My best friend Peggy died four days ago. Peggy was one of the residents at my work; but she wasn't the typical resident. She became my "adopted Grandma" faster than it's possible to fill out the associated paperwork (I'm kidding, there was no legal documentation). Neither Peggy nor I were ever really sure why we got along so well, but one thing was for sure: we clicked as soon as we met. Peggy was virtually blind, so she couldn't really tell what exactly I looked like. But she always knew it was me by the sound of my voice and the way I walked. Because Peggy was that kind of person who wanted to know you, no matter how hard it might be. I'm not an entirely open person (especially when I first meet someone knew) but Peggy found my trust right away and cared to know the details about my life. In this way she reminded me a lot of Jesus, who's constantly pursuing us as much as we may not want to be found.
Peggy truly was a remarkable woman. Not only was she the staff's favorite resident, she was most of the resident's favorite resident. Everyone knew Peggy, and everyone loved Peggy, because Peggy took the time to know everyone around her (once again, like Jesus as he knows the inner-makings of every single one of us). She was so loving, in fact, that when new residents moved in towards the end of her time at my work, she was thoroughly upset she couldn't get to know them more (she was sick at the time and not very able to be social).
Peggy had cancer. Until I saw her suffer, I never felt excessively passionate about elderly people that die of cancer. Sure cancer was bad but it was such a common thing in the elderly I didn't think much of it. They already had a chance to live, was my method of thinking. Peggy moved out of my work and into a nursing home where she waited to die. It wasn't what she wanted, and definitely not what she deserved, but how we're going to die is definitely not something we get to pick. Peggy never complained about the cancer that took over her body, but it wasn't hard to see its effects. For any of you that have ever watched a loved one die from cancer, you surely saw similar events. If you don't want to hear about the brutal effects of cancer, I encourage you to skip to the next paragraph. I do think it's important for all of us to realize how awful cancer is though, so people like me don't go around not feeling bad for the people that "already had a chance to live." Each time I went to visit her, she was skinnier than the last time. Her body became emaciated so fast that I'm not even sure how she held on for so long. She wasn't hungry, but how could she be with cancer in her stomach? When I went to hug her, it was like hugging a four year old kid. You could tell from her skin that every ounce of fat on her had been used up. At times, her memory suffered. She couldn't remember things as well, and I'm willing to bet it was partly because of the pain she was in. As time went on, she was less involved in conversation. It was as if the cancer had forced her inside of herself. But the worst part was when she desperately wanted, needed, to die, and she was still alive. Every time I left her, she'd cry ,and I'd feel like it was the last time I'd ever see her, because she had already spent a long time suffering from the treacherous disease.
But she lived, and time and time again I came back only to see her more emaciated, tired, and ready to die. On the day she died, part of me felt relieved for her. She's finally at home, free of pain and full of joy, so I was mostly happy for her. Mainly, I was sad only because the bracelets I had given her no longer adorned her wrist. I wasn't sure when they were taken off, and if she had any say in the matter, but Peggy was the first patient to receive a bracelet (although the Tuclet Initiative hadn't yet existed, in it's formal sense). And in my selfishness I wanted a part of me to be buried there with her. I'm still bitter towards my past feelings about elderly people with cancer. Sure, they did have a chance to live, that many pediatric cancer patients will never have. But no one, not 9 month year old babies nor 90 year old grandma's dies painlessly from cancer.
While Tying Up Cancer supports pediatric cancer research, we do know that all cancer's are horrible. We specifically choose to focus our efforts on pediatrics solely because the government funding for cancer research is used mainly for adult cancers, and by advocating for pediatric cancer research we hope to be able to change that. The horrors of cancer are certainly universal, though, and that leaves us hoping for relief for people suffering from all types of cancer.
When people die, the stories told about them are always good (which I guess makes sense). But I'm going to be different (because we're supposed to embrace our uniqueness, after all!) and share a funny story about Peggy on one of her not-so-good days. This story dates back to a time when Peggy had been diagnosed with cancer but it hadn't really taken it's toll on her yet. I was at Peggy's table taking their order. When I got to Peggy, I reached to take her menu out of her hand. I knew her well enough to know that she would have memorized her order and be ready to give me the menu promptly when I got around to her, whereas most of the residents read off the menu for their order and gave me the menu when they were finished. But today, instead of letting go of the menu, she held on to it. Opening the menu, she built a little wall between her and the table, and I leaned over behind it as I could tell she wanted to say something.
"Molly sometimes I just can't believe these people. They are so self-centered and everything is about them. They don't care about anything unless it's has something to do with them!"
Okay, so those words probably aren't the actual words she used. This was many months ago and my memory isn't the greatest, but that's the point she was putting across. It was a legitimate point; the people at her table were considerably different than her, and one aspect of that was that Peggy was the kindest woman there ever was and her table friends were never quite satisfied with food or with life. I told her I knew where she was coming from and understood how she felt. How often do we meet people who only care about themselves? And anyways, we all care about ourselves and our stories. I, for one, constantly find my world being all about me.
Walking away from the table I laughed to myself. For one, it was pretty hilarious that she was willing to have a personal conversation about the members of her table behind a menu while THEY WERE RIGHT THERE! Most elderly people are at least partially hard of hearing, but how daring she was! It seemed like something more likely to be seen in some teen-aged drama, with two young girls behind a menu. Peggy was always young inside, and it really did make me laugh. But secondly, until this point Peggy had always been perfect in my mind. But now, she was a heck of a lot more human to me. Because in reality, we all have days where we get frustrated by those around us, or the events in our lives, or the fact that our pencil tip just broke. <---That one always gets me. Really though, we are terribly messed up people. If someone doesn't seem to be, they're just really good at hiding it. Too often, I know I want to hide my imperfections. I wear a hat to hide my hair that is once again at an awkward stage in it's regrowth. I don't ask questions when I'm confused because I don't want people to think I'm stupid. I consider myself before those around me. I don't sing around other people because I'm ashamed of my voice. I put value in material goods, in things of this earth. But what does hiding get us? A false sense of confidence? Maybe it gives you confidence, but definitely not me.
I used to need to be perfect. In fact, I still feel that way a lot. But now I know that my brokenness is something to accept, and that yours is too (no matter how much you might still be denying you, too, are broken). See, it was a good day when I realized how messed up I am on my own. Because then I realized how much I desperately need Jesus every single day of my life as my one and only Savior from my sins. And when you realize that Jesus died for you despite the fact that you are the biggest sinner there ever was, it's quite humbling. Not to mention it leaves you with a squishy feeling of being loved. Every day when I wake up, I know that I am broken. But I also know that if I follow Jesus, I'm not broken anymore. With Jesus, I'm exactly that. With Jesus. Made in his image. And you know what that means? That you are courageous and beautiful and smart and worthwhile and LOVE. Most importantly, you are free. Free from your innate brokenness. What better feeling is there than that?
I know you've found peace, Peggy. I'll never forget you.