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The Loss of a Dear Friend, Deb Ray

Published September 22, 2015 in Advice - 1 Comment

It’s taken me more than two weeks to write this. On Friday, September 4, Rebecca and I lost one of our closest friends, Deb Ray, after a very long battle with cancer.

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We met Deb when we were all working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and involved in the science fiction club there. Once, Deb called Rebecca at work, and Rebecca—thinking it was me—inadvertently answered the phone, “Hello, Sweetheart.” Henceforth, we always called her Sweetheart.

Deb suffered from increasingly difficult health issues and was, repeatedly, misdiagnosed as having Crohn’s Disease and treated for that without success, even though she really had a rare form of cancer, slow-growing carcinoid tumors. Actually, her symptoms were textbook carcinoid symptoms and the real disease could have been diagnosed with a $20 urine test, but nobody thought to do that or “waste” the $20. Finally, they did exploratory surgery, found the tumors, closed her up, and gave her five years to live.

That was almost 20 years ago. At the time, we were watching the final season of Babylon 5, in which the Bruce Boxleitner character saves the universe, but at the cost of most of his lifespan. He is given five years to live, and Deb remarked to me that she wished she knew she had five good years left. It turns out she did.

Rebecca and I moved out to Colorado, but we remained in touch. When her health was good for a while, she came out to visit us and spent a Christmas here. Other times, when my book tours took me to the Bay Area, we would always make a point to visit.

Deb was a constant telephone companion, and I made a habit of calling her on the drive home from all my epic hikes; we would talk for an hour or more as I told her about the mountain climb or the canyon exploration, and she experienced it vicariously.

Deb was my fan club president for years, and was always ready to do any emergency typing or to help send out mailings. She read all my books, and I even dedicated several to her. We could talk about TV shows, books, authors, comics, politics, and it was endlessly fascinating. She loved the Dan Shamble books and always got a draft manuscript. Her favorite was Clockwork Angels, but her condition had degenerated so severely over the past few years that she couldn’t read anymore. Her eyes were too bad.

She was especially excited when I told her we were working on Clockwork Lives, and even though she couldn’t read it, I told her the full story, from the idea to the final, and brought her to tears. We wept together over the loss of our pets when Rebecca and I lost Tycho, then Curie, then Linus, and Deb did the same when she lost Frankie (unexpectedly) and Faith after a long illness.

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But in the last year she was clearly fading, too tired to talk long on the phone, and sometimes on too many pain meds to be able to hold her concentration. Just last month, Rebecca and I put our other plans aside and flew out to visit her, just to be sure we could be there. The cancer had done its terrible work on her, and she had lost a great deal of weight, but we sat at her side, even though she only had the strength for visitors for an hour at a time.

For the Labor Day weekend, Rebecca and I went out to DragonCon in Atlanta. The night before we left, Deb called for a last conversation with Rebecca, but I wasn’t home. When we got to Atlanta the next evening, and we had gone out with some friends to a restaurant, my phone rang, and it was Deb. I went outside, because the restaurant was noisy. She was very tired and distant with pain killers, but she wanted to talk to me. She told me she loved me and made a point of saying goodbye. She went to sleep and passed away a few hours later.

Right now there is a sad hole in our hearts, but only because Deb was such a big part of our lives. We love you, and miss you, and remember you.

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