better.
And although we met because of Megan and Ramón’s shared diagnosis of AML, what really united us was a special connection. Megan and I bonded over the fact that we were both aware of our mortality.
I was born with cystic fibrosis, which meant that, from a young age, I knew that I should die before adulthood. I know you might be thinking, “Wait, and it was her husband who had AML?” To which I’m thinking, “Yes. Yes it was. We were greedy like that — the couple who had it all.”
Whereas Ramón wasn’t particularly interested in the statistics and didn’t get jazzed to talk about death, Megan and I were on the other end of the spectrum. All my life, I’d been a bit obsessed with the numbers related to CF. I wanted to face them head on so I knew what I was working with. And, in my conversations with Megan, she took the same approach.
Megan and I became death buddies. There weren’t a lot of people around our same age who could lightheartedly chit-chat about death — about being mortal and living with the end in mind. We could enthusiastically say, “Let’s get together and talk about death and stuff!,” without causing concern.
Often talking about death makes other people uncomfortable — whether it’s too painful, or sounds defeatist, or ends in an unnecessary pep talk assuring you that “You’ll be fine” despite knowing full and well that you may not be fine.
We agreed that it would be foolish for Megan not to acknowledge the reality of her diagnosis, yet it wasn’t unreasonable to be hopeful.
After all, statistics tell us how things have played out in the past, but they don’t predict the future.
Not only was I living proof, but Ramón was a prime example, too. He had what was categorized as a “favorable” type of AML, which, spoiler alert — there are none. But his odds were supposed to be better than most, and he relapsed soon after he finished his initial treatment.
When Ramón relapsed, Megan couldn’t believe it. And when he died, just 14 months he was diagnosed, we struggled to comprehend it.
Megan felt a sense of guilt, as though it should have been her — since Ramón had the “good cancer” and all. I reminded Megan that his death was further proof that the statistics don’t tell the whole story. I hoped that, since Ramón skewed the odds in the wrong direction, Megan would be granted additional time. Someone had to help recalibrate the numbers.
And I wanted so badly for it to be Megan.
I hoped AML would be a very short chapter in the story of her life, but we soon realized that wouldn’t be the case when her leukemia returned.
The craziest part of all, though, is that, after Megan’s second transplant, she lived more than ever before.
AML had the potential to make Megan’s world very small, but it did the opposite. In her last year with us, Megan’s world became bigger than ever. Her health could have given her the perfect excuse to lay low, to fall into a woe-is-me mindset. But that’s about the furthest thing from what she did. She became a jet-setter, traveling to so many places in such a short time.
Megan went on more adventures than many of us ever will, and there’s one fairly simple reason why — she accepted that she might be low on time, and she got busy living. And you can read more about Megan’s escapades in her online memoir.
The day Ramón died, a friend stopped by with a book called Permission to Mourn by Tom Zuba. One of my favorite parts was a piece called, “Dying On Time,” and it makes me think of Megan. I want to share part of it with you:
"Her life was taken from her much too early."
It’s a painful belief that many of us breathe in. Unexamined. Unquestioned. He died too early. She died too soon.
As if any one of us can point to someone who died “right on time.”
The death of someone you love dearly cracks you open. Wide open. It gives you the opportunity to question everything. Or you may remain asleep until the next time.
And, for my favorite part:
What if you decided to believe that it could be no other way? That everyone dies right on time. Even if you don’t understand it. And never will while you’re in your physical body. Who would you be if you decided to believe that everyone dies at the perfect time?
We are all hurting because we lost an amazing person in Megan. None of this is to minimize the sadness that we’re feeling. There is no denying that it hurts, and it will never not hurt.
But, I take comfort in a text message Megan sent me about a month before she passed:
Sometimes I think I’m ready to die, and I can’t decide if that’s bad or not.
And I told her I didn’t think it was bad. Even though the thought of life without her was heartbreaking, what more could I want than to know she was satisfied, content, that her heart was full?
We can all agree that Megan’s life did not unfold as she’d envisioned it, but, at the same time, it was beautiful beyond her wildest expectations.
One of my favorite things about Megan was how supportive she was. I think I could have texted her that I was about to rob a bank, and she’d respond, “Dooooo iiiiiiiiit!”
So, I think we can best honor Megan in this way. When you’ve got that urge to do something that will make you happy — that will bring you joy, imagine what Megan would say.
She would tell you to do it.
She would tell you to do all the things.
Eat the cheese. Get the tattoo. Wear the outfit. Book the trip.
Megan Rosemarie. We are all better people because we knew you. Thank you for leaving the world a whole hell of a lot better than you found it.