My friend is dying.
We found out at the end of last year that Georgia has a brain tumor. In January some friends and I flew out to spend a weekend with her and go out for one last over-the-top meal before the chemo-necessitated diet kicked in. We accompanied her to doctor appointments, invading the waiting rooms with our Very Much Diva presence.
I mean, we were polite and all, but there were five of us. Still, apart from that one incident with the unattended wheelchair and the empty hallway at the hospital, I’d say we behaved ourselves pretty well.
Even so, four middle-aged women, who are used to advocating for themselves and their children – we each have at least one with some level of special needs, so we are all very used to doctors and hospitals and insurance companies – accompanying a fifth woman who is, from sheer height, physically imposing, with a personality to match…
Well. We made the day interesting for the staff, at any rate.
And then we went out for dinner at the second-fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to (the first was the night I met Georgia) and accidentally spent $132 on a plate of caviar. Okay, but the “1” was really, REALLY small, and did I mention we’re all middle-aged?
When I finally returned home, I figured that was probably the last time I would spend time with my friend. As much as I wanted to hop a plane again and hang out for a weekend, I knew my schedule was not going to allow it.
And then, miraculously, she was able to come here this weekend for the 4th of July celebrations. It was like a bonus round. She has quit the chemo, so the diet is off, so once again we went out to eat food we know better than to eat, because if you can’t eat foie gras with your friend who is dying, when can you eat it?
My heart is full today, full of love for my dying friend, for my friends who are walking her through this, and for the inevitable day that approaches far too rapidly when we will all come together once more on her behalf, but without her presence.
For now, though, I will focus on the laughter last night around the table, the delight we took in each new dish that arrived at the table, the moments of bliss we shared with that first bite of that steak sampler, that song that we enjoyed so much as it wafted through the sun-warmed patio, the sea breeze that was just enough but not too chilly.
None of our lives are easy at the moment, and every now and then one or the other of us would bring up something we’d had to deal with during the week, and we would find the funny side and laugh about it, and then move on to another topic as if to say, “Yes, this is hard, but it too shall pass and what matters is this – this moment now, this shared joy, this camaraderie, this love for each other.”
Death puts life into focus. Death lines up our priorities with lightning speed. While I do not want to let my friend go and every ounce of my being screams that it’s too soon, that the world needs her, that we need her, that this isn’t fair, I can’t sit beside her with only that in my heart. I can’t waste these precious last moments I have with her on this earth on complaints about the manner in which she is exiting.
So in my sorrow, there is joy. I dig deep and focus tightly on that joy, and the sorrow that wails in the periphery, threatening to rush in at any moment and extinguish it, only serves to make that joy all the more precious.
There are any number of Scriptures I could quote here, but each one that comes to mind seems trite in the face of this reality. Not that they don’t apply, or that they aren’t true, but I don’t think you can just pull out a verse and slap it on a situation like this. Reality is hard, life is messy, and death is heart-breaking.
It helps to have the assurance that one day I will see my friend whole again, cancer-free and in full command of the words that now elude her grasp. But there isn’t one tidy little verse that I can recite to encompass all of that, nor do I think I should try. It’s in times like these that I can only draw on the full extent of faith, of walking with God, of having tried and rejected pat answers and legalistic forms of religious behavior, and having come to the end of myself and having realized more than once that without Him, I am nothing.
And I can rest in the knowledge that as dear as my friend is to me, as much as I love her laugh and her joie de vivre and the mischief we bring out in each other, God loves her more – really loves her, gets her on a level no one else does, cares for her and is walking with her every step of the way until the day He welcomes her into His arms for eternity.
Until then, there are still moments to savor, smiles to share.
And baked olives to eat.
(Something, incidentally, I would not have known had I never met Georgia.)