You smell cookies baking. Suddenly, you are back in your Grandmother's kitchen. You feel the first spring breeze. Suddenly, you are 21 again standing on a beach in Florida during spring break. You are walking down the aisle of the grocery, notice honeybuns, and suddenly you are sobbing in public over a dear one who died many months ago.
I think we have all had these moments of "time travel." This week with the news of Elizabeth Edwards' death, I have found myself suddenly whisked back to different moments four years ago when a good friend lost a similar fight. Suddenly, I am rambling on about our kids in her bedroom in complete denial of just how sick she really is. Suddenly, I am standing by her bed in the hospital less than a day before she would die trading promises. Suddenly, I am standing in the funeral home trying to answer my then-twelve-year old's question. "Why did she have to die?"
The best answer to that question probably came from her husband when he was explaining it to her three young children. The doctors had done all they could. They tried hard, and she tried hard to beat the cancer, but her body just wasn't getting any better. God did not want her to suffer any more, so he brought her home to heaven where she would be safe and happy and not hurt any more.
I admit that I would wrestle and wrestle with that question for months after her death. I yelled at God. I begged for some enlightenment. But ultimately I came back to her husband's response. And I came back to what I told my son that night a few days before Christmas.
There are some things we just can't understand. We can spend our lives trying, but still not understand. Some questions are just too big for us. "But here is the thing," I said. "Mrs. J. was a teacher and she had a strong faith in God. There are lessons to be learned here. We just have to pay attention. That is how we honor Mrs. J. by learning the lessons this moment has to teach us."
Here are some of the lessons I took away.
Cherish your friends. Spend time with them. Get to know them. J. and I were "mom friends." Our conversations were almost exclusively about our kids. Even after she had beat cancer the first time, we did not make time to do things together without the kids. We were both so busy with the day-to-day details of marriage, children, and work. "We need to just go have dinner sometime without the kids" was a an idea we often shared. But we ran out of time. Don't take time for granted in friendship. Don't wait until your house is clean to have your friends come over.
Be grateful for the opportunity to raise your kids. Not everyone gets to do that. This does not mean you aren't allowed to get angry, frustrated and contemplate boarding school. But it does mean as you are taking deep breaths and calming down, you put it in perspective. The colic, the tantrums, the broken windows, the teen angst- all get taken care of. And the moments in between the chaos- the hug, the shared joke, the morning ritual of getting their hair presentable for the world, the random thoughtful act- those become what you hold in your heart. For those treasured moments, the emotional and physical challenges of parenting really are a small price to pay.
Stay strong in your faith. Through valleys of pain, God carried my friend. On more than one occasion she said calmly and with conviction, "That is something I can't control, so I just leave it to God."
I miss my friend. I am grateful so grateful to her for the last lessons she taught me. I wish it did not take other losses to remind me again of those lessons. Somehow I have to find a way to stay on track even as the laundry, dinner, homework, and bills keep trying to call my attention elsewhere.