We became friends because we challenged different manifestations of the same disease. While there were many moments when we could encourage each other, there were also some that made us stay apart. Shared illness can be like that–sometimes it makes people play together on the teeter-totter. Sometimes one person will absent-mindedly step off, sending the other sprawling.
Karen and I always agreed on one thing though–God knows the number of our days. He alone has the inside information on how many there will be, while the doctors make their best (and best-informed) guesses. Our job is to treasure each of those gifts, to focus our efforts on wonder, to live the days we’re given as fully as we can.
The other thing we had in common was until someone said we were going to die, neither one of us had given much thought to the actual living part. It takes the internalization that life is a terminal condition before we humans realize there isn’t really a do-over. We’re a little stubborn about that.
Last month, Karen indicated her medical team had run out of options.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Why?” she asked. “Nothing’s changed.”
I knew she was talking about the number of days. When I’d seen her a few weeks before, I suspected there were only a handful left. I was saddened then, but even that didn’t prepare me for this.
“How long did they say?”
“I don’t want to know. Nothing has changed.”
She was wrong. Everything had. A few days later she went into hospice care, and a few weeks after that, God invited her personally to share her holiday meal with Him. I can imagine her tumbling her questions in rapid-fire animation, and I delight knowing her face would not register the pain she’d felt for the last several years.
One of my most precious Karen memories is the day she posted a video of her legs walking up and down the rehab stairs. I know what a challenge that was, and it was one of the most hope-filled days I’ve ever known. She rarely lost her own feelings of hope. She clung to her faith and in so doing, challenged me to cling to mine.
This morning I’m thinking of my friend dancing barefoot, clunky shoes and assistive devices left behind. I’m going to awkwardly dance here in my office–because I can–and because Karen has reminded me again that I still have days left.
Because life? It’s terminal.
This has been a favorite song of mine for such a long time. One day I sang it in our church and I know Karen liked it. In fact, that was one of the first things she ever said to me. This version is by the composer, David Phelps.