When I was fifteen years old, my Youth pastor was dying of cancer. He was a man I loved dearly who not only encouraged me, but also had pushed me pretty hard. As I was having back surgery at the time, we were in the same hospital during his final days. Only a few floors down from me, but I couldn’t bring myself to visit him. The thing I told myself, and anyone who asked, was that I didn’t want to remember him that way.
It was either that or admit that I was more concerned about my own pain. How much it would hurt to see him that way. How much it would hurt to say goodbye for the last time. What I regret most about that are the memories that I don’t have: not of him in his deteriorating state, but of the chance to hold his hand and tell him how much I love him.
I was 15 then, so I’ll give myself a pass on my selfishness then.
It was a mistake I never wanted to repeat, especially with someone I care about, like Sara J. Larson.
Sara was a co-founder of the Indiana Horror Writers and the heart of Mo*Con. A few of weeks ago she was moved to hospice care after being hospitalized for a couple of months as she is in the last days of her battle with breast cancer. I was right about one thing: it is hard. It’s hard to see a person you love frail and weak. It’s hard to see a person you love hurting and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s hard to see a person you love cut down in their prime. It’s hard to see a person you love disappear in inches: hair loss, vibrancy, coherency (due to all of the pain meds).
But she’s still the Sara we love.
It’s easy to get caught up in the awkwardness of the moment. What do I talk about? Do I mention what’s been going on/will I make her feel bad about what she’s missing out on? Do I talk about the future/wait that will just remind her of the stuff she won’t be able to be a part of? Will she even know I’m there? What good can I do there? It’s tempting to fill the silence, making the mistake of Job’s friends from that Biblical story. In fact, you could get caught up in all kinds of fretting, but I’ll tell you what Sara told me (as she’s never been shy in telling folks what to do):
“Find the hand, find the heart.”*
I have exactly one job: find her hand and hold it. That simple. I am to stand there, assure her that she’s not alone and that she’s loved. It doesn’t take words, it just takes presence. And willingness. And compassion. And love. It’s not that hard.
When our time together is done, I’m not going to remember Sara this way. We have lots of memories, plenty of laughter, arguing, and tears that make up a friendship and a life well lived. Although, I take that back. I will remember this time together because it was another chance to tell (and show) my friend how much I love and appreciate her.**
*She also reminded me, in case she was sleeping while I was there, that “For once you sitting around watching people sleep isn’t considered creepy.”
**Me: You know I’m going to write about this, right?
Sara: Yeah. But I’m not going to let you right now. You’ve got some hand holding to do.