Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saying Goodbye to a friend

I've always thought about blogging and writing down the (sometimes wacky) things that run through my head.  Even though I've thought about it I've not really acted on it because those thoughts are so very random and then I end up forgetting them after a day or two.  There has been something specific that has happened that even I can't quite shake after a few days.

I will start at the very beginning- but will try to keep it at the "Reader's Digest" version remaining as brief as possible.  When Walt and I lived in his home town in South Carolina, I developed a close friendship with Janice who at the time was dating one of Walt's best friends from High School, Jericho.  Janice could talk your ear off!  When I found out I was pregnant and going through all of the pregnancy "issues" she was right there with me and all excited.  I was Maid of Honor in their wedding (while 6 months pregnant) and we enjoyed fabulous couples outings with them.  She started attending church with us and became a member and fell in love with everyone there.  She would stay at our house some times for HOURS discussing her beliefs about God; sometimes she talked so late in the evening, I'd fall asleep and Walt stayed up with her talking.  

The time came for us to move away and back to Florida.  We kept in touch through phone calls and when we'd come to visit we'd catch up with them.  It was so nice to hang out great friends we knew and could enjoy a great cup of coffee.  Janice for so long was crazy about being a Mom.  It was all she'd talk about.  One day, we got THE call! They are having a baby! Let me fast forward to baby Joshua's arrival.  Janice and Jericho are elated, she recovers well Joshua is the light of her life. 

About 6 weeks after Joshua is born, I find out that the Dr. has found what looks to be some irregularites and they perform a medical procedure to hopefully clear things up.  One year goes by and they are about to get their "OK" to start trying to have another baby.  I was with Janice when she received a phone call from the Dr.  Again they have found some irregularities and this time they appear to be worse than before, it's Cervical Cancer.  The main option is a full hysterectomy.  Feeling blessed to have Joshua, she opts for the surgery so she has a better chance of staying healthy.  Because as we ALL know, cervical cancer is treatable. If you are going to have cancer this is the kind to have, right(little did we all know)?  The surgery goes well and she goes through a treatment of mild chemo and radiation,  the Dr. wants to take extra precautions.  Even though, she's weak, she's so strong spiritually, emotionally and mentally and takes comfort in knowing that all is well and she will now be able to watch Joshua grow up.  

After the surgery and treatment, she's in recovery mode.  Still a bit weak and in some pain the Dr. is very optimistic.  Jericho, Janice and Joshua are able to make it down to Florida and visit with us.  It's Mother's Day weekend and we enjoy a trip to St. Augustine, our kids get to go swimming together, take a bath together and run around the house naked and giggling.  Of course the four of think it's hilarious and talk about how embarrassed they will be about this years down the road.  While down here, Janice mentions difficulties and some back pain but that she's regularly visiting the Dr. and they are keeping an eye on her.  In August, her back pain is so severe, they perform a procedure to clear up some scar tissue that is causing it.  They also test some of the tissue as a follow up.  The first weekend in September, she goes to the Dr. for the follow up appt.  She called the house the night before and said, please pray so they end this back pain. Though, she told Walt, "they are not even concerned about cancer anymore, I'm good".  I found out through another friend the afternoon of the appt., "The cancer is back and they are giving Janice 6-12 months".  

My mind is racing, 6-12 months for what... not to die, no way, she's only 32, it's cervical cancer.  Remember, it's TREATABLE.  I didn't call Janice immediately, I knew she's still trying to process the news and spending time with her family.  Quite honestly, I didn't have a CLUE of what to say to her.  After hearing the news on Friday, I found myself that weekend already "mourning her".  What kind of friend am I?? She's not dead yet, God is more powerful than any kind of sickness.  It's time for me to call her, so Sunday came around and I call her.  She's not able to talk then, but the next night when I call, she answered.  I must admit, I was amazed that she sounded so strong.  I found out later through one of the family members that one of the Drs had mentioned "Christmas will be a miracle".  

In October, we make a trip to S.C. and visit with Janice.  She answered the door wearing a kercheif around her head and her first comment (in her southern twang, that I've heard from no other), "So, you want to see my bald head now or later?".  We spent the weekend visiting with her.  Her friend Renee was also visiting and the three of us went back to her room and had some good "girl talk" as she called it.  I kept thinking in my head the whole time, "wow, she's handling this much better than I would".  I don't know about you, but when something of this nature happens, I can't help but think of how I'd handle it...  

At then end of October, through many donations from their community, the entire family enjoys a trip to Orlando to ALL of the Theme Parks.  They even get to open the gates to Disney one day.  Janice gets to enjoy watching Joshua experience Disneyworld for the first time.  Once they return from Orlando, Janice's pain is extreme and the routine chemo treatments are put to a halt.  The medication is strong and she's mostly hallucinating at this point.  Her family is desperate to have her back to normal and out of pain.  FINALLY, she's able to have the spinal block.  Much to everyone's excitement, Janice is back to "normal" and there are no more hallucinations.  But at this point, the Drs have stopped the chemo and Hospice moves in, which is a much needed comfort to her family.  Through all of this, Janice is still using the words "when I beat this...".  She's still positive and having some really good days.  We are excited to be able to spend a lot of quality time with her over the Christmas weekend.  And that's exactly what we did, we laughed over good memories with her and joked.  I did notice that there were some significant changes, but tried not to focus on it.  Our last day before heading back to Florida, I noticed a few more hallucinations but didn't think much of it because I had not been around and figured it was pretty normal.  The next day we get an email from her mother that unfortunately she's now getting worse and that she's in constant hallucinations, but they have not upped her medication. From that point, I hear no more good news.  She goes from hallucinations to a constant state of prayer to consistent sleeping to heavy/shallow breathing.  On January 14th, 2009, Janice Gause lost her battle to Cervical Cancer and quietly passed away.  

Even though I expected this, I really did not prepare for it (how do you do that, anyway?). Even though sad and heartbreaking, I think I finally understood the thought of taking comfort that they are no longer in pain.   Now, on to the main point of my blog.  I've only experienced death of someone close once before this.  My grandfather passed away 9 years ago this May.  He was larger than life in my eyes.  He knew how to solve any problem and still came out valiant in the end.  He was "Pappa" and that's just the way it was..  He came across gruff, but was a HUGE teddy bear inside.  Even though I LOVED it when he would hug and kiss me and tell me to never forget how much he loved me, I never quite understood why he did all of that until he was gone.   I'm not even going to assume to understand eternal life and heaven, but I know he's there and in many ways still bigger than life.  I also know he's not here on earth,  but I still have the memory of him telling me of what not to ever forget.  In the passing of a loved one, we need to remember they are not here and thankfully in Pappa's case and Janice's I do know WHERE they are.  

It hit me like a ton of bricks at Janice's funeral- we spend so much time honoring the person AFTER they are gone we fail honor them while they are here.  I even felt guilty thinking back to times when I didn't answer Jancice's phone calls because I was too busy.  What I wouldn't give to see her name on caller ID and talk with her now.  What I wouldn't give to hear Pappa say "Hey Doodlebug!" at least just once.  We can not change the "coulda, wouldas" from the past.  What we can change though, is the present.  We share lives with so many around us, people who are dear.  Life does move on and those that we love will pass along (it's a part of life), why treasure those people AFTER they are gone?  They aren't here to enjoy it.  Treasure them while they are here, take the time to share a conversation, or just listen to them talk.   I love my life and those in it, so one of my resolutions has been to slow down and enjoy every bit of them!