Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reading Her Story

We all write a story with the way we live, what we choose to do and say, sometimes what we choose not to do and say. And we never know who is paying attention or how they might be affected by what they see.

There is a woman I knew in Georgia. We picked up our children from school at the same time each day and always visited in a group on the parking lot. Her two older children shared classrooms with two of my kids and she had a curly-topped toddler in tow each day too. I never got to know her beyond the parking lot and a few field trips and birthday parties. But she was one of those people who caught my attention because of her story. 

She had a radiant smile and great laugh and wasn’t afraid to show up in her workout clothes and no make up if that’s the kind of day she’d had. She was a constant volunteer and good listener and the kind of mom who seemed to never tire of swinging her toddler around and around just to hear her giggle. She was the kind of mom, the kind of person, I wanted to be.

Then life brought us back to Missouri and we stayed Facebook friends and I watched as she trained to run a marathon and I continued to be impressed with how she was living her life. I was reading her story and she probably never knew.

Then one day she posted about having some annoying health issues. Then about having tests run and her optimism that everything would be great and she’d run another race soon. Then the diagnosis came and it was colon cancer at age 40. She wrote about how she told her children, about how her relationship with her husband went to a new level, about how she hated relying on others to do the things she had always done for her family and community. About how she hated her body. And then loved it. About how her faith was challenged, then strengthened, then challenged - an ongoing cycle.

It’s impossible not to put ourselves in the shoes of others when we read their stories. I think my friend knew that. So she began to write beautiful journal pieces about living with disease and treatment and hope and disappointment and frustration and gratitude and anger and wisdom and all the things that people with terminal illnesses face. They were tough chapters she would never have chosen to write, but she wrote them with dignity and an openness that was riveting.

She died last month. The end came swiftly, at least it seemed to those of us on the fringe of her life, but she had gained almost two full years with those she loved by fighting hard to do whatever it took to get through just one more day. In the end her closest friends and her husband took over her journal page and shared her last thoughts. 

Among those was the poem by Emily Dickinson her husband read at her funeral:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

I am very grateful that I got to read her story. She lived, and died, in hope and beauty and remains the kind of mom, the kind of person, I want to be.


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