Two days ago, dear friends of mine lost their daughter to cancer. The twelve month battle was brutal as it battered them against the extremes of hope and despair. That part of the journey is now over but the battles are not. Now comes the struggle to go on in a world bereft of something so beautiful, so wonderful, as a bright and caring young woman taken from her parents, her husband, and children of her own.
Such is the way of this life and the fragile humanity we possess within it. Ours is an existence not made to last. Here, we all live, and struggle, and die.
Please forgive such a starkly basic characterization of something that is so wonderfully complex. But that is the way of the end: it all becomes so painfully simple. Joy and sorrow are kindred spirits, wrapping us in their exhaustive extremes amid our own hopes and fears. Ultimately, the path of my friends is one we all must walk. No matter how much we pray to let it pass us by. To live is to face this reality.
In a loved one’s battle for life, our focus is drawn to the pain and suffering. Our heart aches for what she must endure. We wish the pain away and in the process bring it close to ourselves. I did not see my friends’ daughter once during her twelve month fight. However, I watched it devastate them and saw the anguish in their eyes as they prayed for a world in which they could make her pain go away. A place where she won her battle.
The irony of such a miserable journey is that it brings out the best in almost everyone along the way. The loving husband who holds the family together, remaining stoutly devoted, day-in and day-out, all the while projecting hope. The caring friends praying, bringing meals, and endlessly encouraging. The extended family, lovingly present in the hurt and uncertainty, supporting as much, or as little, as needed. The children wrestling with the sadness, bewilderment, and fear of such dark drama, all the while holding on to their silent prayers that Mommy get better. The parents, stricken with heartbreak, begging God to take them instead, pouring so much love into that narrowing path of anguish as to strain the very seams of existence. And finally, the suffering victim who smiles along the way and tells all those who love her that it will be alright. How was she able to exude such healing affection from behind her deep suffering and fear? I tremble at the very thought of that place in which she was walking. I marvel at her strength, and her courage.
In the end, it all closes too quickly. We want one more word. One more touch. One more look into those eyes that will never again show the inner light on which we depended. Terrible. Beautiful. The death that came brought all of those tender moments along the way together in acutely horrific finality. The loss they had to feel made the living all the more exquisite. And painful.
We all must walk this path. And then the next; the one in which we have to move on. We have to continue along the way of the living in a world that has lost such effervescent light. A new road demanding that we be more than we feel we are capable of being. A place where all we can do is take that next step. And then another. And another. Until one day, we move fully again and remember the joy of the living while feeling gratitude for the moments we did have. There, we will hold her legacy in our arms and share the stories that will forever keep her in our hearts, until that day when we see her again.