Twenty years ago, I worked at a university admissions office. My co-worker “Betty” and I spent a lot of time together—we ate meals together, went shopping together, visited each other’s homes, and shared confidences. After I left that job and moved away, our contact gradually tapered off; we last spoke about five years ago. Last week I received an alumni publication and noticed that Betty was receiving an award. The accompanying photos gave me a shock. She was shockingly thin, wore a hat or a scarf on her head in every photo, and generally looked as if she was suffering from a serious condition, although her health was not mentioned in the article. I want to call her to express my concern and have what might be a final conversation. I don’t know how to begin. I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t start with, “Gee, Betty, you look awful. What’s up?”
Ten years ago a childhood friend died of a brain tumor while I lived across the country and I didn’t find out until she was in hospice and unable to speak. She died a few days later and I still regret that I never could tell her what she meant to me. How do I approach this conversation with Betty? I should add that I only have her work number and usually get her voicemail.
—What to Say