A Probably Too Long Goodbye


Arthur’s note: I wrote most of this blog post five years ago, and I published it then. But the ending has changed, and I find myself revisiting the topic. I deal with stress and sadness in two ways – I eat or I write. And I’m not hungry.  Five years ago, when I started this story, I promised that it would be sad but not maudlin. I make no such guarantee as I sit at my laptop tonight.

I met Laura just before my sophomore year at Carolina. A lot of us had signed up to be orientation counselors that year. Out of character for me? Yeah. But we figured it would be a good way to meet chicks. And it got me out of SoBo a week earlier – always a good thing.

I can’t remember if she was in Greg’s group or not. But it didn’t really matter one way or another. Once they met, it was on.

I’ve written about Greg before, in this post about the cohort of friends I joined at Carolina. Greg is the one college friend I’ve stayed in touch with since graduation. And Laura became a good friend too. Although many of us who’d hung with Greg freshman year sometimes were jealous that he now spent nearly all his time with her. We got over it once we saw how happy she made him, of course.

After she graduated, Laura went to work at the Wilmington newspaper. I worked in Jacksonville, and she and Greg invited me down many times just to hang out. I made friends with some of the reporters Laura worked with, and they tried to recruit me. Trouble was, I never liked the paper, though I liked Laura’s and others’ work in it. I still don’t like it very much.

Anyway, I once went with Laura and Greg to her parents’ house in Hyattsville, Md. Laura’s dad had been a journalism prof at Ohio University until he left to be a vice president of something or other at The Washington Post. We’d gone up to see the Carolina-Maryland football game, but we squeezed in a side trip to the Post offices that Saturday morning.

Both publisher Katharine Graham and Bob Woodward were working that day. That should have scared me off journalism right there. Mr. Anderson, Laura’s father, introduced us to them. Mrs. G, as she was known around the office, was warm and seemed interested in us. (This is the same person of whom Nixon henchthug John Mitchell once said, during Watergate: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” Yes, that was our attorney general in those days.)

Woodward, on the other hand, could hardly have been more disinterested. He gave us a limp handshake and not much else. Still, it was a big thrill for a young journalist, and I’ve never forgotten it. The game – not so much. I think we lost on a late field goal. But what I know is that the hot dogs at Byrd Stadium – we called ’em Byrd dogs – were terrible.

I’d later go to Greg and Laura’s wedding and kept in touch once they moved to Charlotte. Greg was doing PR for a large Southern retailer at the time and Laura wound up at Price McNabb ad agency, now Eric Mower. When Karen and I moved to Gastonia in the ’90s, we’d occasionally run into them. Laura was smart and hard-working and she became a big-time exec there.

When we moved back to the Greater Charlotte area in 2000 after our three-year exile in Henderson, I renewed the friendship again, mostly with Greg. We’d go eat barbecue every month or so at Bill Spoon’s, and we always had a great time. He remains one of my favorite people, someone who is just as nuts about UNC as I am.

It was at one of those lunches in 2008 that he told me something that scared the crap out of me. Laura had an incident driving in Charlotte one day. Basically, she’d forgotten the way home. He was worried. So was I. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. I thought maybe she’d had a small stroke.

It happened a couple of other times. Later that year, she finally got the diagnosis: Early onset Alzheimer’s. She wasn’t even 50 years old.

Greg and I don’t see each other much anymore. He works in SouthPark, I work in Fort Mill. But we email back and forth occasionally, and I kept up off and on with Laura’s condition and her kids through those emails with my friend.

In addition to be smart and driven, Laura was courageous. I never knew of her ever complaining about her fate, indeed she blogged about it as long as she could. Without an ounce of self-pity. Her energies, and much of Greg’s, were devoted to working on behalf of Alzheimer’s. Her blog urged everyone to live life to the fullest.

Five years ago, Greg and Laura were the honorary chairpersons for the Charlotte Memory Walk fund-raiser on a beautiful November Saturday morning in SouthPark. Karen and I walked with them, and we made an all-too-small contribution to the cause. On that day, Laura vacillated between knowing who I was and introducing herself to me. I think it was the last time I saw her.

Greg emailed me last week. Laura had suffered a series of seizures and fallen into a coma. They told him she wouldn’t recover. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she’d asked that no extraordinary measures be taken.

Wednesday night, Laura lost her long fight. My heart aches for my friend. Her courage – and Greg’s, as he stood beside her every step of the way – inspires me. He spent nearly all of his time with her, as he had practically since the day he met her. And it still wasn’t enough.

I know there are a zillion causes out there, and I don’t want to denigrate any of them. But this one is special to me, because of my long friendship with one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Please keep Greg in your thoughts.

And for all of you, please live life to the fullest. Right now, not tomorrow. Love your partner. Right now. Hug your kids. Right now. There just aren’t enough tomorrows for everything we still need to do.

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Probably Too Long Goodbye

  1. Greg Mercer

    Arthur,
    Thank you for such a wonderful tribute to Laura. It helps knowing that so many people love and remember Laura as the vibrant, caring person she truly was.
    Over the past few weeks, everyone asked, “What can I do to help?” My response was always, “Tell me a story about Laura.” Your story about Laura brought back many wonderful memories and, for that, I’m truly grateful.
    Greg

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