The Friend Who Saved My Life: Tales of Unwavering Friendship
Heart to Heart: After Losing a Husband
"Nothing prepares you for the news that your husband has cancer," says Caroline Crawford. "Alan was 42, I was 31, and we had a 7-month-old son, Carl. That was five years ago. The diagnosis was lymphoma of the central nervous system.
"Thankfully, my best friend, Geri Ann Higgins, was there to help get me through it. We had been friends ever since we met at Goucher College, in Baltimore. After our 1991 graduation, she moved to Burlington, Vermont, near where she had grown up, and I moved to New York City, but two years later I needed a fresh start and called to ask if she wanted a roommate. I moved in and pretty soon we both had boyfriends. We got married just months apart, in 1996. I had a wonderful husband in Alan, but I was concerned for Geri Ann. I just didn't think she and her husband were a good match. And I was right.
"Geri Ann eventually confided in me that even though she was trying to make her marriage work, it just wasn't. It was very hard on her emotionally and Alan supported her just as much as I did. I'd come home and find him comforting her while she sat on our couch and cried. Finally Geri Ann got divorced, early in 2001. Not long after that, in February, Alan got his diagnosis. I couldn't bring myself to tell people, so Geri Ann spread the word. Everyone was great. But Geri Ann was the best. When you've known someone that long, you don't need to talk, or even ask for help. When Alan was undergoing chemotherapy, she organized friends to buy groceries for me, helped with my housework, and made sure there was someone home with Alan when I couldn't be. Basically, she was the point person. Anytime anyone asked how they could help, I said, 'Call Geri Ann.' It was just so exhausting for me to try to deal with it all.
"Before Alan started treatment, he banked his sperm. Seven weeks into treatment, he felt well enough to go back to work as a photographer. We were ecstatic. A year later, because we knew Alan's condition might not improve, I went for intrauterine insemination in the hopes that he might see his child before he died and got pregnant on the first try."
"I called Geri Ann, and then I called my parents and our friends. I was so excited and Alan was beside himself. That mood lasted all of one month before Alan's doctor told us that he had only a few more weeks to live. At that point the best choice was for him to be in a hospice. Now I had a husband who was dying and a toddler -- and I was pregnant. But Geri Ann was there and she said, 'I'll take care of everything.' And she did, once again running errands, buying groceries, and babysitting.
"Alan died in September 2002. The hospice called me at 8 p.m. Geri Ann came and stayed all night to look after things while I was away. Alan was conscious to the end. He died at 12:30 a.m. with me at his side. When I got home at 4 a.m., Geri Ann was there. I didn't have to walk into an empty house. I didn't have to be alone. I can't tell you what that meant."
"Six months later I gave birth to my daughter, Elizabeth. Once again Geri Ann called everybody but this time with good news. Elizabeth was baptized on what would have been Alan's and my seventh wedding anniversary, April 27, 2003. And Geri Ann is Elizabeth's godmother."
"Now Geri Ann has some good news of her own. She was married in May 2005 to a sweet, kind man. We see each other often and she's very involved with my kids. When they get older, I'll tell them how deep my friendship with Geri Ann goes and why. Alan would like that. There's a photograph of him in the children's room, smiling in the sunshine. None of us will ever forget him for a moment."