When I was a freshman at the University of Alabama in 1954, I met Dot Thomas when we both pledged the same sorority. Over the 67 years we’ve known each other, we have been in solid touch except for the worst part of my alcoholic drinking when I wasn’t a good friend to anyone, and six months after I came out to her as a lesbian and she needed a few months to absorb that news. When Dot had her first child, she asked me to be her godmother, a role I delayed playing until I sobered up but have thoroughly enjoyed fulfilling for about forty years now. When Dot fell in love with a lovely Dominican Republic man, I was the first person she told since she knew my committed relationship was seen as “wrong” by the dominant culture, just as was hers to a black man. I rejoiced for her and was delighted to meet him when he came to Huntsville, AL, to meet her family/friends there.
For many years now, Dot and I have begun our mornings exchanging short e-mails reporting how much sleep we’d just gotten, sharing fun or odious things ahead of us in a day, debating about how important the man-ness of Jesus is to each of our Christian faith lives, screaming about Republican politicians with ideas stuck in a hard past we both recognize for the racist morass it is. While I remembered her bout with kidney cancer some twenty years ago, I was still unprepared for it to recur a few years ago, this time in her trachea/lungs. Dot was so. pleased that the oncologist who had successfully handled the original cancer was still in practice, so she began undergoing chemotherapy with his caring oversight. As I watched from a distance as my dear friend’s energy to exercise and get her “steps” every day waned, I just prayed the drugs would stop the cells from growing. About two months ago, her doctor stopped treating the tracheal cancer because that treatment wasn’t working. So he returned to finding drugs developed to address advanced kidney cancer. These had horrible side effects that debilitated Dot, leaving her exhausted physically and emotionally. About a month ago, she stopped all treatment and enrolled in a hospice program, giving up her apartment in order to move in with her younger daughter since it was getting harder for Dot to feel safe alone, especially at night.
This morning, I learned that my beloved friend had finally been able to slip away quietly, ending the very hard ordeal that led to her death. Needless to say, Dot’s dying leaves a serious hole in my heart. Now no one alive has known me as long as she has, so there is the inevitable loss of shared stories from college days when we were both very “bad girls” right up to the present when she was known to tell her minister when his sermons were sanctimonious or just boring, or to help me control my rage at the latest absurdity in national politics. But this is not about what I’m losing. It’s about rejoicing that my friend is finally free of struggle and pain. I gather from her daughters that her passing was as quiet as her last few weeks had been otherwise. So I can only be glad for her. And in an e-mail to some of my close friends who have been supportive of me as I tried to walk this last leg with Dot, I rattled off the first descriptive adjectives I associate with Dot. They are the title here and I am so grateful to have had all these decades to experience each of them coming from her with such energy and ease–feisty and generous, wise and funny and loving. Safe passage, dearest friend, to wherever you’re going next.