Last Monday, we sat together in a visiting area on the fourth floor of the UNC Cancer Hospital. My friend Delores and I talked, away from her sleeping husband in a room down the hall. I hadn’t seen her since my Book Launch on April 6th. That day, I was surprised and thankful that Delores was able to come because she’d been so busy going back and forth to treatment with her husband; after four years in remission, his melanoma had returned.
Delores has supported me over the years of our friendship that date back to ninth grade. We sang in a church youth group and loved ‘riding around’ on Sunday afternoons before our meetings at my Grandma’s Presbyterian church. We enjoyed fun times of talking and laughing for hours, telling the tales of girls before the responsibilities of life were pressing down.
When I went through breast cancer, she was there for me. In the opening chapter of my memoir, I tell about a trip to the Smokey Mountains with Delores. She was the kind of friend I felt I could safely show my bald head when I was still dealing with my self-consciousness. Now, I see how carefully she tends her husband, advocating for him with the hospital staff, showing her persistent attention to detail even when I know she’s very tired, and sometimes, weary.
We talked for a couple of hours in the small enclosed area, swapping accounts of the past months; both of us are dealing with problems with our husbands. The issues are different but some of the feelings are similar.
Neither of us will have a Hallmark Christmas.
I tell her about how my family will navigate the holiday, the usual Christmas Eve dinner at my house now switched to my son’s– better for my grandson’s sleep schedule and for a more neutral setting. She and her children and grandchildren will celebrate Christmas in the hospital room– no tree or smell of ham baking but the sweet aroma of a family’s love pulled close around their beloved Daddy and ‘Grandpa Pat.’
Their time at UNC hospital is lasting longer than they anticipated. Delores mentioned that she’d put her name on the list to stay at the hospital hotel to avoid the long drive home after an exhausting day.
Quick thoughts of my open Christmas schedule, my house that now holds only me, the emptiness that I sometimes feel, were interrupted by the obvious solution.
“Come stay with me. I’d be glad to have some company, and we can have more time to visit. It’ll be a lot better than you driving down those dark country roads each night.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to impose?” she said, in her typical thinking-of-you-first way.
“Absolutely. Besides, that forces me to clean out that room and move forward with getting the house in better shape for the market.” I’d told her that we’d be selling the house next year. Every task I do now saved me from a pile up of things I’d have to do then.
I left the hospital with my mind buzzing with my plan for preparing her room. It’s easy to let things go when you live by yourself; now I felt a burst of energy because I was having ‘company’ and you always want your house to look nice for company!
Delores called me two days later to arrange to spend Friday night. I was sad that she had to be at the hospital, that her husband was going through this, but I was happy that she could rest in my home. For the first time in my life, I lived by myself like a ‘single’ woman and I was having my good friend spend the night. I set about washing the sheets, dusting the furniture, scrubbing the tub, and planning a simple dinner.
I had no idea a year ago that this is how I’d be spending Christmas, that two long-time friends would be sharing a house and conversation– not as girls, but as grown women who’ve lived a lot of years since our days of high school and church youth group.
It occurs to me that our personal faith in God has carried each of us over all those years. For both of us, while in very different situations, our loving God has been the source of our strength that others’ say we’ve exhibited during these trying times.
Thanks be to God, for all these mercies, including my special Christmas guest.