The cell phone vibrated, jolting my mind from its current preoccupation. We were in the car, riding the ferry over to Seattle, another doctor visit for my daughter.
I looked down at the display. 'Unknown' stared back at me. I really didn't feel like talking to anyone at the moment, especially to an 'unknown.' I waited briefly for the vibration to subside, and the quick chirping tone confirmed a message was left.
I punched the button for 'voice mail' and traveled back 3 years.
John and Jessica were a young couple very much in love. He was Navy and had recently been transferred to a boat at Bangor Subase. They wanted to make the Kitsap Peninsula home. That's where I came in. I had the good fortune of of being on floor the day they walked into our office.
I liked them immediately. Jessica was bright, full of laughter and life. John played the serious one. They had some specific needs for a home. Jess had Cystic Fibrosis and required close proximity to doctors, hospitals, and regular physical therapy. We found a great house together and we had a blast doing it!
Jessica continued to stay in touch with me. Her letters and notes offering glimpses into their lives together. They also described the challenges and battles of her degenerative illness.
"Rich, this is John." The familiar voice was shaky, wavering. "Jessica died last night."
The air was sucked out of my lungs, like being punched in the stomach. No matter how much you know something is eventually coming, it never makes the reality any easier.
I drove to their house later that night. The house we had all bought together. I sat with John and listened to him tenderly relive Jessica's final moments. And I cried.
Early this morning, as I prepared for a regional training event, I found the last letter from Jessica. It was a Christmas card.
She wrote: "I was in the hospital for about a month, but I'm back home now. They put a tube into my stomach, but I'm still losing weight. I'm 82 pounds now, but I'm working on it! I need to get to 115 to be considered for a lung transplant. I can't really leave the house, but maybe you and your family can come over for dinner sometime, once the hectic holiday season is over? Have a great New Year! - Jessica -
I wish so desperately now that I had taken the time to stop by, to see her, to be there for her and John. But I allowed other things in life to get in the way.
I'll be there for John. But somehow, my concern seems ingenuous, cheap. It's a tough, painful lesson to learn.