When I was in 6th grade, my then-best friend’s mother died, after battling a brutal and painful disease. I remember sitting in her room with her, on her bed, staring silently up at the N’Sync posters on her wall, wondering what to say. We probably sat there for over an hour in total silence. I left her house that day feeling like a failure, and a terrible friend, for not being able to offer a single comforting word. Though we maintained a friendship through college, we’re only casual acquaintances now. However, something she told me, years after her mother died, has always stuck with me.
“When my Mom died, what I needed most was someone to just sit with me and not try to make it better. You did that.”
The past six months, my friend Greg, who was diagnosed with leukemia, has progressively been getting worse. He’s the younger brother of my best friend Katy’s husband, Paul, who over the past few years, has grown to be a best friend as well. I’ve been there with my friends, from the initial diagnosis, to the first round of chemo, to the devastating news that there was nothing more the doctors could do, as the cancer was no longer responding to treatments.
Through the entire process, I fully and completely believed Greg would win the fight against the cancer. He has always been one of those people that is so full of life and goodness, that nothing ever brought him down. Everyone who knows him will tell you that he’s one of the funniest and happiest people they’ve met. If anyone could endure the pain, loneliness, and suffering that cancer brought, it was Greg.
When things started looking really grim, my faith turned then to God to heal him. Again, I fully hoped, and believed, that God would. Last weekend, when Ryan and I made the trip down to his parents house, where he had been moved to via ambulance, my faith started to falter. He was lying in a hospital bed, in the same spot in their living room where their pull-out couch (the one I’d slept on the first time I’d met him, when I went to stay with Paul’s parents for a weekend during college) used to be.
I’d never seen anyone in that much pain. He was covered in bruises, and the disease had made him so swollen, that he was almost unrecognizable. But when Greg cracked a joke at my expense, which made everyone in the room laugh, I saw that my friend was still there. I silently prayed the whole time I was sitting next to him that God would heal him, and I left, still having at least some hope, that He would.
Greg died Monday night.
As soon as Ryan and I got the call, we rushed over to Paul and Katy’s house. The walk up the three steps to their front door seemed like eternity. When we opened the door and saw Paul, I lost it. The pain I felt at the loss of my friend, was only a fraction of what I could see he was feeling, having lost his brother, and Katy, her brother-in-law.We cried, and silently in my head, I questioned God.
Why? Why would you take him? There were so many – hundreds, if not thousands, of people, churches, friends, and family praying for Greg to be healed. Did you ignore those prayers, or just answer them all with “no?” Why are you putting this family, this good, kind, loving, Christian family who loves you, through such utter hell?
It wasn’t long before a few other friends came over, and then a few more. We all alternated between sitting there laughing, telling stories about the funny things Greg had done, to sitting there crying, feeling the loss of our friend and brother. There were plenty of silent pauses too. When at the same time everyone took a moment to hope, or silently pray, that there was something we could do to make it all better.
I started to see something, while we were sitting there, that I hadn’t expected to see.
Through that weighty feeling of hell, I caught a small glimpse of heaven. I saw what life will be like when everyone truly loves, and cares for their neighbors. Everyone Paul had called, had dropped whatever they were doing, to come over immediately to console and comfort him. Just as Ryan and I did, without even thinking about it. We instinctively went to be with our friends. We were brought together by the kind of deep, utter sorrow and pain that will only exist on this Earth, but the result was that we were loving our friends who were hurting in the purest, more sincere way I’ve ever seen love. It changed me. I stopped asking angry questions about things I didn’t understand, and instead paid attention to what I did know. That Greg loved God, and God loves Greg. I might not ever know the rest, but those two truths were enough, for now, to quiet my stirring mind.
As I was packing last night for my trip to Greg’s funeral, something hit me. Even though he was gone, Greg was still affecting me with his good, happy, kind life. It made me wonder if that glimpse of heaven I caught the night I found out he was gone, was really Greg, reminding me, and all of us, that he was still being loved. Just now, he’s being loved by someone who only knows love in it’s purest form, and can do it better than we ever could.
At the service tomorrow, I’m going to cry, and I’m going to be sad, and I’m going to feel pain that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. But underneath that all, I’m going to pray that God will remind me of what He showed me this week- that Greg loved God, and God loves Greg.
And that is what matters most.