“There’s always time to check in,” my supervising physician told me the other day, offering to chat about a patient who was not doing well. Would it be unprofessional to tell her that my problem is wishing I’d checked in not with the patient, but with my friend who’s now gone forever?
He was an extremely talented artist and a sensitive soul, which made him a good friend. I moved years ago from Southern California, where he lived, to the Bay Area, but we kept in (distant) touch by texting, and I did get a drink with him once when I visited LA. When I was feeling insecure after another relationship didn’t work out, he told me, “You’re absolutely gorgeous, and you should know that.” He said things like that like he believed them, which made folks feel warm and more confident. He wore bright colors, danced his heart out, and once even went to a trapeze lesson with two other good friends and me.
About a year and a half ago, I got an anxious string of texts from him. He was worried about a hard bump in his hand. He was always drawing, so I figured it was a ganglion cyst, probably nothing to worry about. I reassured him but recommended a few hand surgeons. I told him about my work in geriatrics. He called me an angel. As it turned out, the lump in his hand wasn’t his real medical problem. I wish I’d been a real angel for him.
He’d always drunk socially when I knew him; I had no idea that, as one friend put it, he’d been medicating depression with alcohol, and that’s eventually what got to him. I wondered if the pandemic also got to him. If he hadn’t been alone in his studio so much, would he still be alive?
We were only close for a few years, but it’s the quality and not the quantity of the connection that stays with me. I suppose it’s human to feel guilt when someone you care about is gone forever, but I’m surprised how much I feel. I can’t help wondering: If I’d called instead of texted, if I’d checked in more, would it have made a difference?
I’ll never know, but now I feel it’s important to keep in mind the wisdom of my mentor: There is always time to check in.
Sara Lynne Wright
Mountain View, California