I have a memory of my friend Laurie . . . We are sitting on a set of bleachers together, warm sunshine pouring down on us. She tells me the story of her husband proposing. He’s out there in front of us, playing softball on the same team as my fiancé. I notice her engagement ring. I’m noticing everyone’s engagement rings these days because mine is so new. We are both full of light and love. We are young. So young.
I knew her first as a fellow church member and friend. She and her husband went hiking with us. They came to our wedding. I went to her baby shower when she was expecting her son.
Months later, I told her it looked like she’d lost the baby weight and she turned around and whispered, “I’m pregnant again!”
I saw how thrilled she was to have a baby girl then—someone with whom to do her nails and shop for bling.
A few years after that, she sat in front of us in church and said she loved the baby noises my infant girl made during the service.
She was full of New England sass and never ran out of words. Words of wisdom and humor. She never ran out of love either.
I watched her become our pastor. And lead us closer to Jesus. Fearlessly. Rallying her people and pushing us to be everything He was asking us to be. Drawing us closer in the safety of shared community.
It was the summer of 2012 and she’d been given a death sentence.
Stage Four Cancer. We cried and prayed.
Somehow, miraculously, by the Grace of God, the cancer receded. She claimed the healing she knew He’d worked in her body. We breathed a sigh of relief. Pastor Laurie moved on to bigger and better things and our community splintered apart. Not completely. We all still loved each other, but we weren’t together every Wednesday night as we had been. And Pastor Laurie was busy. She was redeeming her time. And it turned out to be short.
I found out early this month that she was in the hospital. Someone said the cancer was back. But we didn’t know much more than that. It sounded like they were still expecting the best. I texted her, sending her love and prayers. I didn’t want to be a nuisance. I heard she came home and I signed up to take her a meal. I bought the ingredients, got an aluminum pan to use for the stuffed shells. I thought the last thing she needed to worry about was returning a dish to me.
I finally delivered that meal this past Tuesday night. The date I’d signed up for ended up being the day of her funeral.
We went to the viewing. We went to the funeral, the cemetery, the funeral dinner. But nothing tore my heart out like taking that meal to her husband and children. Standing in her kitchen, looking at those three faces and knowing that nothing I say or do will make it better. Saying nothing because what is there left to say?
Here is dinner. Please be well. Now I’m going to run away and cry all the way home.
I know Pastor Laurie is okay. She’s better than she ever was here. But the pain and the ache and the absence . . . the gaping hole she left behind is so vacant. I can’t imagine what could fill it. Her presence was so large and so unique. Only a good God, who loves us and has reasons we can’t begin to comprehend, can fill the emptiness.
So I just keep praying. Not for myself. Though I miss her, I know this cross is so much greater for her family. I pray for them. That somehow, the ache will ease, hearts will heal, and the sun will shine again.