Last July I blogged about my friend with cancer. We had both been undergoing tests at the same time. My news was good and hers was not. I have since blogged about her remarkable response to treatment, but that the cancer was also finding new ways to succeed." The liver is good, the breast is better, but they were concerned it was looking for bone." On Christmas Eve, that was where we were in all of this. My friend was still chipper, and looked great and was still going out regularly with friends for dinner once a month, still having that glass or two of wine with old friends, and squeezing everything out of life. And with the exception of myself and the pastoral staff, no one at church knew she even had cancer. A way of maintaining dignity, a part of her care, the care and feeding of the idea she was still active, and pretty and most definitely not the subject of pity.
My friend has always been one of those people who is a "force of one." Headstrong, opinionated, fiercely loyal. Always perfectly frosted hair, high cheekbones and the same blue eyeliner, a timeless look. A great wit, and the friend who will tell you there is food between your teeth, or toilet paper on your shoe.
Yesterday, she shuffled into church, with no next to no makeup, and no eyebrows, a face full like the moon, and she had a walker. She sat in the "handicapped pew" at the front of the church. She sat looking straight ahead as her husband got things situated. I made my way over to her during the sharing of the peace. She gripped my hand tightly and her eyes welled up- and all she said was "brain." What a watershed moment to walk into the church and feel so humbled. What an adjustment and acknowledgment that things are not able to be kept secret now, probably not so indefinite now.
After the service, I returned to where she was, followed by a long line of parishioners. She shared that they had been out to their favorite local pub and restaurant with friends on New Years Eve when she had a seizure. "They had to take me out" – and then she got a momentary sparkle in her eye-"Not sure they'll let me go there again." She has been having more seizures, as they try to do what they can. "I am not giving up, I am still great!" "But I am ready to face this." " God is GOOD!" And then the tears return. Hers and mine.
She tries to laugh as she says she is pestering the doctor to let her have a glass of wine. And I know she is worried. Her son is finally prepared to marry his girlfriend. Will she see it? Her husband will be lost without her. How can she know he will be OK? These are things she will need from her family to make the transitions ahead.
When I first began this journey, I thought of Sacrament of the Present Moment, and her question "Will I still love God when life is not good?" As she and I have traveled these many months, I shared Praying with Cancer with her. The day she mailed me a copy of one of the pages about how the suffering of cancer was a gift because it brought her closer to God, I learned a lesson in fierce faith. Now I have been reading Final Gifts to know how to share in what lies ahead.
I normally wear a silver rope cross with a rope-like chain that wraps around the cross pieces of the cross. Feeling like I needed to do something, and without thinking I took it off and pressed it into her hand, "Bind yourself to Christ, feel God's loving embrace. When you are feeling low, know that I am with you my friend, but better than that, you are God's- he will never let go." More hugging and expressions of friendship, and while I pray that somehow she can be healed, I remember my promise to sing at her service of Resurrection Victory. And I pray God will give me the strength to keep that promise. Until then I pray that God will use in all of us the gifts to let my friend not feel pitied or like a project, but like there is still that last bit of life to be squeezed out, savored and consumed, in her own unique way. God is Good.