Kara’s Collection: Death and Life

from an article originally posted June 4, 2014...

In the corners of all stories, there is a quiet story. It’s the sad story of loss. This week the loss hit a little closer. You know the story, you have heard people tell it in hushed tones. I have heard people quietly tell of the loss of someone and then sheepishly eye me. And, in that look, I know I don’t need to ask how the person died. I simply know it’s cancer. You hurt that the person will leave you anxious that they brought up the death of another. A death involving cancer.

My sister and I have been having quiet talks about someone we know who was about to fly away. The precious mama of a family member of my sister has fought with dignity for 15 years. She was one of the first I have known to have cancer. Her spirit was strong, life giving, and spunky. I would probably not have believed the battle she was in if I wasn’t told. But now I know her story on a level only someone in the battle can understand. It’s this club none of us want to be a part of, but desperately try and live in with grace. Arlene would write me letters after my diagnosis. Letters of knowing and kindness.

Jason and I hosted a breakfast this morning with dear friends that are walking beside one who is struggling with this monster. We listened, we simply listened. We know how confusing the journey is to walk beside cancer. There is no right way, no wrong way, just a cloudy, painful haze. A grasping for grace, and a lot of desperate pleading through prayers. I came to my bedroom after our breakfast to find the message from my sister...Arlene had gone home.

Everything, everything, everything slowly came unraveled as everything became clear. I was both glad that Arlene flew away to the land of no more pain, no more tears, the place where cancer does not exist. But I also know the faces here that hurt for her, long for her warmth, and were not ready for her departure. I stumbled ungracefully through my day and found myself driving to the store; I had a dinner party planned. I called my sister and I let myself feel sorry for myself for a minute. I told her how hard it is to hear cancer taking someone. I asked about Arlene’s family, which is my sister’s family. There are not words. No words, just quiet. Arlene is in the very best of company, and her body is no longer in pain.

I walked into Whole Foods and literally walked in circles trying to fill a cart with enough food to feed three large families. I found vegetables to roast, chickens to stuff with lemon and rosemary, and milk—don’t we always need milk? I went back for fruit. I brought my purchases home and started to chop. I put on Indelible Grace on Pandora and song after song echoed of heaven. And though I did not know Arlene well, I let myself cry for her. Cry happy tears that she is not hurting anymore. That she is in her forever home. I cried for her daughter who is walking through this one weary step at a time. I prayed, I chopped, I stuck everything in the oven and hoped it wouldn’t be terrible.

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Then my sweet friend Jennifer came in with a sleeping child and sat across from me and asked me about Arlene. Then she cried and told me how she lost a friend Friday. She was not embarrassed that she was telling a person with cancer that someone died of a cancerous brain tumor. No hushed tones, simply safe tears. We sat beside each other and cried, because it hurts. Cried because cancer is painful. Terribly painful. I spend so much time avoiding it to try and find life. But in that moment, life was being broken and sad about cancer. And it felt like the hardest of life next to the best of life. The broken beautiful of life. The veil between this life and the next is a tender and thin veil, but it’s a painful one. It’s a very painful one. I was proud of my friend for telling me she was hurting. She was brave. I was proud of my friends that came to breakfast to begin to brave the questions of how to love someone that is suffering well. To sit together quiet in not knowing the right answers together. I am proud of my sister and her friends that will wrap their friend and sister up in love and let her hurt for the loss of her mama.

Some days are just hard. Some days all you know to do is to chop up potatoes. Make lemonade. Stick a chicken in the oven. And know that the people walking through the door are more important than the fact that your bathroom likely has pee on the seat, and you only managed to pick up the giant pieces of trash from the floor and bypassed the vacuum. You stack the plates and add the paper towel; napkins feel too hard tonight. Your heart is weary, but you know the relationships walking through the door will remind you of something you need reminding of—you simply can’t place what it is. But I know there is always goodness and grace when we crowd our table. They come, our friends come with kind smiles knowing I had cried to the butcher and likely cried in the food I was going to be serving them. We placed the plates before the children and prayed and looked upon the countless children and remembered life. So many children, so many little reminders of life. The very best of life.

And outside around the adult table you laugh. Not a little bit, but laugh like you haven’t laughed in a long time. Nothing really funny, but a laugh that you needed to remember that you are still alive. Still here capturing life.

So, that was my day. How was yours? The best of life next to the very hardest of it. Photo credit to my guy. The picture about is likely the worst and most honest picture I have seen of myself in a while. Tired eyes, bed head, the shirt I slept in last night that I’m sleeping in tonight. This captures me today. It’s Jason telling the truth with my camera. It was a tough day but it was not a day without grace. I have yet to find one of those days.