Bad News is Best Heard at Home.

Posted on
Apr 8, 2013

Some things, particularly those that are sad or difficult or heartbreaking, are best heard when you’re at home.

Rand and I got back into town yesterday afternoon, and felt that peculiar brand of jetlag that so rarely afflicts those who live on the west coast of the U.S.; after nearly two weeks in Australia, our internal clocks were running behind.

After a painfully long flight from Sydney, and another two-hour hop from LAX to home, I had no idea what time it was when we landed. The numbers on the clock were meaningless, bearing no relation to me. I wandered around the house in a daze, exhausted, but too wired to actually nap. For a while, I just curled up on our bed, shivering from jetlag and somewhat delirious, and Rand started piling all manner of blankets and sweatshirts on top of me.

After unpacking (which mostly involved depositing the contents of my suitcase into the dirty laundry hamper), I made a halfhearted utterance that maybe I should go workout in an effort to get back on Seattle time. Rand, treading carefully, for he’s learned not to sound too encouraging when I suggest exercising, said simply that it might make me feel better.

So I heaved my slightly-sunburned, chronologically displaced, and thoroughly exhausted frame out into the chilly mist of a Seattle spring afternoon, and went for a run. And as much as I hate running, and as much as I hate running in the cold, particularly when I’m tired and shaky and kind of nauseated by too many hours on a plane, it was lovely.

Seattle has a particular smell to it, which I can’t detect after I’ve been here for more than a few days consecutively. But whenever I return home after being away for a few weeks, it hits: the air smells like wood and rain and, if you are in the right part of town and the wind is blowing just so, like the sea.

I ran down streets lined with old, palatial homes that loomed against the grey sky, all the way to the park. The sky was uniquely northwestern: the sun was shining through a haze of high clouds, the horizon was a dark blue-grey, and there was a faint rain – not fat drops falling from the sky, but more a haze of water that seemed to hang in the air and accumulate on your skin and clothes as you walked through it.

A squirrel saw me running along a path and stopped, abruptly, to check me out on its hind legs. I stopped, too, and stared at him. I waved at him. The squirrel’s head darted to the side to follow the movement of my arm. I waved my other hand, and the squirrel’s head darted back to the other side. I continued to wave, first with one hand, then the other, watching it slowly shake its head back and forth.

I ran up and down the muddy paths, across the wet grass, and back to our place, feeling that strange appreciation for a place that you can only get when you’ve been away from it a while.

I was, I realized, grateful to be home.

Rand and I ate dinner in, then drowsily headed to our respective computers, determined to get a bit of work done before Monday. Ready to sit in front of a monitor, but not quite ready to think, I headed to Facebook. My newsfeed revealed that an old friend of mine had passed away that morning from brain cancer.

I’d bumped into him last month at my neurologist’s office, but hadn’t really seen him since this past September, when I drove him to treatment once or twice. We talked during the drive to the hospital – mostly gallows humor – about tumors and cancer and high school and growing older. We’ve mostly lost touch since high school, reconnecting only recently. During my last few trips, I kept thinking that I should contact him when I got back into town.

I should send him an email, I thought. Or stop by. Or something.

God damn hindsight. It’s always 20-20, always so crystal clear – the things we should have done and should have said. I’m sorry I wasn’t home more. Sorry I didn’t have the presence of mind to reach out more.

Mixed in with all that regret and sadness is a feeling of incredible gratitude – that I got to know him in the first place, got to spend time with him in recent months, and that I’m back in Seattle this week, so I can say goodbye properly.

Leave a Comment

  • Good friends are so hard to lose. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Janet T

    when i used to fly to Taiwan, I’d leave on Sunday night and get there Tuesday morning- and usually got back to LA um… before the time I left Taiwan on the return trip. The international date line is like a mini time travel machine- and plays havoc with you.

    I’m sorry about the loss of your friend- our thoughts are with you.

  • Beth

    I am sorry to read about the loss of your friend.

    I know that it isn’t the point of the post, but the fact that you went running on the day you got back from Australia makes you a hero in my book.

  • Really good post and another wonderful reminder that there is no tomorrow. So, we have to cherish today every second we can. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.

