Sunday, July 29, 2007

An Appointment With Death

I have a dear friend who I've known for about 30 years. We see each other at church, but seldom anywhere else. We don't live in the same towns and we have different social circles. She's a large woman, married but without children, and she's always been successful in her jobs and extremely resiliant and optimistic when her circumstances changed abruptly. Although we have little in common, I've loved her from the start because her eyes always sparkle, she has a beautiful smile that seldom leaves her face, and she has absolutely no pretenses - she's at home with herself and easy with everyone else. But, as of yesterday, she has an appointment with death.

Cancer is a fact of life in America, and perhaps it always has been. In these times, however, our increased longevity due to preventive medicine and less dangerous work and personal lives has emphasized cancer as a common and terrifying illness. My friend strugged with breast cancer a few years ago and fought it off, but it has come back with a vengeance to claim her. The doctors have tried every possible cure, as evidenced by her disfiguring radiation burns, but to no avail. Yesterday, as she lay in intensive care on a ventilator, her doctor gave her the final prognosis and recommended that she move to hospice care - her appointment with death. As we talked a few hours later, her eyes still sparkled and her smile came easily. Her joy of life and her resiliance continue to the end.

I believe in God, but I don't believe God interferes with nature on any regular basis. Our nature is that we are born and that we die, and we are subject to all the risks and benefits that life can offer. For some, even the most evil among us, life is a walk in the park. For others, even the best among us, life is filled with difficulty and sadness. There is no "justice" in this life, but my belief is that there is justice after death. Moreover, in a less religious vein, I feel that the quality of a life is much more important than its length. My friend has had a quality life which will last 59 years.

I expect to see Julia as often as possible until she leaves this world. She needs the comfort and diversion that friends can provide, and her husband needs our support. I can deal with the tubes that sprout from several places on her swollen body, and I can deal with the constant "swoosh" of the ventilator that will keep her alive a bit longer. In return for my company, Julia will shine her bright eyes on me and smile that unquenchable smile. She will continue to be my role model as the person who makes the most of life no matter what comes her way. O Lord, help me to be as courageous and loving as my friend, the soon-to-be-memorable Julia.


Dave said...

Lots of thoughts.

The first is alive eyes. Finding people with them is such a wonderful moment in life.

The second is her equanimity that you describe. It's time to go to the hospice. I'm sure you haven't describe all of her thoughts; but, to think, accept and go, says a lot.

Finally, "O Lord, help me to be as courageous and loving as my friend, the soon-to-be-memorable Julia." You are a good friend.

ThomasLB said...

Goodbyes are always hard. You're in my prayers.