Take us with you
One book caught my attention more than the others. It was a scrapbook our small group had made for Dave and Cookie and Abra before they left for Chad. We had filled our pages with photos, memories, and blessings for them as they left. And I had written a letter.
Part of that letter was a plea that they take us with them along to Chad. I wrote that this new adventure would change them, would cause them to ask questions and search for answers, would give them new perspectives, would help them define better ways to live. I wanted to not be left behind. I wanted to grow alongside them, asking the questions, struggling for the answers, gaining the new perspectives and wisdom.
Now in the middle of the night before the funeral, I lie awake realizing that all along, even before I wrote that plea, they have taken us along. It has been part of who Cookie is to be open, vulnerable, and not afraid to speak the questions or share the answers, not afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or make things right after those mistakes.
We were able to get as close to knowing something as anyone could without actually living it. Cookie and Dave walked us through the loss of a child who died a month after her birth. Bethany wasn't quietly laid to rest as someone who barely existed. Because her entire life was lived in a hospital, her funeral was for all the rest of us, both a meeting and a good-bye. This was in the days when infant deaths were mostly minimized...but not Bethany's death. Through pictures and their words we got to know Bethany and her fighting spirit, how her tiny hands that could not move much could still move enough to fight the tubes hooked up to her body. We grieved together, thanks to their decision to not hide their grief, and we learned alongside them.
They took us to Chad, to the confusion of figuring out a very different culture. We heard about trying to practice Ramadan with their village, about trying to understand the very different attitudes toward possessions, and about living through real and immediate threat during a political uprising. We learned how these things impacted their faith, and what they discovered about God in the process.
They took us to India twice and we learned about trekking, and the joy of getting to know students deeply through hospitality and personal investment in young lives. We learned about how the clothes dry so slowly during monsoon that mold can be a problem.
And in the last year and a half we have learned about living with cancer and how to die well.
During the days when Cookie was still doing a lot of walking, but after the first hopeful chemo had lost its effectiveness, we took a long walk. We spent the first half of the walk talking about cancer and facing death and what Cookie's body was currently doing or not doing, and what emotions she went through in the process. We spent the second half of the walk talking about some deeply painful things happening in my life. In that discussion, Cookie could see clearly some things I was missing. She counseled me, based on similar things she had faced herself. Her advice was clear and concise. I was to do what I could to keep relationships clear. I was to be honest about where I needed to change. And I was not to take responsibility for things that went wrong that were not my fault. It was OK if people didn't like me or agree with me. After I had done what I could do, and listened as well as I could, then I had to let go of it. My own sense of worth was not to be dependent on another person's judgment of me.
I asked her how she got to that point herself, and she lined it out for me from her own experiences. She told me what she had learned, while protecting identities and being respectful of those who had disagreed with or judged her, and without giving away details of the story that were not hers to share. She took me with her into something she had learned through her own difficult experiences. For me that day was a turning point, and I'm grateful.
Since then she has continued through her blog, through her sharing in Sunday School, and through our talks, to take us with her. She has, with Dave's help, taken us right to the doors of death. I so wish I could know the reason for that smile as she crossed over.
In fact, I realized yesterday that I still sort of was expecting her to continue to take us with her.
Over the years in most cases, I'm slow to feel my grief. Loss becomes real to me on a much slower time line than I observe in other friends. I used to beat myself up about it, but it seems to work better to just accept it.
Anyway, I caught myself thinking the same thoughts I recognize from grieving the deaths of others...."if we can just get through the funeral, everything will be OK." So these days have been preparation for a celebration of Cookie's life. And then everything would be OK, which in some small place in my brain, means Cookie will be back.
I wanted her to be healed. We all did. But at the end, none of us wished for her life to be prolonged. Death was a release. She is healed now. That is real to me.
But it is real in an odd kind of way. Yesterday I was thinking I could hardly wait for Cookie's next blog post. I wondered what kind of pictures she would include. Of course the thought was fleeting and I immediately recognized the silliness of it. But I'm used to her taking us with her. I will miss that a lot.