On the last day of January, I lost a friend. Cancer took her in the prime of life, at age 45. Just seven days before she succumbed, I sat at her side, trying to tell her what she meant to me.

Cedwyn was the life of the party. Wherever she went instantly became the place to be.

But she was more than that. Her fun-loving nature was also about generosity.

Cedwyn had a natural way of including everyone around her. She gave others permission to be themselves, and to be embraced for it instead of judged. When you were with her, your jokes were funny, your ideas were interesting, and you were lovable.

She was youthful without being childish. She never confused being free-spirited with being irresponsible or inconsiderate.

And she was endlessly loyal. Her affection for those around her didn’t end after she left the room. Once she counted you among her friends, you were always invited, wherever she was going.

Quilt for Cedwyn

A quilt for Cedwyn made by her friends.

Before she fell ill, I never put this into words. Sure, I jumped at the chance to hang out with Cedwyn whenever possible. I cared about her. Hopefully, I left no doubt about my affection.

But I never told her how very much she mattered to me. Or why.

So one week before she died, I found myself at her bedside, trying to bring some comfort to a friend suffering from acute pain. The cancer was eating her alive and already in her brain. Sometimes she was lucid and coherent and really her old self, and other times she wasn’t.

Cedwyn was awake when I began attempting to put my feelings into words. And then she wasn’t. I hope she heard what I said. I teared up as I spoke.

Why was it so difficult? Was it my own vulnerability?

I knew that the loyal, loving friend I’d flown halfway across the country to visit wouldn’t reject me. But what if I’d blown it? What if I missed this chance?

At first, I thought to myself: We should all tell our loved ones how we feel about them before they die.

Then, another thought struck me: Wait a second, wouldn’t it be better if we told our loved ones how we felt immediately, so they could live with that knowledge during their lives?

They say that actions speak louder than words. In this case, my action was dropping everything and flying halfway across the country to visit a dying friend.

I sat with her. I played her some of her favorite Grateful Dead tunes and we sang along together. I respected her wishes and didn’t talk about cancer. I did what I could.

Sometimes, we need to add words to our actions. When those words have to do with emotions, they can be hard to find. Saying them out loud can make you feel vulnerable. Or scared.

In the end, it’s worth the effort. The people most special to you deserve to go through life knowing how very loved they are, and why. Please don’t hold back on your feelings to those you love.

Never wait for a tragedy like cancer to open your heart.

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Jill Richardson

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix ItOtherWords.org.

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