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My friend died today. I just want to say that out loud. Because, you see, this has been coming for some time now and I’m trying to realize that her cancer is over. Her initial diagnosis was 3 1/2 years ago and, on the one hand, I’m grateful. Her original prognosis was 2 1/2 years. She beat the estimates by almost half again as much, which
is was just like her. She enjoys enjoyed surprising people by beating their expectations. I’m grateful for that extra year. On the other hand, there have been terrible, dreadful times of pain and sickness, particularly these last few months. I wish she had been spared the daily radiation and its consequences. Journeying with someone through illness is such a confusing mish-mash of conflicting emotions….really high hopes for healing tempered with the reality that most women with Stage IV breast cancer don’t survive. As far as statistics are concerned, my friend has now joined the ranks of those who didn’t survive. She knew it would take a miracle. There were days when she confidently spoke of her belief that God would heal her. And there were days when she knew that she was too tired and too sick to continue living.
I was talking with someone today about the last picture of a person you carry in your mind. I don’t want to only remember my friend as she looked this past year. First of all, she would hate that. She’d much rather be remembered with hair! More importantly, she was never one to sit still for too long, so remembering her confined to her bed doesn’t capture who she was. My favourite memories of her include sitting up all night playing Diablo in the LAN room of the gaming company where she worked. (The fact that we were playing in a LAN room gives you some idea how many years ago this was.) We’d have sushi, then stop by the Chinese bakery for middle of the night snacks and head to her office. On more than one occasion, after battling the minions of darkness all night, I’d watch the sun coming up on my drive home. I’ll always enjoy the memories of St. Patrick’s Days spent eating corned beef and cabbage and watching Irish movies. The Quiet Man was a frequent choice providing endless memorable quotes, although in the past few years Waking Ned Devine became one of our favourites. Another memory which captures some of the best of who she
is was happened during the time she worked in one of the high rise buildings in San Francisco. She was at work the day a gunman entered the building where she worked and killed eight people, wounding several others. I remember her story of finding a desk to hide under, and making sure the others in her office were safe, as well. In typical fashion, she made light of the experience by emphasizing the fact that she was the one who found the bottle of whiskey and brought it under the desk so everyone could have a drink to help calm their fears. Wherever she went, she injected life into those around her!
My friend died today and I’m feeling more than a little sad for myself. I know this isn’t unusual for those who are grieving a loss. I know it’s natural to focus on what is lost. Ours
is was the longest friendship I have ever had. I’m more than half way through my life. It’s unlikely that I will have the time and opportunity to establish another friendship similar in length and depth to this one. I have other friendships, friends and family I love dearly, but I will not deny the loss I feel.
My friend ardently believed that God never “breaks a bruised reed” or “snuffs out a smoldering wick” (Isaiah 42:3). She
has had a wonderful capacity for welcoming the bruised and the broken. Even through her painful, final months, she was focused on communicating the mercy and grace of God. She continued to meet weekly with the small congregation she led because she ardently wanted to see them experience the depths of relationship that are possible with God who loves us unconditionally.
My friend died today and with her death she has continued to teach me something about how to live. Throughout her illness she lived her life the way she always had. She continued to be the same person. She never pretended that she wasn’t in pain or ill, yet she somehow still managed to encourage those around her that God loves unconditionally and eternally. In a world desperately seeking authenticity, my friend was one of the most unpretentious and real people I’ve ever met. May she rest in God’s presence.