  • Bran

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and have been encompassed by them since I first read about your Steve. I have checked the site every day since then. This past Friday at noon, I had hoped I would find your “The Week,” and random thoughts and links to peruse (your Rands, I like to call them). This one was not what I expected. Don’t bully yourself about what you should have done, think more about what you did do. I am sure your friend found consolation in your conversations, however fleeting they might seem to you now, about said tumor, cancer, and high school during such an intense time for both of you. I look forward to your musings every day. Thank you for it all and please keep them coming. It’s not only your friend who found something in what you have said, and will say.

  • I’m really sorry to hear about your friend. And how amazing is it that you drove him to treatment. That’s wonderful of you, and don’t even try to just slip it in there like it’s nothing. It takes a certain sort to be there for someone like that. Not everybody can do it.

  • TheOtherLisa

    Not Chad? Was it Chad?

    • Everywhereist

      No, it wasn’t – I emailed with Chad last week and he seems to be doing well (I actually owe him another email). This was another friend of mine who I’ve known since high school.

      • TheOtherLisa

        He just hasn’t updated in a while. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.

  • I am sorry for your loss. My mom passed away from cancer almost 10 years ago and although I was by her side when it happened there are still a million things I would love to be able to say to her still to this day. It is never easy to loose anyone you care about. Keep your friend in your thoughts and know that he is in a better place.

    • Everywhereist

      Oh, goodness, Brittany, I’m sorry for your loss!

  • Sorry for your loss.

  • Sorry to hear about your loss.

  • Kevin

    I was lucky: I was able to say at least some of the things I wanted to my Dad before he died. However, that’s been the only time: I’ve missed too many other chances. Know all to well what that feels like…

    Sorry.

  • I completely agree; bad news is best heard at home.

    • rut roh, why is my name linking to one of those fake websites? How horrid!

  • RiderWriter

    I’m sorry for your loss as well. Beautiful description of your beloved city, though it does fit in with the melancholy tone of your post on this occasion.

    Glad someone else asked if it was Chad. I think of him when I read your blog, and the whenever I see something in the media about ObamaCare, but I have misplaced his blog address. Can you please tell me again? Thanks.

    Hope you get to stay home for a little while now! As much as I like to travel I can’t imagine almost back-to-back London and Sydney trips. Yikes.

  • Anisa

    So sorry for your loss.
    Kudos to you for going out and running while being severely jet lagged. I am useless when I am jet lagged. Especially after such a major time change. I struggle when we have daylight savings time change! It was cool though, coming back from New Zealand and getting home before we even left.

  • I am so sorry to hear about your loss but also understand your gratitude. One of the toughest things about living overseas is not being there to properly say goodbye. Skype is fine for the “until we meet again” but to say the forever goodbye over my webcam sucked to put it mildly.

  • Sarah

    I am so sorry for your loss :(.

    I just experienced something similar. My friend from high school lost his battle with skin cancer on April 1st. It was such a shock, he was doing better, even at work two days before. I too had meant to call him, we’d been chatting on facebook and I had kept meaning to get in touch. We lived 4 provinces away from each other and because things were going well I thought I had time. Although we’d only see each other once a year or so he was one of those people who just made you laugh and feel at ease – like we’d had coffee a week, rather than a year ago.

    I am trying to mix the shock of the loss and my guilt at not making time to call with happy memories of him and his wonderful spirit. Like you said, the gratitude of having had such a wonderful friend.

  • Debra

    Im sorry for the loss of your friend. I found out the death of a friend while I was on a ship discharging cargo in Ghana, I wish I was at home when I heard. Every year his friends from college and his friends from highschool get together and play a football or softball in his memory. I think it is a wonderful way to remember him but I think it also helped us all heal. Maybe you could do something similar as a ways of remembering him, or raise money if he had any unpaid debts or a charity donation in his honor.

  • May he rest in peace and you find solace in being able to say good bye! You conveyed a very important message in the last paragraph of this post, esp. about the gratitude of having had the opportunity to get to know him and spend time with him in the last months. Experience has it, that at times people back out in their contact with tumor/cancer patients not knowing what to say or not having the courage. I think the most important message is: just spend time with them as you would do normally- they are not (only) their disease, they still are your friends, your colleagues, your relatives or family and being as normal as possible, is the best you can give them. Be your normal self and let them be their normal self. They will let you know, if they wish special care, let them know, that they can count on you!

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