When Nick was in third grade my best friend was dying of cancer. When we met in college, Kris immediately became my ‘sister’. We were both small town girls who still valued our small town ideals even though we were at the big university. Looking back at our time together I have often said we grew up together…not in the terms of spending our childhood together…but in sharing monumental life changing events. We grew together as novice mom’s seeking each others advice, we grew together as angry friends trying to cope with a devastating disease, we grew together as compliant friends knowing our time together here on earth was so short but in return so very precious, and finally we grew together as we held on to each other in the final days of her life.
Kris was a favorite “aunt” to my kids. They loved her almost as much as they loved me, their own mom. I was okay with that because everyone needs a few ‘moms’ in their lives, right? When Kris’ husband called to tell me her death was imminent I was faced with a choice I never wanted to make in my life…do I take my children to say good-bye forever to someone they loved so dearly? I thought hard. I mean, I thought really hard about the impact this good-bye would have on my sweet Mayberry children.
I will be the first to admit I am not overly religious to the point I attend church every Sunday. I do, however, believe in God and the power of the strength of faith. I was a witness to that faith every day in Ethiopia, when I would wake to the chants of the faithful being broadcast across the rooftops, awaking even those who seemingly have nothing to wake up to. But each morning they rose to find faith in their God and that faith was enough to pick themselves up off the side of the road and start their day all over again. I admire that kind of faith. The kind of faith that isn’t found between the leather covers of a bible. I find it ironic that on this occasion, where I was digging deep for an answer, it came to me in seven simple words extracted from a bible verse quoted in a Readers Digest I had plucked from a magazine rack while waiting in line at the grocery store.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. I was sick and you visited me.
And there, in those seven simple words was my answer. Regardless of how troubling it was for me to face, I was not the one sick. I was not the one dying.
A melting blanket of snow covered the ground on that Sunday morning in January when Hannah, Nick, and I set out for our good-bye visit. As best as I could, I explained to them the situation. They were as prepared as I could prepare them for what they were about to face sixty minutes south on Interstate 5. When we pulled into Kris’ familiar driveway, Hannah immediately sidled up to me and in a panicked voice told me she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t face seeing Kris so sick. I respected her choice. And I loved her all the more for her honesty. Kris knew Hannah was “with” her. Nick, on the other hand, my snips and snails and puppy dog tails boy, didn’t flinch.
Nick was into magic that winter. He got a magic kit from Santa a few weeks earlier. Little did I know he had snuck a deck of trick cards into his coat pocket. About an hour into our visit, I heard a faint knock on the bedroom door. Nick poked his head in and asked if he could show Kris something. I scooted my chair back away from Kris’ bedside to make room for him. Not only did he come directly to the bedside, he climbed up on the bed, settled in an Indian style pose, and then with a crooked smile looked a dying friend in the eye and told her he was going to show her a “magic twick”.
So there, on that wintery January day, was my nine year old son, a magicians deck of cards in his hands, sitting on Kris’ hospital bed showing her his magic trick. Kris, with all the strength she could muster, opened her eyes and watched. She smiled. Reached out. Touched. Let go. I watched her exchange with Nick. Seated in the chair out of her line of vision I cried. From the hall, Kris’ son Trevor called to Nick and as swiftly as he entered the room, he was gone again. Off to play with a friend whose mom was dying. That is how Nick said good-bye forever to Kris. I scooted my chair back to be next to her bed and reached out to grab her hand, and I held on as tight as I could, never wanting to let go. But eventually I did. And she did too, six days later.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
And with that, on that snowy winter day, Kris and I taught my children our final lesson together. The most powerful lesson we could ever teach.
To never, ever turn your back.