And then my phone rang. It was another very dear friend, the one who accompanied me to more healing therapy sessions than anyone else.
The news was bad - another friend of mine, Arlene, died yesterday.
My eyes immediately filled with tears and my heart with sadness.
I met Arlene last year on Halloween when she and her husband attended a class I was teaching at church about joy. Between the first and second classes in that series, I received the diagnosis of kanswer. After the class in which I shared the news, Arlene and her husband approached me and she informed me that she had just received her third kanswer diagnosis - this time it was in her liver. Later I found out that it was her third kanswer diagnosis in less than two years.
Over the following months, we spoke on the phone a couple of times and saw each other in church a couple of times. When we saw one other, we hugged each other hard. We laughed about baldness and hot flashes. We asked about each other's treatment regimens and commiserated about the horrors of chemotherapy. And we always giggled when I said, "Kanswer sucks." It really does.
Two weeks ago, I called to check on her and her husband informed me that she was in hospice care. Kristiana and I visited her twice.
The first time, Arlene and I held hands and chatted briefly. She hugged me three or four times. She rubbed my leg. She nodded off several times, subdued by the strong pain medication she was taking. I prayed with her and her husband and cried with them. I promised to visit her again.
During our second visit, she didn't say anything. Her husband's sister, Kristiana and I talked about homeschooling, food, teaching, college, family, breast kanswer, and a host of other topics. Arlene slept the entire time - or so I thought. She reclined in the hospital bed that faced the lake behind their house and her husband sat with her, whispering words of comfort and peace into her ear while caressing her fragile frame. She said absolutely nothing - until I stood over her bed, kissed her smooth forehead, and said good-bye. At that point, she opened her eyes, looked up at me and said, "Thank you. Good-bye. Thank you." She extended her arms and wrapped me in a hug that was far tighter than I imagined she would able to muster. That was the last time I saw her... at least for now.
After I cried briefly, Sheila and I continued with our lively conversation - parenting, marriage, clothes, mutual friends, family reunions, travel, and life itself. We made plans for future time together. We committed ourselves to living fully, living this moment, this encounter, this conversation. Be here now.
As I sit here and think of all the times that I used to take my health for granted,
as I recall all the times I complained about cooking and cleaning,
having to drive the kids from place to place,
wishing for things and people and situations that weren't mine,
as I remember all the ways in which I have made plans for the future
without fully appreciating the present,
I weep for opportunities missed, for blessings overlooked, for my ungratefulness.
I recommit myself to gratitude, contentment, and attentiveness.
I recommit myself to eating and drinking well and being merry.
I recommit myself to prayer, to journaling, to creativity, to reading, and to friendship.
I recommit myself to joy, peace, laughter, and hugs.
I recommit myself to living more fully and loving more deeply.
Life is short. Getting shorter every day.
Death is not far from any of us.
There is no need to be sad about that.
We can rejoice and give thanks for every day above ground.
And we can live.