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Through Their Deaths, She Saw How Dear Life Is

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For each in turn, I cried for their unborn children. And now that they’re gone, I cry for everything that they were cheated of. It’s all out of order. They weren’t supposed to go so soon.

This summer, I lost two dear friends to cancer--two strong, courageous women. I say women because they went through so much more than the rest of our group; we didn’t even consider ourselves women yet. I’m 22 and still in college, not ready for life’s harsh lessons. But we don’t always get to make that call.

Angela died in early June. I’d known her since junior high. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer more than a year and a half ago. She was beautiful and vibrant, and just missed her 22nd birthday by two months. In her coffin lay a model of her dream car--the VW Beetle--her favorite book and her favorite stuffed animal--a Pound Puppy--and among the flowers lay a huge Patrick the Pup toy and a big teddy bear.

She never asked why it had to be her, though so many of us close to her did. She never got angry when people stared at her hairless head or leered at the oxygen mask she had to wear when we went to the mall. She was always prone to giggling and making the serious seem lighthearted. I remember when she would use Marinol. The medicinal marijuana made her very happy, she would tease, warning me not to tell her any secrets--she just might spread them around.

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Her amazing, upbeat attitude continued even in her last days. I remember placing a stuffed doggy in her hand. And beautiful Angela, with tubes all over her body and her eyes barely open from the pain, asked me: “Is this the dog’s butt?” So, I flipped the doggy over. She was always silly like that.

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At the funeral, the pastor said that Angela was a wonderful usher, and she would have wanted to be the one to go first, the one to welcome us all into heaven. But I felt it was unfair to ask her to carry that responsibility. There was still so much left to do.

Linda died just this month. She lived on my dorm floor during my freshman year at UC Berkeley and was supposed to be my sophomore roommate. That is, until she was diagnosed with leukemia that summer at 19 years old. That was three years ago.

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She was all smiles and a warrior in everything. While she was sick, she used to tell me how lucky we were to take finals. Imagine that! The bane of every student’s existence, and she wanted to be able to take them again. She saw the value of everything and found life beautiful.

Her sister says that Linda’s going to be reincarnated in 49 days. The Chinese consider seven to be a lucky number, and 49 is seven squared--so double the luck. The funeral was infused with Chinese traditions and Buddhist beliefs. The family gave each of us in attendance a small envelope containing a piece of candy and 15 cents to buy more candy to sweeten the situation. We bowed three times and offered incense and flowers to Linda. Around Linda’s picture lay her favorite foods for her spirit to enjoy. The family also gave us a piece of red string, which represents good luck--and maybe even a shared bond among everyone there.

We burned fake money as an offering for Linda to use on her passage to the next life.

It’s still hard to accept their deaths. It’s not like we are all plump grandmas with lots of grandchildren running around and years full of our deeds and shared wisdom behind us. We are still kids grieving for fellow kids. Yet, Linda and Angela did leave a legacy, of sorts--not of time, but a legacy of changing lives. At the funeral, Linda’s little brother said that she was the smartest one of all five siblings. He wanted her to change the world, but she had time only to change our world.

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Linda and Angela made every day count. They showed us the beauty of life and how to stay positive. When they left, I felt like chunks of me had left as well, little things that reminded me of them--some music, some movies, some jokes. I thought of how Angela and I had cracked up laughing at the Disney store when we saw a bath scrubby with a Cinderella head stuck on the end. I thought of how Linda always dumped on the cottage cheese on her salad at dinner in the dorm cafeteria, and of how we planned to fill this summer with outings.

They taught us to be better people simply by smiling through what fate had dealt them. They wanted only the simple pleasures we took for granted.

When Angela left, I cried out, “Why couldn’t it have been me?” Can’t I just give her some years off my life? Now that my friend Linda is gone too, I realize life is so precious. It’s as though every 24 hours, we are handed 24 dollars. We can squander it all in one shot or slowly enjoy every cent.

Linda and Angela touched hearts, and I can only hope from their lives that I learn to do the same. I know that in this way, their spirits live on. Angela didn’t know it, but I wanted her to be a bridesmaid at my wedding someday. There will still be a seat for her there.

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Marian Liu can be reached at marian.liu@latimes.com.


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