I am 31 years old, and while I’ve been through a lot, I’ve experienced one thing that not many people my age have, and no one should ever have to: the loss of a best friend and mentor.
I first met Gita when I was 19 and working at my first hospital job. I started working in a pharmacy to decide if I really could stomach hospitals and the work involved before I went to nursing school. She was so smart, funny, and had the most infectious laugh and smile I’ve ever seen or heard. She was always after me to go to pharmacy school, but she was also encouraging during my pursuit of nursing. She even came to my graduation and gave me a Dallas Mavericks watch as a gift.
In addition to our love for medicine, we also shared a love of basketball, New Kids on the Block and dogs. She was always impressed that I, in my five-foot, ninety-eight pound glory, was not afraid in the slightest of her three German shepherds—each well over 100 pounds. If I could impress her that much over something so “small”, then I was honored.
To say she was mad at me when I moved three-and-a-half hours away would be an understatement. I thought moving would be the best way to handle a difficult situation I was going through, and she thought I was crazy—especially because I was going to a place where I knew no one and had no support system. However, when I flourished in career and life in general, I don’t know that anyone was more proud than she was. She was always one of my biggest cheerleaders.
Eventually, I got an advanced certification as a diabetes educator—a role I was born to play due to my own experience with diabetes. Life came full-circle the day I received a phone call from her asking if she could refer a patient to me for some help with initial teaching. She said I was the best educator she knew. I couldn’t believe it—a published expert pharmacist was referring someone to me. I can’t tell you how honored I was.
I still have the text she sent me back in December 2011 informing me of her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I sat in shock with my mouth hanging open as I took it all in. She was 36, married with two kids, never drank, never smoked, no prior risk factors. This was one of those times when I wished I had no medical background. I was angry at the situation, and most of all, cancer. She told me not to worry, that she and the doctors were hopeful.
Over the next few months, I regularly kept in touch with Gita via Facetime, texting, phone calls and email. She especially loved it when I sent her pics of Thing 1 and Thing 2. She would update me on how well she was responding to chemo, and tell me that she felt bad for me wearing an insulin pump after her experience with an indwelling port. I didn’t bother telling her she had the raw end of the deal. I went to see her at home about four months after her diagnosis, and she looked great! There was some weight loss, but overall, she looked fantastic. I felt encouraged.
I spent my 30th birthday in New Orleans, and I remember the texts she sent me on July 2, 2012 to wish me a very happy 30th. I still have those texts, too. I asked if I could bring her anything, and she said all she wanted was for me to eat some beignets for her. I dutifully went back to Café du Monde and ate another three beignets (not that it was a real issue). I sent her a pic of it, and she responded with her happiness. I could totally see her smiling.
On July 5, I received a Facebook message from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in awhile asking me to call her ASAP. I didn’t want to. I knew. Sure enough, Gita had passed away at 3:30 am. I was sitting at Sonic when she told me. I tried calling Gita. She didn’t answer. Her husband called back, saying, “I guess you heard.” Basically, she started going downhill on July 3, and eventually drowned in the fluids that had been periodically filling her lungs since she was diagnosed. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. I just remember wailing. I managed to call someone to come get me. I couldn’t see straight. I was hysterical.
The next few days were a blur. I barely remember the funeral, other than her lying in her casket, bald head and all. I just remember really dreading going, because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that one of my best friends was dead. I didn’t even get to see her after New Orleans. It wasn’t fair that she knew the end was near and she was trying to save me. But that’s how she was. Always worried about everyone else. By sending me those texts, she was telling me goodbye in a way that I would always remember her the way she was. In hindsight, I can see the gift she was giving me.
I’ve struggled with writing this, mostly because I’ve wanted to make sure I give Gita a proper send-off, and that she—and you—would understand how much I loved (still love) her. I’ve worried that I wouldn’t write enough to really capture her essence, and most of all, that you wouldn’t want to read it.
I still miss her, and there are days I want to send her pics of my dogs and receive her happy responses. My heart bleeds as I write this, and I know I’ll go back and read this, and say to myself, “I need to write one more thing,” or, “I forgot this detail.” The fact is, memory isn’t linear, especially when you’ve had a friendship and professional relationship as long as we did. However, I can be thankful for this: that we had so many memories to even be non-linear, and she is permanently cemented in my heart. I hope she knows that.