Laura, her sister, called Jessica around 11:30 last night.
I was sitting on the couch, bouncing Adeline in her bouncy with my foot. I heard Jessica walking down the hallway. Tears rolling down both sides of her cheeks, she looked at me and said, “Sara’s gone.”
For almost two weeks, we’ve known this was coming. When Sara told us the end was close, we mourned the news for days. But we still had contact with her. An email or phone call, and while every interaction broke our heart and made us grieve more, we also soaked up hearing her voice, reading her words.
And then Sara’s body began the slow process of dying. Then, we had our last phone call. And the short emails or text messages slowed to a trickle. And we got an email where Sara wrote, “This will probably be the last time I can email. I’m becoming too weak… I love you…”
And then we waited.
Our tears slowed down.
Our emotions turned numb.
Waiting. And waiting. Oh, the waiting.
And then last night, when Laura’s phone call finally came, through tears she told Jessica that Sara had died.
Jessica and I cried. Held each other. Fell asleep. And then we woke up this morning and cried more.
But through tears, I’m also relieved for Sara. Because she was ready. And when you’re ready, you’re ready…
Sara isn’t struggling to breathe today. And oh how she struggled to breathe. I’m not sure any of us will ever truly know the challenges, hardships, and fears that Sara faced this past year. All of her friends knew it was a hard year. She didn’t have to tell us details, which wasn’t her style anyway (you practically had to corner Sara with direct questions before she’d even come close to complaining about how she was feeling). Still, we could hear her sickness growing. When she yelped in pain, we heard it.
But Sara spent a lot of time in solitude. Alone in her house. In severe pain. Struggling to breathe. And when she did breathe, her breaths were often not the deep and life-giving breaths that most of us take. Her breaths were raspy and usually got stopped by something in her lungs that limited her air capacity. Often, they were interrupted by this constant dry cough. Sometimes talking to Sara was hard. Hearing the struggle hurt my heart. Once in a great while over the last year, she’d call and sound better. But it was clear that she was dealing with a new normal, a reality that not only kept her in her bed inside her condo, and for the most part, alone, but it was also a reality that was slowly stealing her breath away…
And breath is life.
Those who knew Sara could tell when she was having a bad. If her emails weren’t returned by a certain time or if text messages hadn’t been replied to or if phone calls got ignored, we knew… I’m not sure we knew how bad she was. But we knew.
One day last spring Sara DMd me. “Would you pray for me?” she asked. “I’m starting a new pain medication tonight and I’m worried about it.”
She told me the name of the medication. And I knew that medication because I’d been prescribed a lower dose of it when I got my wisdom teeth pulled. “Well, don’t be shocked if it gives you nightmares and hallucinations,” I told her.
“But yes, I’ll pray for you. Keep us posted.”
I wept when Sara told me about what happened that night. “I couldn’t move, Matthew. I was scared. Because it was the middle of the night and I was alone and I couldn’t move. I thought I was going to die.”
In some ways, I’m not sure Sara’s body ever fully recovered from that night.
In early July, Sara and I were Skyping. I asked her how she was doing. And then I had to ask probably six more times before Sara became frank with me. “It’s been really hard. I’m not giving up. But it’s been hard.”
There was one night when her pain was so bad that she uttered a prayer for God to let her die. And then she said, “But he didn’t answer my prayer. I guess he’s not finished with me yet.”
And I remember I said something like, “I’m glad he didn’t answer that prayer, Sara. We need you. I want my kids to know you. They need to know you.”
I wanted my words to encourage her. But they were probably selfish. Because something in Sara’s voice that time told me that I didn’t truly have a clue of how hard life was becoming for her. But to complain wasn’t her style. She wanted to know how I was doing. She wanted to know what I was writing about. She wanted to see Elias jump up and down and make faces and running around in his Superman cape. She wanted to know what craft Jessica was working on. She wanted to see Adeline’s sweet face. Maybe talking about how hard life was only made her life harder to live. Or maybe she knew that her time was limited and she wanted to spend her time with others engaging their lives, so we would know that she loved us… fully.
I’m sad today. Really sad. I miss her so much. I mourn that I’ll never see her picture pop up on my Skype window, you know, the one of her sweet face hiding behind her white dog, Riley. I mourn the fact that Adeline won’t know her. I mourn the fact that Elias might not fully remember her. I mourn because Jessica and I have lost a dear friend who has changed us, made us better people, and loved us more than we ever understood.
I mourn for me, for us.
But I don’t mourn for Sara.
Because today, I believe Sara is taking a deep breath. And then taking another deep breath. And another…
So today, I remember Sara’s life by taking as many deep breaths as I can. And not simply taking them, but cherishing them. Sara would want nothing less.