MY LAST memory of her was not of someone dying of cancer. She was in her usual element — smiling, bubbly, beautifully dressed, well made-up, smelling like roses. Beside her, I looked like I was the one wasting away.

When you’re told you only have a few months to live — maybe six months at the most — how do you stay gracious? How do you find the strength to see your friends and smile and talk like it might not be the last time you see each other?

She said she accepted her fate. She had led a good life. I marveled at her courage. I knew, in her shoes, I could never be as gracious or brave.

Three years ago, when I was told I needed surgery to remove a “suspiciously malignant tumor,” I moped for weeks. I couldn’t eat. I would sit at my desk and stare at my computer screen. And then I would crawl into bed each night and cry myself to sleep.

And yet here she was — with a big smile on her face, looking ready to host a party, regaling us with her stories then casually telling us of her grim prognosis. Then, I didn’t even have my malignancy confirmed. Yet. And I no longer wanted to get up in the morning.

But she was brave and strong. And in those last precious moments — I aspired to be her. I hoped that one day, faced with such a prognosis, I could have the strength to smile, the courage to see my friends and the grace to accept my fate.

One last tight hug. And that was it. We didn’t know Covid-19 would overtake our lives. We didn’t know we would never see her again. In the months that followed, we kept tabs on her. When her health started to deteriorate, all we could do was pray and hold on to our last memory of her.

“When does the heaviness in your heart go away,” someone asked me recently.

I don’t know. Because, for me, it’s still there. I mean, it’s not there 24/7 but it’s there. I will never get over the loss of my mother. But I don’t mean that I will never move forward. I mean — I am moving forward — but changed forever.

I don’t think it ever goes away — the pain of losing someone you love. Through time, however, you learn to manage your pain by focusing not on what you have lost but on what you still have.

So accept your loss and honor your pain. Be grateful for the love you had. But why do we have to lose someone forever to realize rather belatedly that we were loved far more than we ever knew? In the end, you will find that it is not your love for them but their love for you that will give you the strength and the courage to move on.

My last memory of my friend was not of someone dying of cancer. It was of someone spending the last days of her life as she lived every day of her life — with smiles, stories and sweet treats for her friends.

I will miss you forever. But I will hold on to the love and the laughter.