How do you tell your best friends you’re dying? My witty, vivacious, larger-than-life friend Cassie, diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer on Christmas Eve of 2017, did it the only way she knew how: “Someday — while I am alive or gone,” she wrote in an e-mail to a small group of friends from childhood, school, and camp, “I would love you all to come to my closet and pick out things you would like. Pieces of clothing that would mean something to you.”
It was the end of May 2019, and at that point, only a few of us knew how far her cancer had progressed. Since her initial diagnosis, Cassie had endured a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, remaining positive the whole time. This e-mail was her white flag — her first acknowledgment that cancer would take her from us.
Her words were a punch to the gut. It was so typical of Cassie, whom I’d known almost as long as I’d known my husband, to start a story in the middle. She’d use nicknames for people and places, prompting me to rack my brain as she spoke, trying to connect the dots without admitting I had no clue who or what she was talking about. But in this case, we all knew the backstory . . . just not the punchline.
“I like the idea of my stuff going on and living a good life through people that I love,” Cassie continued in her e-mail. “We could start doing this while I’m healthy — have cocktails and closet shopping a few times — or it could wait until I’m gone.”
I couldn’t respond. It was too much to consider. Within a few weeks, we found out the cancer had progressed to Cassie’s spine and brain. She began to have debilitating back pain, and her eyes began to fail. And she was so tired. Through it all, Cassie, who loved tennis nearly as much as she loved her husband and 9-year-old son, continued to play the game — until the pain got worse and her legs gave out.
The end came rapidly. She went into hospice on August 15, 2019, and died 13 days later. She was only 45. Seemingly overnight, the world felt muted. Cassie loved to laugh and crack jokes, even during the most challenging times. Without her, we’d lost the comic relief we needed so badly to get through this.
A few months after she died, we finally scheduled Cassie’s clothing party. I walked into our friend Kim’s house with a pit in my stomach. How could this be anything but sad?
Kim’s living room was filled with stacks of clothing: J.Crew shorts in every color of the rainbow. More tennis skirts than aces Serena Williams serves at Wimbledon. Coats and jackets for all seasons. Bags, purses, scarves, shoes, shoes, and more shoes. It was like a Cassie-themed department store. She would have loved it. For the next two hours, eight of us laughed and cried and drank wine — just like Cassie imagined.
But when I got home, I promptly tucked my bag of selections into a corner of my bedroom, where it sat untouched for weeks — a wound that just wouldn’t heal. Until, on a whim one chilly fall morning, I pulled on Cassie’s wool hat with the fuzzy pompom to drop my kids at school. Later that week, I zipped up her bright-yellow rain slicker to walk the dog, and I toted her sailcloth bag to my kids' swim meet. I couldn’t believe how happy it made me feel to wear her clothes — like she was along for the ride.
It’s been a year since we lost Cassie. I wish I could tell her what a gift she’s given us. She knew that her clothes would bring us comfort and help us stay connected to her in a way that we couldn’t fully appreciate until she was gone. Now I can carry her with me wherever I go.
Julie Suratt is a writer in Wayland. Send comments to email@example.com. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.