One year ago today, I was celebrating the fact that Running With Ghosts had just gone on sale when I received a message via Facebook from a Maryanne Gabriele. The name didn’t look familiar, but I went ahead and read it anyway.
She included a photo, along with the sentence, “That’s me and Melissa right before she was diagnosed.”
The first sentence gave of her message me chills. I knew of Maryanne, from my talks with Melissa’s mom, Louise. But I had never pushed further, never tried to get in touch with her. It was a lapse in my reporting, because if I had, I would have learned so much more about Melissa. But I was also leery about reaching out to another stranger and asking them to talk to me about someone who had died so long ago. I told myself that I didn’t really have time; that I had to get the book done and that was that.
I read Maryanne’s message a couple times, thinking that she must have sent it because she knew Running With Ghosts had just come out. But there was nothing in the message saying anything about the book, and I realized that she probably didn’t know about it, which made her message to me, on that day, all the more incredible.
I still don’t know what to make of the randomness of Maryanne reaching out to me about a story I wrote about her best friend two years earlier, and having that message land in my inbox directly on the day that story became a book. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but Melissa did. She kept her faith even as her hours waned, a faith I gave up the moment I learned she had died. Melissa was also a planner extraordinaire. She planned her father’s 50th birthday party from her hospital bed. She planned her own funeral.
If anyone could ever pull something like this off twenty-four years after she died — somehow connecting the best friend of her life with a kid she knew while battling cancer, all on the day that kid’s book came out, it would be her.