Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In Spirit, Still Here by Gwen Guerke (Guest Blogger)

No one who’s had a long, solid, rewarding friendship since they we were seven or eight years old ever thinks about the absence of that friend, the funeral, the memories, the ache of absence... until death changes the landscape. Sharon and I were friends for more than 60 years. Neither of us could pinpoint where that bond started developing, but we believed it was when we were both in Brownies in the late 1950s. We know we weren’t in the same elementary school classes; we grew up in a Mayberry-esque town. Probably this friendship began at a little Girl Scout day camp on the lake. Believe it or not, it was called Camp We Love It. Really! We were so naïve – and evidently so were the adults – that we never snickered at the name until decades later. After our paths crossed making crafts and some-mores, our parents must have realized that Sharon’s home was a block away from my paternal grandparents, so I could ride my bike to their house and go down the street to hers. This friendship thrived and survived through adolescence and high school, and we shared all the angst of proms, not going to homecoming dances, babysitting, silly crushes on unsuspecting boys, the agony of gym class for the less than athletic girls that we were. But there were plenty of laughs and good times; Sharon had a car. I didn’t. She also had access to a family beach cottage, and generously invited friends for new adventures. Fast forward, and we grew up, went to separate colleges, married – she was a bridesmaid in my wedding, had children. I divorced. My oldest son, her godchild, died of leukemia. Through whatever life tossed us, our friendship flourished even though as adults there were things we didn’t share: I enjoyed running and yoga and going to the gym. She didn’t. She was a very devout Christian. I am a prayer warrior in my own way. We had friends in common, as well as friends separately. We are still friends, only she is in heaven or wherever souls go after they leave this earth. I had almost a year to come to terms with her eventual dying from pancreatic cancer. She texted me to come to the hospital emergency room immediately after she was diagnosed, just before she was transported to another medical center. I knew she had been sick, but who would have thought pancreatic cancer? Not even the doctors she had consulted prior. What follows is somewhat predictable: chemo, weight loss, pain, fear, anger, an urgency to make memories. She set goals and remarkably achieved them, until February when she knew the chemo was no longer working and the tumor was winning the race. When she stopped those treatments, as they are called, she thought she had a couple of months to live, but it was only a couple of weeks. As she was dying, she took time to plan every last detail of her funeral service, an Episcopalian mass. She asked me to present not a eulogy, but her final thoughts thanking her co-workers, friends, family for contributing to the quality of life. Neither her husband nor her children knew what was going on until I stepped up to the lectern and delivered her message. No one, I believe, ever thinks they will be honored this way. I sat by her bedside as she told me what she wanted to say. She had mentally categorized her thoughts. I wrote a rough draft, then came back a couple of days later to read it to her. It wasn’t exactly what she had in mind because I had inserted some editorial comments about what a great person she was. A few days later, as she was obviously declining and aware of that, I read her the revised version. Much better, but she had written an introductory anecdote she wanted to add. When I came back to review the final draft, she was very, very weak, but she had the energy to declare it “perfect.” Two days later she was gone.
At her funeral, a packed congregation plus about 100 people in the overflow room, hung on to every word as I shared her thoughts. There was some levity, but every time I looked out someone was wiping away tears. And when I sat down, I thought I have to tell Sharon – that it went well, who was there, and I had questions for her too. I guess the point of this is that we never know what we can do until we have to, and that friendship and love and gratitude are eternal. Death has no hold. Love prevails.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I have two old friends I've known since the early years of grade school. I'm back in touch with them through facebook. I still share things with them like we did years ago but on a more adult level. This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.