On Nov. 18, 2014, a friend from high school died. She was 33, but she had been dying for a long time. Natasha Logan Elkins started fighting a rare type of cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma at just 22.
I knew her husband, Larry Elkins, better than Natasha. Larry and I dated briefly our senior year of high school, and Natasha was a year younger. She was smart, funny, and a joy to be around. She stayed that way throughout a decade of cancer treatments, multiple surgeries, and even after the cancer took her eyesight. She still saw the light of the world and never lost the joy found in another day of getting up for work, making pasta for her family, or feeling the sun on her face.
Three days after her death, her family held a funeral at their church in Keller. I went with Scot Dickey, one of my best friends from high school. We sat in the balcony of a packed sanctuary, held hands, and wept. My eyes became dark rings of washed away mascara. I sobbed for Natasha, her husband Larry, their son, their friends, and family, but most of all, I cried for the life I hadn’t led.
My husband and I were seriously talking about getting a divorce. When you see a life so full of love and happiness come to an end, it forces you take examine your own life in a way that we usually try to avoid.
Mine was missing the type of love that Natasha and Larry shared, and the joy they experienced together despite all the challenges they faced. My marriage lacked the emotional intimacy that a husband or wife usually brings to a relationship. I’d been missing these things for so long I’d almost forgotten what they looked at.
This was the first funeral I’d attended where the deceased knew they were going to die — where the person laying in that casket had time to prepare — precious time to know what they wanted to say to the friends and family they left behind.
Of course, we’re all dying, but Natasha had a timeline. A set number of months left to finish her beautiful life here on earth. She’d prepared three separate video recordings of herself for the service. In the first one, she thanked Larry for loving her unconditionally and for the wonderful life they shared and the joy he brought her. Second, was a video addressed to the hundreds of people, like me, weeping in the sanctuary. She told her friends and the strong community she’d formed that she couldn’t have done this without them; that they made her life (and her fight against cancer) possible. Last, was the worst, and by worst I mean best. It was a video addressed to her young son, telling him how proud she was of him and how she’d always wanted to be his mother. And that she was so sorry that she wasn’t going to be there with him to watch him grow into the brilliant man she knew he’d become.
I thought about my three-year-old daughter. I thought about how much time I’d wasted in anger and resentment fighting with my husband. And I thought about how many years he’d spent being so unhappy with his own life that our life together became an extension of that pain. I realized: I don’t have any time to waste.
When the funeral was over, I whispered to Scot in a small voice so choked up by tears and sadness that it didn’t even sound like me: “I’m getting a divorce.”
Even in death, Natasha Logan Elkins was still making the world a better place. She showed me that happiness is a choice you make everyday, no matter how many days you have left.
As always, please write to me with your questions on love, relationships, and life at: firstname.lastname@example.org.