Monday, September 25, 2006

Winning battles!

Yesterday I had one of those calls you don't want to get. It was the husband of my best friend deby telling me that she had passed away. For all that I knew she was almost certainly terminal this took me by surprise. She'd beaten cancer twice. It still hasn't finished sinking in. We met through an internet list/post and got in touch by phone. The first time she called we hit it off and talked for almost 2 hours. She called twice more before the day was over. In total we spent 4 hours on the phone that day. After that the calls were daily for over 2 1/2 years. It is hard to think that I will never hear her voice again.

When she was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer, soon after we met, she started on a long hard battle. She was one of those people who fight hard and use every tool in their arsenal to win. She did win! Twice! She was told two separate times that she was free from the disease. It came back the first time. Last time I heard she was still free of cancer when she passed away. What took her was the damage to her body the battle left behind. She had liver damage, heart damage, bone damage, diabetes, pancreatitis and brain damage too. Still she battled. Her motto was, "Do the next right thing!" How could she not?

Because the list we met through was a spiritual list and our faith was important to us, she and I soon discussed faith and found ourselves praying together. Turned out we were good prayer partners. She was the kind of prayer who would tell God what to do. I reminded him of needs and asked for them. Even though our styles of prayer varied when we started we could feel the syncing of our souls. When one's request faltered the other would pick up and then turn it back over a little later. Finding a prayer partner is hard enough. Finding one that can pray with you long distance is even harder. The experience was awesome.

Over the course of the 3 years I knew her I learned the names of her kids, family members, friends and old flames. We left almost no conversation stone unturned. We shared books and dreams. We talked about cooking. The last gift I sent her was a cookbook with recipes from the south called Bayou Cuisine. She loved it. The thank you call took over two hours as we explored our respective copies together. If I said her last gift to me was a subscription to Guideposts I'd be lying. Her last gift to me was her last phone call. Nothing could have let me know more how much she loved me.

She was always there to support me. When I was struggling and when I was scared she believed in me. When I needed to get my head on straight she was the one to ask the guiding questions that helped me do that. For my part, I learned how to listen well when she had things she desperately needed to talk about. I learned to hear beyond the words with her.

She had a doctorate in psychotherapy. She was clever and creative. She had a heart as big as the sky. She fought for children's better treatment. She fought for affordable health care for women. Children who have gone through abuse are better treated by the authorities today than they used to be thanks in part to her efforts. The world is a better place for having had her in it.

Towards the end of her battles with cancer she got angry with God. She knew this wasn't the way she was going to stay. She kept saying she would fight her way back from the anger too. And she did. She left a church that denied her basic rights to worship in a house of God and found another that honored her faith and taught her new ways to pray. She first walked the labyrinth (maze) on crutches. She was amazed at how much it did for her. She had always had a solitary bent and this answered to that. She was also a perfectionist. Finally she and God could commune with action and be precise about it.

This past summer was the worst. My going to school was keeping me so busy that we didn't have time to call. Before that we had shared the courses I was taking in education and answered the homework questions together. She was a good sounding board. Then I suddenly had time for calls. Summer school was over. But she wasn't calling. I wondered but knew that we had nothing bad going on between us so I figured she was taking a short hiatus and dealing with life. That had happened a few times in the past but we always got back in touch. So time passed and I didn't hear from her. I called and left messages. I emailed. Finally she got in touch through the list. She had been in and out of the hospital twice since we had talked. Part of the time she was in a coma. They don't let you call from ICU and her husband was too busy working and visiting her in the hospital to take time to call or email. So when she wrote again I was thrilled and also horrified. I called and the phone message didn't sound like her. I emailed and finally she called. We talked for about an hour. That was a little over a week ago. It was so good to hear her voice that I felt at peace. She sounded calm. She even pointed this out to me. I think she was telling me she was at peace and was ready to go. I also know that she was probably on heavy medication doses. She told me what happened and we covered some of the old topics about her family. Except for the really slow pace of the conversation it sounded almost normal. So I wrote her 3 days later. She didn't write back. Instead, her husband called.

I know she is in heaven now. I can feel her hands on my shoulders sometimes when I miss her the most. God's hands are there too. He put us together and he wants me to know that he has her and will keep her safe till it is my turn to go home. Because I have a few pictures of her I have an image of her standing strong and happy by her man. I also have one of them snuggling on a sofa. She's smiling in each of them. Those will have to sustain me till I see her face to face.

What I would like to know is something I never got the chance to ask; "deby dear, what are you going to do in heaven? In what ways are you reorganizing it? I know you far to well to think that you will leave it alone. Will you marshal the angels to take care of your family and friends? What saints are you going to encourage to greater works for the downtrodden and abused? And when are you going to place one of those dream calls to me? Never fear Honey, I know you are looking in on John and me and will work to keep us safe. Until I hear from you, and ever after, I will hold your smile in the center of my heart and persevere. I will continue to do the 'next right thing,' because that is what you taught me to do. I'll never forget you, deby. You're my hero."


Susan Palwick said...

This is beautiful, Lee. Thank you.

Lee said...

Thank You, Susan. Writing it actually helped me in dealing with this. I've been doing my best to see that people who knew her or her husband got word.

Peace and Hope!