My dear friend, Carolyn See, died last week. She'd been suffering, so her death wasn't a surprise but it was still a shock.
As I said to Clara, her daughter, the day before Carolyn died, "I can't imagine a world in which Carolyn isn't a part of my life."
Carolyn saved my life once, and, according to Clara, I guess I helped save Carolyn's life, too. Carolyn's companion of many years, John Espey, had died, and my husband, Douglas Forde, had also died. One day pretty much out of the blue, in 2006, Carolyn invited me to travel to India with her.
Neither of us had been to India and it was the exotic tonic both of us needed. And instantly we got to know each other much better. On the way to Delhi we had a stopover in Seoul. At the Seoul airport the departure lounge was upstairs. At the escalator, Carolyn said, "I don't do escalators." "And I don't do elevators!" I said. We laughed hard, which set the tone for the entire trip. What a goofy pair of travelers we made. We took the escalator with Carolyn instructing me exactly how to stand on the step behind her (in case she fell?).
We spent two weeks in India--think Pushkar Camel Fair, the pink city of Jaipur, the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. In the colorful, crazy, chaotic confusion that is India a healing took place: Carolyn and I went from being grief-stricken widows to glowing with a post-bereavment happiness.
A year later, in 2007, Carolyn invited me to China. The pre-travel to China established one of the gift-giving rituals of our friendship: white orchids. Carolyn didn't realize how many airline miles she'd acquired, and when I turned them in I was able to get her free First Class round-trip airfare to China. She was so grateful she sent me the most beautiful basket of white phalenopsis orchids.
On our trip to China there was an incident on the Yangtze River where I saw Carolyn at her most brave. We were at the port about to board the boat for a few days on the Yangtze. Except our group--we were with UCLA Travel--had arrived after dark, and the twenty or so concrete steps down to the boat were exceedingly steep, there was no hand-railing to hold onto, and no night lighting. What were the Chinese thinking? For Carolyn, whose eyesight wasn't good, this was a worst case scenario. She hung onto me on her left side, another person from the group was on her right, and she took her first step down. I always thought it must have felt in that pitch black night that she was stepping off into thin air, into nothingness. But she did it! She trusted us, and she was calm and brave. Her only other choice was to be left behind, and that was not going to happen to Carolyn See.
I will miss our lunches. When January rolls around, I will miss celebrating our January birthdays.
I will miss calling and asking if I can run something by her. She always had time, and she was always hilarious, honest, truthful, kind, and spot-on right. That was one of her gifts. To put a situation in perspective, and to make you laugh while she did it. Who wouldn't love and appreciate a friend like that?
Once I e-mailed her from my sister's place in Houston because I was upset and lonely. She wrote back a long message, which included:
The only bad thing that will happen to us is that we're going to die, and that's not immediate, so let's just see if we can have the nicest time possible.
That was July, 2006. Now ten years later, July, 2016, "the only bad thing" has happened. I'm grateful that Carolyn and I did "have the nicest time possible."