The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Little Green Light

by Allison BreiningerCaregiverApril 13, 2020View more posts from Allison Breininger

Little Green Light

This piece originally appeared on

We chatted so often via Facebook Messenger that her name took up residence at the top of my contacts list, the algorithms noticing the trend and adapting accordingly to support our habit.

Even on the days we didn’t talk, seeing her tiny portrait shining at me from the right side of my screen made me smile. She, the crown, resting on top of a long list of Facebook friends, each of whom I had spent more time with in-person than her.

Being online was a lifeline for her, especially as the illness progressed and her energy decreased. And so I came to expect that every time I logged on, I would be greeted by the little green circle to the right of her name, illumined, the online version of leaving on the front porch light.

That green light became a comfort to me. It was a signal that she was there, available, ready to chat. When I clicked her name and began to type I knew what to expect. Without fail, she would be excited to hear from me, quick to send the perfect GIF to match my day, and even faster to change the subject back to how things were at my house, with my husband’s health, when I attempted to inquire about her.

In those conversations nothing was off limits. When you’ve only ever seen a person wearing a hospital gown, you tend to skip the pleasantries and get right to the stuff that matters. She’d talk about how much pain she was in, how scared she was, how she didn’t understand why any of this was happening. I talked about how ready I was for my husband’s hospitalization to be over, how worried I was about a newly spiked fever, and about how some things aren’t meant to be understood. There was a lot of swearing, from whom I will not disclose. Full conversations were had using only GIFs, as those were frequently better able to express the complex feelings we were both having than words ever could. Every chat ended with declarations of love and hopes that one of these days she and my husband would both be healthy enough for us to see each other somewhere other than the hospital.

On June 22, I received a different kind of communication from my friend, one without GIFs or profanity. A CaringBridge update appeared in my Inbox. In it, she explained that the cancer had spread and that she had been placed on hospice. Reading these words caused the air in my lungs to leave me, my response to shock mirroring, on a minuscule scale, the symptoms she was currently experiencing.

I went immediately to Facebook in search of the little green light, willing it to tell me my friend was still with me. There it was, gleaming brightly, it and her photo creating bookends for her name, still at the top of my list. I clicked and began to type. I told her what she means to us, that we love her, that I thank God for bringing her into our lives, that I hoped that her end would be the peaceful one for which she had been praying.

And then, when words were no longer sufficient, as they so often aren’t, I reverted to our shared love language: GIFs. I started sending GIFs in the categories of hugs and friendship and love, typing and clicking so urgently that some didn’t even make sense and then required a garbled apology before sending another. I tried to will those GIFs to reach through the wires to my friend. I pictured them flying down highway 94 westbound, covering the ninety miles between us, until she could feel without a doubt that she was loved, that her presence had brightened our lives, that I didn’t understand why this was happening either, but that I was glad we’d found each other in the midst of the mess.

I stared at my sent messages, waiting for the check mark, the word “Seen” and the timestamp to appear, confirmations that her eyes had taken in my words, my GIFs, my love. But moments later, the green light went off.

The next day another CaringBridge update appeared and seeing it made me breathe a sigh of relief, anxious to read her words and to know she was still with us. But the words were not hers. They were her husband’s, telling the world that she was gone.

I was lying in bed when I read this and in that moment of grief and disbelief, I uncharacteristically threw my phone across the room, my hand unable to physically touch anything that carried such a message.

But moments later I scrambled to retrieve it. I logged quickly on to Facebook and there, next to her name was empty space. I barely recognized her name without the green circle. I clicked on our conversation thread. My final expressions of love had not been seen.

In the days since, I have found myself instinctively looking to the top of the list every time I go online. Her name is starting to drop in the rankings due to inactivity and I can’t imagine the day when her name no longer appears, smiling at me from the right side of my screen.

While writing this, I logged on to Facebook so I could see where her name landed on the list today. When I looked, there, to the right of her name, was the little green light, illumined once again. I audibly gasped, hit refresh, rubbed my eyes. It remained lit. Disbelieving, I clicked on her name and there, at the bottom of our conversation thread, was a check mark, the word “Seen” and a timestamp from that very minute.

I am quite certain that what I experienced in that moment was her husband or children logging on to her account to read messages such as mine that had, undoubtedly, come pouring in. But I will never ask them if that was the case.

Instead, I will be grateful that those brief moments online boosted her name to the top of my list once again, postponing even for a bit the day that it will disappear completely. Regardless of whose eyes actually took in my final love letter to my friend, there is no better word that I could choose to complete our final conversation than “Seen,” a word that perfectly describes the way she made me feel.         @negspacelife

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at


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