Saturday, April 17, 2010
Most of us have either been to a funeral or know of someone who has passed away.
Death was always something outside of myself, meaning that I never really internalized emotionally what it meant and since the death of that particular person didn't "change MY life" or affect me in a personal way. I could deal with it. I would call or email that person, send a card, let them know I was praying for them, and if I was close to that person, I would go to the funeral in addition to the prior ways to show I cared.
I don't recall making additional calls or sending additional emails AFTER the funeral, or any other change in what would be my normal behavior.....until my friend Debra died . I also attribute some of my change due to the fact that I am in my 40's and I believe that age has given me 20-20 vision in some aspects of life and living.
I knew Deb for about 6 years before she passed, becoming much closer the last 2-3 years. She was BEAUTIFUL inside and out. She had these stunning blue eyes that would mezmerize you, shining blonde hair, a medium sized figure with a heart and personality that would intimidate the insecure. She would tell it like she saw it, whether you agreed or not- and she was a strong woman of God- a fellow warrior who fought for what she believed in. I had no idea how she would change my life.
We were both distributors for Premier Designs Jewelry and I got to first know Deb through trainings. She and I would contribute at trainings and it was obvious she had a commitment to women growing and I could see that she had a passion about it. We became friends and through telephone calls and an occasional coffee together, our friendship grew. I could be myself with her, be real and honest. She never judged me and if I needed feedback, she would give it.
When someone I meet is comfortable in their skin, I tend to feel more comfortable in mine- I also believe that she knew she had a purpose in this world- to make it better. Some of us waste so much time trying to "find"out why we are here (myself included), what God put us on this earth to do or accomplish, and end up not finding out any answers but wasting much time and energy in the process. But Deb knew early- it was to make a difference, a positive difference in every life that she touched. She supported troubled teens in her community as well as the Facility for Family Planning in the area. She supported her friends and anyone who intersected with her in life.
As an example, a few years ago, I felt God pulling on my heart to get up early to spend some devotional time with him. Now, this is coming from a night owl...whoooo whooo wants to get up at the "butt-crack" of dawn? NOT ME!!!! But that pulling from God could not be ignored and I remember telling her one time about it. "I get up early", she said. She was up by 6:00 a.m to take her son Tyler to football practice and to me that was early, but then I could get up, have some time with the Lord, go to the gym and be back home by 7:30 to get the kids ready for school. "OK" I said. I'll call you tomorrow a.m and that's where it started. It takes about a month to start a new habit and I've been changed for the better because of her support. You do not- not call Debra when you say you will. Every morning for a little over a month I called- they were mostly short, brief , "hello's" or "I'm up's" and then we would occasionally talk during the day. Knowing Deb has changed my life in more ways than that small example.
Believe it or not, I now get up at 5:00a.m to go to the gym, get home, get the kids to school, then come home to have a nice devotional time with the Lord.
She also was there to spur me on. The bible says, " As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend....Proverbs 27:17 That's they kind of friend she was.
Her diagnosis of appendiceal cancer surprised many of us. I saw her as a healthy, strong woman and of course, she would beat this. There was NO question, after all, so many people were being healed from cancer. And Debra was just such a WARRIOR of a woman....Little did I know that there were and are still MANY people losing the battle to cancer everyday. Maybe I was being optimistic, maybe I was in denial, but I never thought for a moment that my friend would actually lose this fight until her last week of living.
She kept the severity of her illness pretty well covered for some time, and I think she believed so much that she would beat it that she even convinced her husband.
I knew that it had to be getting serious when she was flying to Chicago to get help. That got me more worried, but again, it was Debra.....Debra. No way was this thing going to beat her. She would be telling of this fight in years to come.....we thought. During this time, I would text Deb while she was home and in Chicago getting some radiation, and she sounded optimistic. I could tell she was tired and didn't have her normal energy- it was lower and she didn't sound as positive as she had in the past couple of months.
I had received a call from a very close friend of Deb's named Nancy, who told me that Deb wasn't doing well at all and that I needed to visit her. Deb didn't really want to see anyone- it is very common for Japanese people to do this when they are ill. They don't want to see friends when they are not looking their best and don't want to burden or bother anyone, but I decided to go anyway.
I called her and spoke with Chuckie (her husband) and told him, "I'm coming and I'm bringing food. Let her know". So I went. I knew if I asked, she would have said "no", so I basically informed her that I would be driving over.
