August 26, 2015


People ask me how I'm doing since she died.
I cried in the peanuts and cashews aisle at Costco, I say.
That's how I'm doing.

She died on August 14th at 7 pm. We had been with her in her hospital room just moments before, taking turns going in to say goodbye. Her name was Claire. She was my friend.
Life is a mystery, which we see most saliently in death.

I've wanted to write about her like I would a eulogy, but like her husband said at her memorial service, you can't sum up a person's life in mere words.

I simply see the snapshots of her that intrude my thoughts as I lie down to sleep or as I'm stirring dinner in the saucepan at the stove.

Dinner. She and her family came over for dinner this spring, and it must have still been chilly outside, because she wore a coat, a long black coat. I remember what we ate. I remember that she sat to my left at the table. She gave me a bottle of vanilla, real vanilla, that she'd brought back from her time away receiving treatment. It sits in my pantry, wrapped in the burlap ribbon but missing the fragile purple flower she'd tucked in its knot.

Missing. She is missing the cool in the air today. She would've insisted we enjoy our drinks outside on a day like today, she with her hot tea and me with my coffee. She told me about her cancer on just such a day last summer. I remember I got to her an hour late because the highway was closed down. The highway is never closed down, but it was that day. She told me about her illness and the tears immediately sprang up. I reached across the table and held her hands and prayed.

Her hands. At the end, she couldn't speak because of the trach; she could only mouth words or write shaky letters too difficult to decipher. Mouthing words took energy that she didn't have, and so she dozed off easily. When she'd open her eyes, she'd raise her hand up. I learned quickly this was her signal for me to hold her hand. And so I did, praying and talking and praying some more. Her hands were soft and warm, and though familiar already, I studied them thirstily. They reminded me of her children's hands.

The children. We talked so often about our children. I'd ask her questions about mothering mine, and she'd, year-by-year, describe what it was like to send another off to college. She fought so hard to stay alive for her children. I held the hands that reminded me of her children and I told her what a delight they are, what a good job she's done. She smiled and mouthed, "Thank you." And if there is one good that has come from this, it's getting to know her children, especially the one who spent hours on our couch this summer.

This summer. I didn't expect this summer. I haven't wanted what it's given. But if I know anything now in this mystery called life, it's something that I learned this summer--that God doesn't run way from pain and death. He ran into it and He runs into it still. He swallows up mortality with unending life.

Life. Her race is finished. But her life goes on. She is free from that hospital bed and from mouthing words and from discomfort and from machines.

The machines. I won't forget the beeping, the pulsing of air. The cords. The smell of the hospital. The nurses. The bed. Her feet sticking out. Was she cold? Did she hear me praying? Did she hear me saying how thankful I am to have known her?

Know her. I cannot know her further. There are so many questions I'd still like to ask her. I thought I'd be able to get to those. She was reserved and private, a mystery that I'm left to solve with a limited number of clues.

Clues. I have many clues as to what she loved and even some clues to who she was before she came to faith. She spoke of her children, praying, and Jesus. She chose simple lines and hot tea. She gravitated toward nature. She didn't care about outward appearance, yet she dressed and carried herself with elegance.

Elegance. At our mutual friend's wedding a few years ago, I did a double take because she looked so elegant and beautiful. She was wearing makeup, and it was the first time I'd ever seen her in it. I kidded her about it, and someone took our picture together, and her eyes are closed, and yet somehow she still looks beautiful.

Beauty. If I stop and listen for it, I can hear the cadence of her voice when she prayed. It was beautiful, a different cadence than when she spoke, a lilting, childlike sound that conveyed absolute assurance she was heard by her Father.

Father. He has made a way for her through death. He has made a way for those left behind to be brokenhearted yet also rejoicing. I would have despaired if I thought I would not see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Claire is in the land of the living.

Living. Life continues on. Decisions have to be made, even the small ones, like whether or not nuts are a good choice for the reception after a memorial service. I cried among the nuts at Costco, because I didn't really care whether there were nuts in the first place, because I didn't want to be going to a memorial service for Claire. I want to see her again.

The Costco cashier, seeing my basket brimming as my tears just had been, asked breezily, "Having a party?"

"Something like that," I said. "A celebration of sorts."

Because that is what a life of faith warrants. And because I will see her again.