Thirteen years ago, I had my last carefree lunch with my college friend Susan. She was living in Naperville, IL and I had recently moved to the western suburbs of Chicago and was expecting my first baby. We hadn't found a church yet and Andy was working the night shift, which meant lots of lonely days for me. So I was thrilled to have her over for lunch to reconnect and to have the opportunity to meet her baby daughter.
The doorbell rang and I answered and there was my petite friend with a baby on her hip and a huge dog standing next to her. All three entered my house. The dog made himself at home, sniffing and making my two cats go beserk. I was gracious, exclaiming over her darling daughter, giving hugs but inwardly, I was kind of surprised that she brought her giant dog uninvited to my house. As the dog disappeared towards my bedroom, I asked Susan what its name was. She looked surprised and said she assumed it was my dog.
Well. A small scene ensued - the kind found in a PG Wodehouse novel. The baby cried when put down. The cats were hissing and spitting. The dog was curious about my soundly sleeping husband. It took both Susan and I to grab the beast and herd him towards the door as we tried to our best to do it silently. And when the door was firmly shut on that dog, we burst into girlish giggles.
Soon after that, Susan moved out east and then my family moved overseas and we lost touch. And then I find out that losing touch was much more my fault, for Susan spent the last 10 years fighting cancer and the debilitating discouragement that accompanies it.
Two weeks ago, six of us college friends rushed to Cleveland to see her. We were forewarned to not expect her to be lucid for more than 30 seconds at a time. But we wanted her to know how loved she was by us, even if we only got five minutes with her.
We got about five hours.
Susan was very glad to see us all, so glad that she was given an energy that she hadn't had in months. She ate dinner. (She hadn't eaten in a week.) We told our stories. Prayed together. Took communion together. Laughed at old photographs. Cried.
As our time together was winding down, Susan became pensive about heaven and the judgement and her holy fear. Together, we all took reassurance in Christ standing by our sides, interceding for us. And she was so beautiful in that moment that I get choked up just thinking about it. Her body was tiny from illness, her face was puffy from the I.V. fluids, she had no makeup on and was wearing an ugly hospital gown and she was absolutely beautiful. Susan was stripped of all control of her life, stripped down to her essence, to her very being and I got to see it.
We all put on masks, presenting different faces for different situations. But we are naked before God and He knows what we really are. I have no answers for why such things like cancer happen. Death always feels unfair - like we've been cheated. But if our sorrows finally bring us to unmask ourselves and to just rest in the hope of Christ, well then, maybe we cheat death and are more than conquerors.
Susan passed away yesterday. I will hold in my heart many memories like the one I shared about the dog. And I will always treasure those hours in the hospital room with my friends as some of the holiest I have ever had. Every second felt like a gift, like real life, a glimpse of the life to come. C.S. Lewis used to say that Christians need to never say goodbye. And I remembered that when I kissed Susan farewell. I told her I would see her soon...