When I got there Chuckie answered the door and led me to their bedroom where Deb was sitting in a chair next to the bed in her bathrobe. She looked so thin and so very frail, not the Deb I was used to seeing. She got up when I walked over to her to give her a hug...I felt the bones on her back, then she sat down. She was still as beautiful as ever, almost having a childlike quality that I hadn't ever seen. She was weak, and I could tell she didn't have a lot of energy but was putting on a good front for me. I sat on the bed and asked how she was doing. There weren't many words between us then she motioned that she wanted to lay on the bed so Chuckie and I helped her to her side. I stayed on the bed as she sat back and asked me about my family, my business, etc. She held up the conversation pretty well as she was hiding her fraility from me the best she could. Chuckie, always positive even that day, kept an upbeat tone as he walked me out. I told him that I would be back to visit, not having any idea that a 8 days later she would leave this world and fly to see Jesus.
During the week I checked in with Nancy to see how Deb was doing. Deb's sister was flying in on Saturday since her health was declining and I had offered to pick her up and take her to see Deb. I've been lucky to know Brenda "Breezy" through Deb and was happy to do this as it was out of their way to get her.
I picked up Breezy and had a nice time to spend with her on her way to see Deb- one of the reasons Breezy had decided to fly out was that Deb had been placed in the hospital and her health wasn't getting any better.
We got to the hospital and found Deb's room. Tyler and Chuckie and Nancy were there with her. She was sitting in the hospital bed, knees up with her arms around them and her head bowed onto her knees....when Breezy got there Deb looked up at her and Breezy hugged her.
I was taken aback- it was clear that Deb was ill and that her illness seemed like it was winning this fight. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. I couldn't let her see what I felt.
I think Nancy was there and took me outside- it seemed like a blur~ Nancy told me that Deb wasn't doing well at all and that her time may be coming soon. What? I couldn't believe what she was telling me. Not Deb- strong, beautiful, wonderful Deb. I wouldn't believe it, I couldn't.
When I walked back into the room, Breezy was crying, but trying not to let Deb see. I stood at Deb's bedside and she looked up- I said, "hi Debra". She apologized saying, "I'm sorry I didn't see you". I told her that Breezy had been in front of me so she couldn't see me there, and Deb responded in her normal fashion, "yeah, she can be like that". I had to laugh- a little. THAT was the Deb I knew. She can't be THIS ill, she can't be dying...really? I know I refused to believe it-
after about an hour I decided to leave and said my good-byes. I kissed Deb and told her I would be back, I just wish it weren't so soon.
Sunday morning, less than 15ish hours later, John gets a call from Chuckie- Deb had stopped breathing that morning around 4 a.m. so they put an intubator in her to keep her alive. He was with her in ICU with Breezy, Nancy and Sandee and they would wait for me to get there before they would remove it- this has got to be the worse drive anywhere I've even been to and it stunk that I had to drive an entire hour away. I cried all the way there and went up to see Deb- she was in ICU being kept alive by this breathing tube. Chuckie was a mess, and so was everyone else in the room.....I seriously kept thinking that she would wake up or someone would wake me up and say it was all a dream, a bad one.
We waited for their pastor and I can't remember if we all prayed together in her room or outside or if we did it separately...how quickly the memory can fade.
We all spent some time in Deb's room together, each of us having time to hold her hand and tell her the things each one of us needed to say- and it just didn't seem long enough.
When it was time, Chuckie let the nurse know and we all stood around the bed arm in arm as the nurses removed her ventilator. When they were done and walked out, we all stepped in to offer our love and prayers to this woman as she began leaving this world and began entering into heaven.. she took long, very slow breaths and after one long exhale, we knew she was gone.
This was the first time I was able to witness the passing of someone so close to me. It was peaceful yet painful. Understood, yet unfair. The most amazing thing is that as I watched Deb, I could visually see that her spirit had left her body- what was left was her shell, a very small piece of who Deb really was.... so it was somewhat easier to walk out of that room, because I knew and felt with all my heart that I wasn't leaving Deb...she had already left to be with our Lord and our God, and that with Him, is where she is truly complete.
Thank you Deb, for sharing your heart with me. I will forever be a better woman because I was able to know you for the short time that I did...love you.