by Joanne Cogner
I painted this painting for my friend, Cynthia. In July of 2019 I had the privilege of stepping out of the life I was living to begin caring for her as she went through her cancer treatments. July through December of that year, there were few days I did not see her – no days that I did not speak to her or text her.
I was in seventh heaven – aside from the cancer – I was spending a lot of time with someone I adored, and I always thought that she would be fine and beat this cancer no one ever really gave a name to. I shopped for her, and cleaned, and made sure she was eating. I went to each of her treatments and annoyed her and made her laugh and was there to bring her anything she needed or wanted. I would have brought her anything she needed and everything she ever wanted. I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat if it had been possible.
Cynthia and I met when she was my very first college instructor. I was 45 years old and did not know a single thing about college. I had signed up for her 200-level class completely unqualified and had convinced by the end of the class to let me stay. She was my first and my favorite instructor. Demanding and funny. Smart and curious. Generous beyond reason. For 17 years from that first day in her class to the moment I held her hand as she died, we built a friendship of incredible substance. A friendship that prepared us for the year and a half that would bring very bad news and change everything, forever. I cried for the first time in her presence when I realized we both knew that the time would be soon. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just love you so much. I don’t want this.” I said from down the hall when I had gone to try and hide the weeping.
Even though there was illness, it had come so fast; it left a lot unsettled and unprepared. It was the hospital for her and the hope of a hospice transfer, it was a hurricane for me as raging winds come busting through all the windows and took her away in days – not weeks or months – hours, really. It was just hours from the time we knew to the time I sat next to her wearing my mask and shield and counted out her last breaths until she was gone.
She was my friend. Our years were rich and meaningful and just a lot of fun. We laughed a lot – even during her chemotherapy we laughed a lot. There are 100 stories I could tell you about the 15 years we were dear to each other. Each of those stories would only serve to understand my broken heart and how, at my age, it will never be healed enough to say it is. I don’t ever want it to be healed enough to say that it is.
Cynthia’s painting was #12 in my series of 100 paintings I am painting for the friends who got me through a lot of stuff. I have painted 25, so far, and keep working at it even as new friends come. New friends who get me through new stuff.
Cynthia had some role in getting me through most of all my stuff since the day she met me. She asked for poppies and she wanted orange and she wanted it to look like a stained-glass window. I did my best and she seemed to really love it. I was able to have it back after she died, but I have not gotten up enough tough to hang it, yet. But I pull it out and look at it often. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it,” is what I say out loud when I do.