How can it be that a man and woman share a bed as they’ve done since they were married some thirty years ago and he lies snoring peacefully while her breath is labored? How can her four children be healthy, vital and vibrant and their mother be struggling to hold on to life?
My heart breaks for my friend in what appears to be her last days alive. She beat back the cancer once for a couple of years. Three months ago she was dancing and celebrating her daughters 30th birthday. Tonight she is two sizes smaller on an already petite frame. Her hair thinned and short. Her face darkened nearly black from chemicals. Her voice is a whisper. Her appetite is gone. Her cancer has returned with a vengeance.
She managed to come to the celebration. She smiles at everyone, hugs everyone, has kind words for everyone. She squeezes my hand – please come see me this week. Did she emphasize the word this? Not the week after. It was right to cancel my trip. There’ll be another board meeting but not, perhaps, this opportunity to once again see her in a festive setting.
It is difficult to look at her but it would be more difficult to turn away. I figure if she can live with the illness, I can at least bear witness.
We were young mothers together. My son was nurtured by her in her family day care. There was no one on earth I’d entrust his care to more than her (except for me).
I rub my body gently against her – willing some of my extra pounds to her, trying to send my appetite to her. She needs to eat to keep her strength and to regain momentum but she is not hungry. Has no appetite for food, not even the things she used to love to eat. Her cancer has spread from colon to stomach. The doctors say they can do nothing more.
She is receiving hospice care at home.
I look around during tonight’s celebration for her husband’s 60th birthday. I notice his health and vitality as he dances. I notice her children’s health shining in their lithe and lovely bodies. She gave birth to them and nursed them and cared for them and it is not enough to keep her here longer to keep her until at least she reaches her mother’s longevity who died a year or so ago.
She has been loving and caring to family and friends. She has always been a sweet person. She has “loved up” numerous children in her work in daycare centers, preschools, elementary schools, and at The Children’s Museum. Surely her kindnesses were recorded in some special account that would have prevented this premature exit.
I guess not. Who among us knows how the accounts that determine one’s longevity are kept?
Cancer has been an unexpected and unwelcome visitor to several friends in the past couple of years. It has taken some away. It has left some after a mighty struggle – a little weaker, perhaps, but still here! It is wrestling with some as we speak. This particular cancer – the big C – is particularly virulent and has taken two friends “out the game.”
All goodbye ain’t gone. I have to hold on to that. I don’t want to say adieu prematurely. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
I can only shake my head and wonder. I pray. I write. I remember. Words from one of the hymns often sang in the church I grew up in express what I’m feeling: “We’ll understand it better by and by.”