Sunday, June 26, 2011


I was thinking today about the last six months of Sandy's life. It occurred to me that a lot of people miss out on things - critical truths about life and the nature of being human - because they don't want to look closely at the process of death, the leave-taking from Earth, the last stages of the first stumbling journey.

I'm trying out these sentences on you:

The best thing that has ever happened to me is that my best friend died.

The most important thing that has ever happened to me is that my best friend died.

I am who I am because she died.

I'm so thankful that God handed me this gift - the gift of walking beside her, holding her up a little bit, listening to her, watching her turn away, and then throwing her, with enormous effort, into blinding light. How many people get the chance to be there when the door opens and then closes? How many people catch that glimpse through the veil as it's pulled back for a soul to either arrive, or leave?

Her blog continues to be a gift to me. She wrote down a little bit of what she was going through, and although I suspect she didn't share the half of what was really going on, what she did write was full of import. It came from a person already partly gone.

Last June 15, Sandy wrote this.

I don’t really know where I belong anymore. Most of me is still in this world: doing laundry, making lunches, playing with my children, tidying my house; but at the same time, the rest of me is in this new place, a place where making long term plans seems presumptuous, and where I don’t really know what to do with myself. It’s a place of transition, maybe.

Part of me wants to forget that I’m sick, and go on as before. And maybe that’s what I SHOULD do; maybe I should just continue on as if nothing had happened, and live my life as best I can until I can’t, anymore, or until I’m restored to health.

But that seems so dishonest.

Dishonest. Dishonest to go on as if she had never been sick, as if she were not dying.

A lot of people denied that truth. They didn't want to either believe or admit that she was dying. This denial, this bright, cheerful confidence, this fatuous belief that things will turn out exactly the way we think is best if only we have enough didn't help her. She talked about it to me often. "It's exhausting," she said, "I feel like I'm a disappointment because I'm not getting better."

And then I need to prepare my children for life without a mother. But, I don’t know how to do that either – does that mean writing lists? Does that mean shopping for Christmas presents? Does that mean writing a journal of my life? Does that mean composing letters for every major event in their future? I don’t know.
People often said, "God wouldn't take a mother away from her children."

Oh really?

People said to her, "Cancer is not part of God's plan."

Oh really?

Last March Sandy posted this: "We have a propensity to make judgements about the things that come into our lives; to declare whether something is good or bad in our life....we make judgements about what happens in our story based on whether things make us happy or sad. If it makes us happy, it must be a good thing. If it makes us sad, or causes pain, it must be a bad thing.

And, we think we can figure out what it all means.

Maybe God will write some really hard things into my life to perfect my faith.
I don’t want to say that cancer is a bad thing in my life; that it’s evil. I don’t want to say that if God’s big plan is to use cancer to perfect my faith.

I was talking about this to a friend the other day. She lost her mum last February - nursed her through the final stages of cancer. She said to me, "I had 'accepted' that my mom was dying and that allowed me to be there for her and look after in a way that others couldn't. I still believe God is Sovereign and can heal anyone he chooses but he doesn't always choose that. And when we can grasp that we can move onto the next stage in a person's life journey...and that, I believe, is a gift to them."

What a relief, to hear someone else say that - and someone who knows what she's talking about.

When Sandy's life was drawing to an end, when she was suffering, when she was floating in pain and her consciousness was no longer of earth, it wasn't easy for me. Two days before she died I spent the day with her while her husband took a bit of time away. On that day, I messaged my sister and my mum midway through the day. I said "I'm screaming on the inside over here. I don't want to be here, don't want to be here."

But if you had showed up at her house, handed me your car keys and said "Okay, GO!" I wouldn't have gone. You couldn't have moved me with a lever. There wasn't a concrete thing I could do for her but I could sit there in her living room and love her like freaking crazy.

My answer for how to be with a dying person is the same as Sandy's answer for how to BE a dying person.

So, what do I do in this season of transition, or how do I live? I received the answer as I read Psalm 27. “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in His temple.”

Simple. Just BE. Find Him where I know He lives, and soak in His beauty.

Just be.

Just be, I think to myself, watching her restless sleep and quelling the panicky, buzzing need to distract myself - do something, clean something, send an email.

But I suspect the deepest mysteries, human and divine, don't often unfold themselves to busy minds.

So be there in love, I tell myself, and let the silence go on. Let the truth be there. The map is laid out between us and we can both see the destination. Why pretend it's House Beautiful when it says Celestial City?

I almost wrote "I wish I could do it all over again," but the truth is that, though I miss her, I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't have her back if it meant she would never have been refined by her illness. I wouldn't have her back if it meant she would be fated for another forty-seven years in Vanity Fair. I wouldn't change what happened if it meant she and I must have continued as we had been: unchanged, ignorant, static.

This week, summer solstice marked nine months since her death. In the confusion and sadness, in the gradual lightening, in the altered quality of my emotions, what comes next?

I know this one. I already know. I had this lesson earlier.

Just be.

And be thankful.


Baba Yaga said...

There is so much wisdom and generosity in this. Thank you for allowing me to eavesdrop.

Mel said...

"I am who I am, because she died." I feel this so strongly myself, even these several years out for me.

Love to you Shan.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Shannon, I read this just after being hit with a huge loss. It helped. Thanks.

I know I've told you before but when someone gets sick, gets cancer, gets hurt, I never know what to pray. I don't know what's best. I found a scripture that helped me ...

At the wedding of Cana, when they ran out of booze Mary said to her son, 'they have no wine'. She didn't tell him what to do, she just told him what the problem was. This seemed to me, when I first read it to be the perfect prayer in tough circumstances ...

God ... my friend has cancer.

God ... my mother is sick.

God ... my dog ate my homework.

Whatever it is. I just want to alert God that I'm worried and at the same time let him know I trust him to do what's best. I do not beg for what I want, I ask him to assure me that what needs to happen will. Sometimes he'll make wine, sometimes he'll ignore whine.

God ... my friend has died.

Was a recent prayer. I know he can and will take care of the situtation - I needed give him a to do list.

Shan said...

Dave, I like that. It's so true - we little humans are so funny, figuring out how the Divine should go about fixing our problems.

Mel, it's amazing how it changes you. I feel like I was a kid before.

Baba Yaga, thank you. I'm sorting things out in my head, and on the blog, and I'm glad you are (all) here to bounce things off of.

Annalea said...

Shan, thank you so much for continuing to share these things with us. I count myself fortunate to be one of your readers.

I've thought a lot about the process of dying since my grandmother passed away last September, just a few days short of 90. It took about three months for the slowly accelerating spiral to complete, beginning with something that seemed treatable with surgery, and ended with a stroke after two more surgeries. She had a pacemaker, and I often wondered, during those months as those of us close to her began to wonder if she would come back out of her descent, if she was still here because her heart couldn't stop.

And speaking of stopping, I'm going to stop now, because this is turning into a post all its own . . . you'll need to come read it soon . . .

Ames said...

It is interesting how the worst times in a person's life can become the best. Beauty for ashes.

I know that during the most horrendous time in my life was also the time that I knew God's love for me the most.

lizbon said...

"I suspect the deepest mysteries, human and divine, don't often unfold themselves to busy minds."

Holy freaking crap, yes.

Anonymous said...

You don't know me, and I don't know you, but you came into my home today and left some grace.
Thank you

Susan said...

Your honesty, your vulnerability is holy ground. I'm honoured to have been able to read this today. I came hurting and it helped...

Belinda said...

I'm just here to say hello. Nothing profound, just to say: beautiful writing pouring out beautiful thoughts of a beautiful person.