A friend died two weeks ago. Because she confided in me a little bit, I knew she was sick, but I didn’t realize she was sick-sick. My friend was funny and serious, playful and stern. Her laugh, once she got rolling, was infectious. When we went to meetings together, she asked the hard questions. She was fun to sit next to, and we liked making snarky comments with each other. She was so involved in our church I wondered how she made it all work, with a full-time job, a family, and so many other commitments.
Because our church community is large, it wasn’t that hard for her to keep her illness quiet. With 3 different Sunday services, and people coming and going in our busy metropolitan area, you can go weeks or months without bumping into people. While this is NOT conducive to a caring, nurturing environment, it helped my friend stay under the radar her last few months on earth.
On a Wednesday, I found out she was going into Hospice care. On Thursday I learned she was already gone.
I’ve been thinking about my friend, and the way she handled her illness and death. A few months ago, when she shared with me, but told me not to tell anyone, she explained, “I don’t want people to see me as a sick person. I don’t want that to define my interactions with them.” I got it. I respected it. My friend lived and died on her own terms. It was so… HER.
My own mother, who died at age 46, didn’t know she was sick-sick. She had a ton of friends and well-wishers who wanted to visit her in the hospital while she was undergoing tests. She could have easily been overwhelmed with visitors, but instead she opted for a no-visitor policy.
Did she not want to be seen in a vulnerable state, teeth unbrushed, hanging out of a skimpy hospital gown? Was she afraid of being worn out? Maybe. But really, there was one nosy friend who volunteered at the hospital, and Mom thought it was important enough for her health and well being, to exclude ALL visitors rather than have this one woman poking her head in and out. This was in the ‘80’s, and I don’t know what we called “friends” like that then, but I believe now we call them “Frenemies.”
While I understood and respected my mom’s choice, and my friend’s as well, I’ve been witnessing the aftermath in our church community. There is a lot of shock. And pain. People wished they had known and could have sent cards. They wish they could have supported my friend’s husband and kids with meals. They wanted the chance to pray.
Reaching out to those in hardship helps those in need, but it helps the friends too. Doing something tangible may not change the end results in an illness, but it can make it feel as if we are coming alongside a friend on her final journey.
Christians are called to be Christ’s hands and feet on this earth. We are called to DO for others in need. Sometimes we answer the call, sometimes we fail miserably,
and sometimes we aren’t given the chance. I believe my friend handled her death in a way that was right for her. No sappy sentiments, no hand wringing, no goodbyes.
I just hope she knows how much she was loved.
P.S. For those of you who are dealing with the end of life of a loved one, I recommend a book I read recently. A Sacred Walk by Donna Authers.