Friday, February 13, 2009

"We Gather Together"

I have a friend who is dying. She's been battling cancer for the past three years; the cancer is winning.

The word has gotten around to her family and friends that her time is short and now is the time to gather around her with love and prayers. Kevin and I went up to visit with she and her husband the other night. We weren't quite sure what to expect - how is she feeling? Is she up to visitors? How is Jon handling all of this? What stage of grief is he dealing with at the moment?

We brought with us decadence in a bag. All of those goodies that you believe you shouldn't indulge in when you think you have your whole life ahead of you and you need to 'be good'. Milk and florentines (milk and cookies). Brie with apricot preserves and crackers and delicious red wine (adult milk and cookies). Fleur de sel caramels; roasted almonds and cashews; dried apricots dipped in rich dark chocolate. And orange asiatic lillies. We figured that, even if she couldn't eat all of those things, it's symbolic: Live it up! Enjoy yourself! Life is short, indulge!

Upon our arrival, Jon was visibly tense. As you might imagine, he's not dealing well with the impending loss of his wife of more than 30 years. Jann was, while happy to see us, incredibly weak and looked exhausted. Susan and Donna were there, too. The four of us worked together years ago and this was the first time we'd all been together since that time. I've seen Jann off and on, and Donna more in recent years because I work with her husband, but none of us have seen Susan, so it was it was an interesting reunion.

It took a few minutes to get the ball rolling, but soon, we were all sharing stories and rememberences of times past and filling each other in on current happenings in our lives. We ate and drank and laughed until we almost had tears streaming down our faces (let's just say that carrying on a conversation while enjoying a fleur de sel caramel is not for the faint of heart! However, if you want a good laugh, give it a try). Jon loosened up and Jann relaxed and took comfort in the conviviality of our gathering. After about 90 minutes Jann was too tired to continue, so we hugged her and kissed her before Jon whisked her off to put her into bed. Donna, Susan, Kevin and I busied ourselves by cleaning up the kitchen and dining room, chatting comfortably as we went along. Jon came out and thanked everyone for being there. He said this is truly the most comfortable he's seen Jann since August. He said that, though she was tired, she was very happy - and relaxed. And they were both so happy that we could all be together that night. After a while we bid each other good night and all went our separate ways.

I don't know if we'll see Jann again. I hope so. My plan is to go up there this weekend, even if it's just to stop and say hello. But who knows what will happen between now and then. I do know, however, that our gathering earlier this week will be something I remember for a long, long time. I'm thankful that we could all be there for Jann -- and for Jon. It was a such a small thing - yet at the same time a huge reminder of what really matters in this life. Family. Friends. Love. Sharing. Caring. With these things, life is rich and full - no matter how long or short it may be. Who could ask for more?

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