Last Saturday, I lost a longtime friend to cancer.
It is something I’m absolutely not okay with.
Sara was funny. She was witty. She was an incredibly talented artist and craft-person, sewing and knitting and taking photos with the best of them. She even owned a lovely boutique that sold fabulous goodies. Sara loved to bake, to play games, and to play music. She spoke often of her faith in God and Jesus – certainly after her diagnosis, but before, too. She was creative and clever and generous and devoted.
The girls wearing the Easter outfits Sara made for them, circa 2009.
Ella’s skirt was super-cute – she and Annie saved it for dress-up long after it had become too small for wearing otherwise – but it was the dress Sara created for Annie (complete with apron — an apron!!) that absolutely stole my heart.
Sara was diagnosed five short months ago. She fought valiantly and hard, remaining hopeful that she would be able to beat this cruel and unpredictable disease. She came home for hospice just two weeks before she died.
She was only thirty-nine.
Sara and I met on the same December 2004 Moms message board where I met Sarah, Karen, and Jenifer; we’ve been friends for nearly eleven years. Her three children are young – the youngest is a December ’04 kiddo, like my Ella. Just imagining them trying to navigate this world without their mama makes my heart hurt. Cancer is so effing mean.
Like so many friendships, Sara’s and my relationship did not take a linear path: meet, become pals, happily ever after, the end. Although we met in person, joining together with other December ’04 friends in Atlantic City for a rather, um, epic long weekend, the bulk of our communications were online. Because we weren’t accustomed to seeing one another face to face, it was all too easy for months to go by without getting in touch.
The first time that I sent Sara a Christmas card and didn’t receive one back from her (we’d been exchanging them for years), I assumed that she and her family hadn’t done cards that year. By the second year, I didn’t know if they weren’t sending cards, period, or if she simply wasn’t interested in sending one to me anymore, for whatever reason. I sent a card anyway, happily imagining her opening it. This went on for a few more years until I heard through the grapevine that Sara had moved; thus, the time came when I copied her address label in my Excel spreadsheet from the “current” list to the “no longer” list. I didn’t really want to, but if she wasn’t even receiving the cards, it seemed silly to continue sending them. Our communications essentially ceased.
And then, lo and behold, I received a Facebook friend request from Sara this past December! It had been several years since we’d been in contact and I’ll admit I was wary to accept her request. Would it feel strained? Weird? Too much water under the bridge? In the end, I decided that I didn’t care about the water; I cared about the bridge.
Sara and me on our Atlantic City trip, 2006.
We kept in touch on Facebook, commenting on one another’s photos or status updates. I loved seeing how her kids had grown in the years since we’d last talked, loved seeing what Sara was up to. When she was diagnosed in the spring, the years of not keeping up with one another seemed to disappear. All that mattered was that my friend was sick and needed support, love, encouragement, and prayers.
It’s easy to see what’s really important when things become really hard. Funny, that.
So often folks are hit with a crisis or a tragedy, people are quick to quip, “Live each day as though it were your last!” I get it: don’t put off your dreams until later because who knows if that time will come, live with joy, tell people you love them, don’t wait to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do because it may be too late.
That’s well and good, really it is. But I’m not terribly interested in living each day as though it were my last. If I thought that I’d be gone tomorrow, I sure as heck wouldn’t spend today doing the laundry. I’d be buying airplane tickets – first class, baby! – to visit family and friends, pulling the girls out of school, and making sure to drink my weight in Starbucks salted caramel mochas.
And as for regrets? Well, I just don’t see how it’s possible to live without them. If I were to bite the dust next week, I’d be bummed as heck that I never took up the cello or visited the Great Wall of China. I’d be devastated to think I’d miss Ella and Annie growing up. I’d be super annoyed that I didn’t get to see the new Star Wars that’s coming out in December, and I’d definitely regret having spent this morning working out instead of watching the first few episodes of Modern Family.
Alas, living like it all could end in a moment simply isn’t practical. Neglecting the laundry would result in a nasty situation pretty fast. First class tickets would destroy our savings. As much as I do want to learn to play the cello and visit the Great Wall – I absolutely plan to do both, someday – and it might seem tempting to say, “Screw it! Carpe Diem! I’m taking lessons and booking a trip to China next month!”, it doesn’t always work that way. Not every dream is meant to be realized at the same time.
Sara’s death – and our friendship – taught me something much simpler. It’s not that you need to live every day as though it were your last, but rather that you should live openly, wholly, with the good and the bad and everything in between.
Sara also made the silkies that Annie so cherishes. She was devoted to them at age one… and still now, at almost-nine. I love that this little bit of Sara’s goodness is still bringing such happiness into our house.
The thing is, living openly can be really freakin’ hard. It’s easier not to reach out. It’s easier not to forgive. It’s easier to assume that you’re right rather than trying to see things from another person’s perspective. It’s easier to let past hurts get in the way of present joys. It’s easier to keep difficult times to yourself rather than sharing them with others.
But being privy to Sara’s battle with cancer – as weird or hard to believe as it sounds – was such a gift. She shared her treatment plans and hospital stays with us, her diagnoses and aches and pains, her optimism that she would beat this, her hope and her deep faith. Instead of it being depressing and overwhelming, it was tremendously healing and connecting; I felt like I was with her, even though we were hundreds of miles apart. Her honesty and vulnerability were compelling and beautiful. I thought of and prayed for her all the time, but also gained a perspective and sense of awareness of my own life and priorities that might not otherwise have been present had Sara not allowed herself to be open with all of us.
Through Sara, I learned that not only is it okay to ask for help or to ask people to send you good wishes, it’s lovely and wonderful. Every time she updated her Facebook status, even when she was relaying bad news or saying she was in pain, Sara managed to put a positive and humorous spin on things. I couldn’t help but feel hope – mingled deeply with devastation and helplessness, yes, but still hope – when I read her posts. How amazing is that!
And to think I might have missed out on all of it if I’d been too afraid to accept her friend request.
As I mentioned recently, I know there are times when we all need to curl inward rather than open up. We need to protect ourselves, to heal, to recharge, and that’s okay. I’m so thankful, however, that through Sara, I discovered how powerful it can be to take a leap of faith and go forward with something that is uncertain or scary, how freeing it can feel to open your heart again.
I’m so very sad that Sara is gone – sad for me, sad for the hundreds of people who were able to attend her funeral and who miss her terribly, sad for her family, and most of all, sad for her husband and their children. No child should have to grow up without their mama. It simply isn’t right.
But I’m so deeply grateful for Sara – for her sense of humor, for her intelligence, for her kindness, her ingenuity, her cleverness, her faith, her enthusiasm, her friendship. I’m so grateful that she showed me the beauty of vulnerability, and for everything she taught me about grace, forgiveness, second chances, and always looking for the silver lining.