Grief is unique; no two people grieve identically. We may all process through those five stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) but the emotions are never expressed the same.
I wrote this as a way of grieving but also remembering and celebrating the friendship I shared with Rachel Marie, a woman who significantly impacted my life.
We grew up together, having met within the first few weeks of me being home-schooled. To me, Rachel was the definition of my teenage and young adult years. She made home-schooling bearable.
Through navigating the complexities of life, like how to properly kiss a boy when the time comes (we practiced with pillows) or what to do when a boy held your hand (her hand was held first, at youth group, by Zach, mine came about six months later with Seth) we grew up, and learned about life together under the guise that life would be just grand.
We dreamed of what life could be; being successful nurses, having husbands and children, enjoying independence and freedom. We confided in one another, gave dating advice, practiced highlighting hair naturally with lemon juice (FYI: ...it doesn't work).
We fought frequently, then would make-up; it was the nature of being young and ill-prepared to communicate effectively. We learned how to dress much cooler (read: how to stop wearing our mother's clothes from the 80's) and went from the styling "homeschooler hair" (read: hair down the back, un-styled, often with an awkward middle part) and stepped into young adult-hood.
I remember when Rachel told me she was engaged; a mutual friend of ours from our teenage years had pursued her, surprising her, and requesting permission to court her with the intention of marriage. Oh, it was the stuff dreams were made of.
After the wedding, Rach and Mark moved to Georgia, and our friendship and communication waxed and waned. She had her first child; a true beauty.
Once upon a time, I used to be a jerk, and I am ashamed to say that at one point, I had reached this place where I couldn't take hanging out/around with happy couples, so I walked away from my friendship with Rachel.
For several years, we went our separate ways; she went on to have two more children, I continued on with college. But I never forgot her; I'd touch base every now and again, never owning up to the fact that I had attempted to give up on our friendship due to my immaturity and jealousy.
But God, in His merciful way, worked on my heart through a series of events, and in the summer of 2013, He told me I needed to mend my ways with Rachel, and apologize. I reached out via email, Rachel being the beautiful soul that she was, responded with forgiveness.
One month later, she informed me that she had just been diagnosed with cancer. It was the most shocking, take your breath away moment of my life, but I vowed in that instant to partner with her in this journey, no matter what.
Two and a half years came and went, so quickly. I remember the day that she told me that her cancer was now at a stage four after a tumor recurrence and emergency surgery. The cancer, she explained, was being spread through her lymph system. It was vicious, unrelenting, cruel.
We were sitting outside a coffee shop, the day was warm, summer was blooming, and I knew at that very moment that she was going to die, that cancer would win, at least on this side of heaven.
After that, I made it a point to visit her as often as I could; one never regrets time well spent. Our days were full of conversation, reminiscing, and laughter. We talked about who we are, and who we used to be. It was always seasoned with grace, inside jokes, and discussions of living until she was an old woman; certainly we'd grow old together and live till the bitter end.
November 2015, after experiencing abdominal pain and hoping it was a GI obstruction, the scan revealed multiple tumors in her abdominal cavity. It was a dark day when she told me of the recurrence, but a plan was formulated; get her to Mexico for treatment.
In May 2016, ascites developed. We still talked as if time was all that we had; surely this cancer would be a thing of the past; I'd work as an oncology nurse, and she would be a representative of her cancer clinic; she'd share her story of healing. We would travel the world, friends forever. I had felt the Lord urging me to get a passport a few weeks prior, and Rach and I made tentative plans to go to Mexico in the fall to visit the clinic she was receiving treatment at.
On that May day, in her mountain home, which will now always be etched in my mind, she shared with me that she doesn't mind so much if she dies, for she knows where she is going. What bothered her most was leaving behind a husband, three girls, her siblings, parents, in-laws, friends. She didn't like being treated as though she was dying, and she lived in such a way that death would never have its victory over her.
