Several years ago, a friend of mine had a headache. Who knew that it was the beginning of the end.
Over the years, she and I developed a friendship. A single mom who was struggling with the idea of ending her marriage, she knew that the best thing for her two daughters was to part from the father, as he was a bit too fond of his vices, and try to make a go of it on her own. She was just a few years older than I, and throughout the phenomenon known as ‘nap time’ during the GCN Saturday shows I found out she used to live around the corner from my Aunt and Uncle, and babysat my two younger cousins. We were not exceptionally close–we didn’t go to the movies or hang out outside of church. But I did consider her a friend. And a true soul at that.
She was a beautiful woman, with two beautiful daughters. She raised her daughters in the church, and the three of them had an organic and true love for God. She had a younger brother who was a surrogate father to them, for they loved their Uncle.
Then there came a day that she was having a headache. Her father, after two days, forced her to go to the hospital. No simple migraine, it turns out that she actually had MDS–myelodysplastic syndrome. Once known as preleukemia, it is a blood disorder. Most commonly found in people who have had chemotherapy for other conditions, it sometimes hits people for no reason at all. That was my friend.
For the next year and a half, we watched her sail through blood transfusions, treatments, etc. Her daughters were amazing. Her test results came back with fantastic results. Then there was the day that her results were not so fantastic. She had a setback. And then she had another. And then it went from just a setback to full-blown leukemia.
Then came chemo. Again, God shone through her and her girls as she sailed through treatments. No more hair, chemo bloat, and she always had a smile on her face. Then the numbers came back again, and they weren’t as good as they should be. A permanent room at MCV, a permanent smile on her face. She moved in with her brother, who lived twenty miles away from her home, and he–still a bachelor and in his early thirties–became a father and a caretaker all at once. He woke up every morning and drove the girls to school. He cared for his sister. He was, in a word, incredible.
Small victories, but larger losses. People who donate time in helicopters enabled her to travel to Duke for treatment programs that insurance didn’t cover. Families at church enabled her to have the most normal life possible for her girls. The youngest kept talking about how awesome it would be that their mom would get to see Jesus every day. The oldest, my dear child, would talk about how the fact that mom was able to be with Jesus every day would mean that she was dead, and that they wouldn’t have that same opportunity. And they broke my heart with the purity of their emotions.
Then a new year. And the end of treatment. She was brought home and on hospice. Then the call, that Wednesday morning, that she was gone. Her girls had said goodbye the week before when she was in and out of consciousness. She was blessed to have a lucid time on Tuesday evening to interact with her girls again. They were in school, and the decision was made not to tell them until the end of the day. But then posts started to show up on Facebook, and they were afraid that the girls might see it while at school, so they changed their minds and brought them home.
That night, we had regular Wednesday night activities at church. I was taken aback when I saw the eldest at check in for kids choir. The youngest was there as well. But what absolutely broke my heart was when the youngest was singing her solo during practice for the kids program. What a testament to their mother and to how she had prepared them for this day.
These girls, these beautiful girls, had lost their mother. And their love for Jesus and their love for God meant that it was okay that she was gone. I could only hope to have grace like that. The memorial service on Saturday brought many tears, but also laughter. The eldest, the sports star, wore a dress. A monumental day. And when the youngest sat down on the pew, the eldest, in typical big sister fashion, gave her grief and told her to scoot. I couldn’t help but laugh.
But through it all, I never really grieved for my friend. I grieved for what she left behind, for what she would never experience with her beautiful children. I miss her, sure, but never had that moment of breakdown where you just get it out.
Then, this week, over six months later, it all came crashing back in on me.
I have never been a big Today Show fan. The men are okay, but the women drive me bonkers. Starting with Katie Couric, who I could tolerate, but after that? Nope. Can’t watch it. I got hooked on Good Morning America when it was Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, then Diane and Robin Roberts. Robin is still there, but all the others have come and gone on a regular basis.
Six weeks ago, there was a special announcement. Robin, a breast cancer survivor, had been through rigorous treatment five years ago. She now has MDS. She was going to be starting treatment, and then when the time came for a bone marrow transplant from her eldest sister she would be taking some time off to start chemo again and get the transplant. This week was her final week on GMA. Because I truly love watching her on TV, I recorded the last three days knowing that there would be a special celebration of her and good luck wishes for her upcoming treatment. I knew there would also be some information on MDS that would allow me to understand even more what happened to my friend.
Now that it is Labor Day weekend, I had the time to sit and watch. Wednesday was nothing special, but Thursday’s episode was actually her farewell. With Hurricane Isaac hitting close to home and her mother’s turn of bad health, Robin felt it was time to leave. So the farewell episode was Thursday. They interviewed her sister, her doctors, and told a bit about what was coming up. There was a farewell to her, and best wishes for treatment, and reassurances that it was just a short time away and that she would be back.
And I cried. No, that’s not right. I didn’t cry. I flipping sobbed. I boo-hooed until my contacts didn’t fit right anymore and my eyes were swollen and puffy. I was a mess.
I was certainly feeling for the woman I don’t know other than through the television. I was wishing her well on her upcoming treatment and the miracle that is the marrow match in her older sister. I wish Robin Roberts well, and I hope she is wildly successful in her medical treatment and thrives through the days and weeks to come.
And most of all, I grieved.
I grieved for my friend who never had such a chance. Who never found a marrow match that was compatible enough. As a direct result of her and her treatments, I am a registered marrow donor. I hope someday that there is something that I can do that would make a difference for someone like my friend. I grieve for the things like first dates, and soccer and cheerleading championships, and homecomings and proms, and graduations and college, and marriage and children that my friend has missed out on. I grieve for the beautiful moments, like toes in the sand or an ice-cold margarita with salt, that she won’t be able to experience as a joy of everyday living. I grieve for the life that she could have lived and the hole that was left behind by all of us. And most of all, I grieve because she is gone. I am so happy that she is able to spend time with Jesus. I know she is loving her life and is the happiest and healthiest she has ever been.
So farewell my dear friend. I miss you. I love you. I cannot wait until I see you again one day. And I think of you when I read this, the prayer that Robin Roberts said she grew up with, and recites every morning: The Light of God surrounds me. The Love of God enfolds me. The Power of God protects me. The Presence of God watches over me. Wherever I am, God is.