Monday, May 5, 2008

The Passing of a Friend

Last week was a tough week, but help arrived. That could be the name of the game from here: times are tough, but help arrives.

A friend, who I have known since the 1980s, passed away from cancer a week and a half ago. We were "young marrieds" at the same time, attended the same church for years, had our kids at around the same time, used the same midwife, and spent alot of time together, years ago. In the more recent past, I had moved to another church, so we saw much less of one another. I learned that she had cancer before Katie was diagnosed; she had finished her treatment and, as far as I knew, was doing okay while we were in the hospital with Katie. My friend and her family attended Katie's Celebration of Life, and she reached out to me after that, sending a card that said she would like to talk. I wasn't up to talking to anyone at that time, and instead of calling, I sent a card back to her, with love.

Two Fridays ago, I received an email, telling me that my friend had passed away. I had not known that the cancer was back. I am sad, and sorry that I was not able to help.

Her family held a celebration of her life on Saturday, and though it was the last thing that I felt up to doing, I went (with my mother along for support). I don't know anyone who enjoys attending memorials. As I was driving to the celebration, I thought about turning the car around and going home, several times. I did not want to be in a crowd of mourners again, in a small community. Too much emotion and not enough privacy for this grieving mother. They did a beautiful job honoring her, but it was hard to be there. We sort of hid in a corner, and did the best we could with the "chat" that inevitably occurs in situations like that. I was, however, blessed by a conversation with her sister-in-law, and by the brief moment that I had with her husband (widower), so I want to acknowledge those graces, as well as the grace that my mother was willing to stand with me in that uncomfortable space.

I have been getting progressively sadder about her passing as the days go by. She was a gracious, sweet, funny, ladylike --yet unpretentious-- person. She was a devoted mother, and a gentle but strong soul. I don't know anyone quite like her.

I think that she and Katie will have found each other, where they are now.

During a walk the other day, I recalled a passage of scripture that I haven't thought about in a long time. It's Romans 5, vv. 3-5. Here is a bit of the Amplified Bible's interpretation:

Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.
And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character -- that is, approved faith and tried integrity. And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope...
Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.

I have heard/read these verses many times over the years, but all of a sudden, I felt as if they took on new significance, in light of what we (and many other families) have been through. In the past, I seem to have always taken Bible verses as teaching about things that I need to add, work at, try to do, etc. This verse suddenly became an explanation of WHAT IS, not what should be. Oh. That's a relief. I wonder how many times I have taken a Bible passage and "beaten myself" with it? What if it just IS a statement of a reality, of what happens, and we get to live into it and learn as we go? What if it is already IN us, by God's creation and gifting, and we just have to say, "Yes," in love, to Him, as we live? Then I am cooperating with God, as He develops my character through the circumstances of my life. There is not much else to be done, when you are faced with events and circumstances that you don't want, that you would avoid if you could...but cannot. As we said in the hospital, You have no choice, when looking down the barrel of a gun; you put your hands up and surrender. The gun, to me, is the situation that I want to avoid. The surrender is to the love of God, to the events themselves-- agreeing to go through them with the best, most loving and awake attitude that I can.

Looking further on, in Romans 8:28, in a different translation: God cooperates with those who love by turning everything to their own good.

Here is hope: assuming that I will stumble, fall, and rise again, and trying to forgive myself (and others), accepting that it is part of my human be-ing to make mistakes, and that if I continue to live in love as best I can, God will work with me/in me to transform everything to good. Not that Katie's or my friend's death will ever be good, but perhaps more that God can work good in my character, in my life, through my simple endurance of it.

I don't know, but my friend's passing has given me cause to wonder about it.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful and profound passage you have written! I came across your story through Caring Bridge and have been following your blog ever since. I deal with chronic pain on a daily basis and have found inspiration from your blog entries. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart.


Smileygirl said...

Sitting here with you Karen offering support. So sorry about your friend but amazed at your grace and strength to be there for her family even when you felt like turning around which would have been completely understandable.

Just "be" for a while, with whatever it is you're feeling. It's ok.

Patty said...

Karen - my sympathy at the loss of your friend. how difficult and brave of you to attend her service.
Romans 8:28 also has special meaning for our family. We used to say the cancer journey was "a beautiful experience right in the middle of a nightmare." Perhaps that was not true for your family -Katie's cancer was so aggressive, so intense for the whole time. We felt though the cancer was so ugly, so horrible. But our suffering brought so much good in others - benefits, just all the praying a gazillion prayers by so many across the country and sending them before the throne of grace must have been so pleasing to our God. And people were so good to us and usually so blessed to just do something for Kelly to see her smile or be happy or have a respite from her illness.
i am missing kelly today so much. i am at peace with her passing - she fought so hard and still the cancer persisted, it was hard to see her try again. her cancer had even evolved so that she had a different type of leukemia going on too. it washes over me and subsides, washes over and subsides. i just let the tears roll and pray for comfort. It comes.
Your entries would be wonderful in book form. You have a gift Karen. Thanks for sharing with us.
Love in Christ