The past few weeks, I have been able to really see what grace and dignity is through a former co-worker and friend, Terry. Terry was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer this fall and was sent home with hospice two weeks ago. I went to see her in the hospital, and at first I was apprehensive. What would I say? What could I say?
She immediately gave me a hug and we talked about her childhood, growing up and raising two sons. She was at peace and treasured the life she had, but did not become angry or bitter because that live was being cut short.
Several of us arranged to sit with her for a few hours in her home while her husband went to work. I went last Thursday, and had the most wonderful, enlightening conversation of my life. I was thinking about leaving graduate school, thinking I should find a full-time job or else train for something practical and in demand, such as nursing or dental assistant. But my heart was sad, because I love English and literature and reading and books, and the thought of being able to immerse myself in those loves and possible earn a living brought an excitement to me I haven't felt in a long time. Terry must have sensed what I was thinking, because as we held hands, she said "Do what you love; that's the most important thing." She told me I was a talented writer and a good person and that I deserved to do what I loved. At that moment I decided I would return to graduate school next semester, go full-time, and give this opportunity for a new life a chance.
And when I became depressed and despondent, worried if I could make a living out of it, I kept hearing Terry's voice, "Do what you love."
I returned to see her Tuesday; mainly she slept. I started to cry, selfishly thinking that I needed to hear her say that to me one more time. I was tired, going on about four hours of sleep, and briefly rested my head against her arm as I held her hand. Then I started talking about a recent visit to a outdoor Christmas walk, describing the lights and the children singing Christmas carols. Her eyes opened and she smiled. And although she didn't speak, I could hear her say, "Do what you love." She loved people and friends and her family and life and her six grandchildren.
Terry died today. I feel honored for the times I was able to spend with her, and my heart feels both full and sad.
More and more, I realize I don't have the choice to return to anorexia. I want to do what I love. I love books and reading and learning and spending cold nights snuggling with my husband and nights out with friends and days with sunshine streaking the icy snow. I love the deep red sunsets of warm summer nights and quiet walks with the smell of grass in the air and the sounds of children playing in the small play corner at church and when they run up to you and giggle and laugh and show you something they made in Sunday school.
I love all of it and as long as God grants me life, I will cherish all of it. I remember once in church, when I was in the throes of anorexia, when I was near death, I heard God say to me, "I do not want my people to starve."
I will not starve and I will not have a life of emptiness.
I think of Terry now, and how much she would have given for one more year, two more years, three more years. I wish, I wish oh how I wish I could have given her that gift. It has been a hard year for many of my friends, and if I could make things better, if I could change things so all of you were surrounded by peace and happiness and love, I would do that.
But I can't.
The best I can do is honor the people in my life by really living. Terry, I will do what I love. Thank you.