I met her in college. 

She sat behind me in our Human Anatomy class. I was immediately drawn to her and we hit it off right away. She lived with her family and I lived on campus. Her parents were strict, so we had to be creative when we went out. I became the friend she never had. I dared her to be adventurous and feel the wind on her face. Those were the days we lived without a care in the world.

Alas, life happens, and we cannot reverse time. If I could, I would tell her how much I admired her innocence and envied her optimism. As we each graduated and got married, we kept in touch as best as we could. She moved up north, while I remained in North Carolina. We still had a couple of girls’ trips throughout the years with our college friends but nothing longer than a weekend. Baby showers replaced bar hopping, and then came children. We talked less on the phone and rarely made plans, although we both knew we would always remain in each other’s lives.

But a year and a half ago, things changed.

It was a cold day; my fingers were freezing as I grabbed my cell phone: A text from her husband. I wanted to throw up. She had stage two breast cancer. She was only 39 years old. They were lucky that she had self-examined and caught it early. The doctors were planning on starting treatment within the next few weeks.  I texted her and gave her encouragement. I was her fun friend, the friend who made her get a tattoo, which we were both supposed to get, but I chickened out last minute. She followed through with it as she was the brave one. Surely, I could make her smile. But nothing worked. 

I was persistent and finally, she called me back. She was halfway through chemo and was excited this “bump in the road,” as she called it, would all soon be over. We made plans to go away as soon as she regained her strength. When she was finished with the treatment, I visited her. I knew she would want time with her husband and family, so I did not bring up our trip. I ended up invading her home and bonded with her husband and young children.

It was the end of June when I received another text from her husband. The cancer was back, and it had spread to her liver.

She was starting chemotherapy and radiation very soon. They went into battle again. I was in constant contact with her husband. He was amazing and was doing his best to be there for her and their young children. I could not be prouder to know a man like him. But no matter how hard he tried and how hard she fought, fate had another plan.

I watched the funeral via live feed online. I willed him to perform the ceremonies that are custom before a Hindu wife can be cremated. She looked like a young bride, wearing her gold and red saree, just waiting for her husband after their wedding. Her husband was being held up by his brother in law. I cannot imagine the strength he needed to do this. Her dad could not stop crying. Her mother-in-law was kissing her forehead as if she gave birth to her herself. I have witnessed and attended many funerals, but this one will haunt me always.

I was able to visit her one last time before she passed on to her next journey. I promised her I would keep in touch with her husband and check in on her children. I would keep her life alive by writing down all the memories we shared. She fluttered her eyelids, trying to speak through the morphine. I stood there and held her hand until it was time for me to leave. I am so grateful that I was able to say goodbye.

A couple of weeks after the funeral, I mustered up the courage to finally get that tattoo we were supposed to get together in college.

I spoke to her while I sat there, the needle scraping against my skin. I told her I decided to get a lotus tattoo surrounded by the words be the light. Her name means light in Hindi. The lotus flower reminds me of her virtues that appeal to me: beauty, purity, resilience. The phrase be the light evokes the knowledge that she will always be my guiding light, helping me spread positivity everywhere I go. 

May we all strive to be the light on the darkest days and be resilient through life’s most challenging times.

Zeel Patel

Zeel Patel lives in North Carolina with her family and sweet puppy, Theodore Roosevelt. She works in healthcare but her passion is writing. When not working, you can find her volunteering at her kids' schools, typing away on her laptop, or reading well into the night. Her motivation comes from those who were not granted enough time to finish their story. Follow her on Twitter @zpatel24