by Sally Matheny
|Talking About Life and Death|
We were seventeen years old and looking forward to graduation when it happened.
Our friendship began only a year and a half earlier. Her family had recently moved to North Carolina from Ohio. The school year had already begun. Jan was the new kid without friends and she had cancer.
Our Junior Civinettes club went to her house to welcome her to the neighborhood and introduce ourselves as her new friends. We were nervous about going because we didn’t know anyone our age with cancer. I knew my boyfriend’s mother had survived Hodgkin’s. That’s what Jan had so I figured she'd be a survivor, too.
Jan and I became good friends. We hung out at school and visited each other’s homes. We never talked about cancer or life or death. We didn’t talk about it when her sandy blonde hair began to fall out. She only asked if I’d help her brush off the loose hairs from her sweater. I did and assured her she looked fine.
We didn’t talk about life and death when she came to school one day wearing a wig and people began to whisper. And stare. I just walked with her.
We didn’t talk about life and death when she grew weaker. She only asked if I’d help carry her books. I did, and when I couldn’t, I enlisted others to help. Jan had many friends. She always smiled and made conversation easy for those who dared to come close to her. A teen with cancer is a difficult thing to understand. I tried not to think about it. Jan was fun to be with and I knew she would get well.
|A teen with cancer is a difficult thing to understand.|
So, we didn't talk about life and death. Not when we had to stop and let her rest a lot when we played tennis, not when she missed school, not when I drove her to chemotherapy, not when she had to have a hysterectomy.
I thought life and death were the things people talked about when they got old.
Except Jan didn't grow old.
Then, I panicked. Because Jan and I had not talked about the deeper truths of life. As nice as she was, I didn’t know if my dear friend believed in Jesus Christ. And then, it was too late.
Sure, I had considered talking to Jan before. But, I was afraid that if I talked about such things, she would think I assumed she was going to die. I didn’t want her to think that, because I never thought she would die.
My heart grieved the loss of my friend and ached because I had failed her. The burden became too great. Before the funeral, I talked to Jan’s mom. She assured me Jan was a Christian. Relief came, but not peace. I had still failed my friend. I could have been more encouraging to her during her difficult journey by talking about the hope in Christ we shared. Why had I not prayed with her instead of just for her?
I was given a bittersweet gift my senior year in high school—a glimpse of how quickly things pass— opportunities, friends, life. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one.
|Life is fleeting.|
Today is the day to talk about the reality of death and the hope of eternal life.