The Lord granted her a vacation that next week with some bumps, but upon her arrival home, cancer decided to kick it up a notch, and give her a run for the money.
Back with a vengeance, Rachel messaged me one day that she was consulting with hospice, but was hopeful that this was just a stepping stone in an effort to manage her tremendous pain.
At the news of hospice, and perhaps because I am in healthcare and know the implications of end of life care, I came uninvited to see her; how could I not? She, my best friend, confidant, lover of life, and the one who knew me best, was worth it all to me. I met first with her husband, parents, children and siblings. When I was ushered into her home, my mind disconnected, refusing to believe that this was real.
Before me lay my beautiful friend, abdomen swollen from the tumors, fatigued from the pain medication and the disease eating away at her. I felt her pulse; tachycardic. Her pulse was bounding from her neck, skin wet with perspiration.
In that moment, nothing, literally, nothing mattered. I spoke of my love for her, the love of Jesus, I told her stories of our homeschooling days, we discussed who we liked when we were in high school, I told her how beautiful she looked. She began apologizing for doing unkind things to me when we were young, telling me she's been thinking and wondering what went wrong during our glitch in communication years back. I told her all is forgiven, and then I apologized, too. Told her I was a jerk, and immature, but here, in this moment, grace and mercy were present. Jesus was with us; He had restored what was once broken.
Next to her lay my graduation gift, the one she had planned to give to me for a celebration; we had had plans for a lunch and one-on-one time after she returned from vacation.
She apologized that she hadn't had the time to write me out a card. This beautiful gift will forever be cherished. Her father, sister, and daughter all told me how much this gift meant to Rach; how excited she was to give it to me. This passport holder is now beyond precious to me.
Life is a fine line. It is undervalued how precious it truly is. But when you see someone you love dying, nothing else really matters. It stops you in your tracks, it reminds you of the need to live without regrets, pointing to Jesus, and being genuine. I have lived parts of my life that are most certainly regrettable, but I have also learned through this experience of the grace and mercy that Jesus Christ offers.
I shared a soul connection with Rachel; whenever she would have a medical set-back, even when she didn't tell me right away, my soul always knew, always became burdened and troubled; heavy. I'd get on my knees, pleading with Jesus, hoping that I was wrong, that she was healing, that the God of miracles would touch my friend and remove the tumors, remove the pain, remove the cancer.
When she messaged me that she was admitted to the hospital with an infection, she told me "Circumstances surely are not looking good. Trusting my Jesus." I don't know how she did it; maintained such a positive outlook, even at the end. She served, and will always serve as an inspiration to me; she changed my life.
I was blessed to receive text messages from her about once a week with an update. Her pain was clear, but so was her love for Jesus. She never faltered in her communication to remain faithful to our Savior.
The day she died, my soul was burdened all day. Such a strange thing, being connected in that way, and prayer was the only thing that could ease the burden. I prayed for a painless transition from earth to heaven, and I felt almost jealous of the fact that she now gets to be with Jesus, while I'm stuck here on this planet, a sin-torn world, where grief and pain abound. She now sees, face-to-face her Maker, and is at long last, at rest, free of cancer, free of fear, free of the things that bound her.
I don't know why the Lord didn't heal her earthly body, I don't know why she didn't get to live till 90, why she had to leave earth at 28 years of age. But I do know that I serve a God who does know, and while my heart is heavy, I lift my eyes to the Maker, the One who knows, and who has promised that all things work to the good of those who love Him.
Rachel, I will miss you, so much. My heart is broken, but I know that you are with Jesus, and the pain is no more. I wish we had more time together, more hours of laughter, and sharing life. I'll miss spending time in your warm home, your hospitality, dance parties with your baby girls, and the feeling that no matter what was happening in my life, I was safe, I was home when I was with you. I don't like having to face this life without you, because you were my sister, my friend, but how thankful I am to have known you. I would never trade the hours we shared for anything this world could give me. Thank you for showing me Jesus, every step of the way.
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.