Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Not Good-bye

This is a post I never wanted to write. I've had the words forming in my mind since last Thursday, yet I have resisted sitting down to spill them out onto my keyboard because I have been heartsick. But, I am here now.

My friend Julie is dead and my heart is so tender over this. I haven't actually burst out crying yet but I know it's coming. Until that happens, the tears are just collecting in my heart.

I met Julie more than 30 years ago in Miss Bastian's 3rd grade class at Walnut Ridge Baptist Academy in Waterloo, Iowa. She had the longest, prettiest red hair I had ever seen! She was vibrant and enthusiastic about life. Even back then, I possessed more of a melancholy soul, so I found myself attracted to someone who didn't seem bound to a darker side by their own thoughts (really, I was a pretty normal child, even though that sentence seems to indicate otherwise!). My parents ended up switching churches the following year (to attend the church that sponsored the Christian school ; Julie's family also attended) , so during the school year, through the 12th grade, Julie and I saw eachother six days a week between school and church. As I told Julie the other day, every time I turned around, she was there! Julie and I attended the same Bible college our freshman year. We were at eachothers' weddings, ran into eachother from time to time in the decades since, and kept up with eachother through Christmas cards, letters, and phone calls every so often. We weren't best friends, but we were friends.

Four years ago, Julie's best friend called me one evening to let me know that Julie had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 34 years old! I knew that when Amy told me that, it meant that I would be bidding Julie an early good-bye. It's not to say that people don't recover from cancer and go on to live long lives because some do. Some have multiple bouts of cancer and still live for years and years. But somehow, I knew that with Julie, it was going to be different.

But it didn't happen right away. Julie endured chemo a few different times. She had some surgeries. I would call and she would be so bubbly and positive about it. As time went on, the shock of her diagnosis wore off and it was just the norm, anymore. I got one Christmas card from Julie with her family and there she was completely bald, and I didn't think anything of it!

I had my stroke in October of '07. Julie called me the night I got home from the hospital. I remember being so touched by that. The following July we were camping and we visited Julie's church. To my delight, she was in attendance that morning. Julie's head was covered with a downy fuzz which reminded me of newborn baby chick. She was so concerned, though, about me. She knew I was having a difficult recovery and wanted to know all about it. I finally managed to ask her, "But what about you? How are you doing?" She mentioned that a few weeks earlier her lung had filled up with blood at home, they had to call 911, and she ended up having surgery to affix her lung to her chest wall. I was aghast, but Julie was so matter of fact about it!

I started blogging a year ago. A few months into it, Julie let me know that her routine was to have chemo on Fridays and then, return home, and read my latest entries. I always made sure that I had something new up - just for Julie. Julie herself started blogging last summer. It was more of a private thing and she told me that she just "couldn't be funny, not like you, Sarah!" I found myself so touched by her entries, though. Her last was in November and she was discouraged because another scan had revealed more "hot" spots throughout her body and the 2 chemo pills she was taking were not enough to combat them. It was just a little while longer before drs told her there was nothing else that could be done and chances were, she'd be dying soon.

I went to see Julie last Wednesday, the 27th. I firmly told myself before I went in that I was not allowed to cry! I will cherish that hour I had with her, forever. Julie was very weak. Her skin was discolored from the failure of her liver. Her features were drawn. But her spirit was still there! I walked in, and Julie said, "I can't see - who is this?" I told her it was me and she smiled. We sat and talked for a little bit. I felt like an idiot because I couldn't think of one interesting thing to share with her. But I told her about the snow (it had snowed quite a bit on my way up) and how Will had finally gotten a cell phone and was starting driver's ed. soon - silly, ordinary stuff. Then, Julie said she was so sleepy and said, "I'm so sorry! I wish you could come back another time!" I told her to rest. Then, Julie's husband and I chatted for awhile. A little bit later Julie awoke and requested to be moved, so Luke, her husband, helped her walk to the couch. He and his mom got her all settled into place and then Julie and I were alone. I sat on the floor beside the couch and Julie lifted her arms over to me. We held onto eachother and I whispered, "I don't want to say 'good-bye'!" Julie's voice had been weak all morning long, but in the firmest voice I had heard yet, she said, "It's not good-bye!" And I agreed. It isn't - but it's a long separation until it's my turn to go, too. We talked about Heaven and Julie remembered that Paul and I had miscarried years ago and she said she'd find that baby for us and hold her/him. She then said something about "grace" and I couldn't make out if she was saying that was the baby's name, or if she was talking about God's grace.

It was such a surreal experience to be with someone when they were hours from "slipping the surly bonds of earth" and stepping over into Glory. It was sad for me, but it was also awe-inspiring. When somebody knows Christ, there truly is no reason to fear death, but rather, to embrace it. And Julie was ready. She was just waiting for Jesus to reach out his hand to her and carry her across that Great Divide.

The next afternoon Jesus came for Julie and she left us. I'm so happy that Julie is free from her suffering and no longer confined to broken, sick body. But I am broken hearted for Julie's family - her parents, her husband, her 3 young children. And I'm sad for me.

Julie's best friend, Amy, and I were trading song links the other night - sad songs to match our hearts. She sent me one, recorded by Toby Keith, called, "Cryin' for Me." I ended up downloading that, burning it onto a cd, and I've listened to it about two dozen times already. The words are so true, about how when someone dies (esp. if they are a Christian) we don't cry for them; our tears are for our own loss. I can't cry for Julie. She's free! She's with Jesus and free of her sickness after 4 very long years. But I cry for me because I'm going to miss her. She won't be around to answer my phone calls anymore. She's not reading my blog posts anymore and encouraging me to take my writing to the next level. She isn't able to encourage her parents, warm her husband's lonely bed, or to raise her precious children. That's what hurts.

But, as Julie reminded me, it's not good-bye. It's "see you later!" Julie, I can't wait to see you later. This world is now a little colder, a little un-friendlier, and even more so, not my home - because you're gone.

I miss you, my friend.


  1. Thanks for posting that Sarah. Very well put. We aren't saying goodbye and Julie was right. We will see her later in Glory.

  2. As always sweetheart, excellent piece of writing here. I felt like I had closed my eyes and was listening to you speak- I could imagine the scene of you sitting with Julie-as it should be with every gifted writer.
    I knew Julie from Walnut Ridge group activities with Burton Ave., IRBC, and of course Fun Days in Marshalltown-nothing near your closeness to her. She was very vibrant and loving and sunshine. Pure sunshine. 1st thing I think of though is "gorgeous red head".

    You honored her well.