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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What are you saying, girl?

We drove past an apartment fire today. Smoke poured out of a fourth-floor sliding door and wafted across the road we were on. As we crawled past the ladder trucks and the scuttling firemen my daughter looked up from her book and said, surprised, "Ooh, look! That building's on fire!"

The younger one sniffed the air and said absently, "Hm. Smells like cookies."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


We definitely didn't deserve to win, but I sure wanted us to.

La Coupe Stanley

I first got interested in hockey (like many people, I suspect) when I was 21 years old and Vancouver took the New York Rangers to seven games in 1994. Tonight we're doing another white-knuckle, seven-game final and everybody in the country is feeling antsy and a little nauseated.

My sister is defragmenting her hard drive today so that she can watch the CBC stream of the game without too many delays.

I'm making dinner right now, at 4 PM, so I don't have to do it later.

I have neither beer nor money, so we'll be drinking iced tea (from a mix - the Canadian way).

We're all a bit nervous. But also we're tired of waiting - Canada hasn't had the Cup in 18 years (though many Canadians have - 53.6% of NHL players are from Canada, with 18.5% from the US, and Europe taking the remaining 27.9%).

Just a few words of encouragement:

Luongo - Chin up buddy. Don't let the whole 15-goals-against-in-three-away-games thing bother you. Try not to choke.

Schneider - Dude, keep your helmet handy.

Henrik - SHOOT. You never know - you could get a rebound.

Daniel - Please don't try to punch anyone. We'll all die laughing and miss the rest of the game.

Tim Thomas - Your mother wears army boots.

See you on the other side..... [gulp] .....

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Just like that.

Yesterday my friend and I were talking about the child left alone in the car incident. From there, we went to abductions and missing children statistics. The problem with being a parent, we agreed, is walking that line between protecting your child and teaching them to be independent. Dangers, known and unknown, are everywhere. There are predators all over the place. And yet, we have to teach our children to live in the world - they should be able to walk to school by a certain age, or walk to the corner store with their friends by a certain age. Exactly what age, obviously, depends on circumstances.

Yesterday, while my friend and I were talking about this, a man came out of the bushes at an elementary school less than three blocks from my house, and directly across the parking lot from the RCMP station. He approached a girl who was on the edges of the field and had wandered from the rest of her class. He grabbed her, tried to take her with him. She fought him off, screaming, and got away.

Police were called, dogs were brought, but it had begun to rain and there was no trace of the man.

Yesterday, while the dogs were trying to pick up a scent, I was having coffee with my friend. We were rolling our eyes, half-laughing, and saying "What a world! I sometimes wish I hadn't even had kids - they've got such a tough job of growing up, that's IF we can get them there alive."

Yesterday we joked nervously about it, while not truly believing it would ever happen.

But yesterday it nearly did.

Today, somewhere in my neighbourhood, a mother still has her daughter.

She nearly didn't.

Tonight, somewhere in this town, a little girl is going to bed in her own room, with the door ajar and the hallway light on. Her parents are staying up in the living room so she can go to sleep to sounds of safety.

How tonight could have been different for her, I don't want to think about.

Today, it's not an abstract anymore. Today, it's a buzz of fearful conversation over fences, new bonds formed between neighbours as we talk about walking each other's children to and from school. Today, it's a pit in my stomach: nauseated horror.

Yesterday we were speculating on what could possibly happen.

Today we know that, among us, someone else has thought of it. Someone decided to do it. Someone nearly succeeded, right here in this small town in broad daylight and within earshot of police.

In one day - in one minute - everything can change. Everything nearly changed for that girl, for her family.

And I know that living in fear is bad for people. It's bad for me, it's bad for my children.

We can tell ourselves it couldn't happen here, that the chances are a million to one against it happening.

I don't care if it hardly ever happens - even once is too many times.

It's not worth the risk.