I have missed blogging for the past few months. Most of you know I lost my dear sweet labb, Bailey last summer. But I had not shared my other pain. My dear friend of over twenty years passed away on August 16th, 2012.
For me, itwas time to share my greif with others. Here is our story.
Evenings With Ellie
The cell rang. Pam grabbed it on the second ring. “Hi, Ellie. Did you hear back from your doctor?”
“Yes, we met with him today.”
“Would you and Bill come over after dinner tonight?”
At the sound of Ellie’s voice, her eyes moistened. “Of course, we’ll be there by seven.”
“I know it’s bad news,” Pam said to her husband as they drove over to Ellie’s house. The February evening chilled to a brisk forty degrees. She fought to warm herself ash she crossed her arms around her body. .Please God, calm me.
Ellie’s’ husband, David, opened the door and they tiptoed into the living room. A warm fire crackled in the fireplace, providing the only light. David settled onto the sofa. Ellie remained silent, as if gathering her thoughts. With her jaw set, and her back straight, she projected a figure much larger than her ninety-four pound frame. “Thank you for coming,” Ellie said. “Before I start, you two are the only people we are sharing this with.” She re-positioned herself against the cushion and swallowed. “I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.” She clasped her husband’s hand. “I have a mass that, if not removed, will cause me to starve to death in a matter of weeks.” Her voice lowered. “I don’t want to die that way.”
Ellie stood and reached out to Pam. Six inches taller than Ellie, Pam wrapped her arms around her friend. Ellie silently held on with the strength of a bodybuilder. Had it only been two months since Ellie began mentioning the pain?
“How can we help?” Pam asked.
“I’m teaching nights this semester,” Ellie’s husband said. “Once the surgery’s completed, Ellie will be alone unless you can stay with her in the evenings.”
“I’ll do anything you need. We can have some girlfriend time.”
Ellie smiled. “One more thing, my lungs are weak and damaged. Even if I survive the surgery, I may not be able to get off the ventilator. Pray for me.”
“Of course, and Bill will ask our Sunday school class to do the same, if that’s okay.”
Ellie whispered. “I’d appreciate that.”
“My class’s full of miracle-working Christians,” Bill said.
The first Monday after Ellie was released from the hospital, Pam prepared to spend evenings attending to Ellie. Ellie’s husband and a home-healthcare nurse took care of Ellie during the day.
Pam’s first evening visit found Ellie propped up in the queen bed, barely able to hold up her head. Her sandy blond hair, normally worn short, hung to her shoulders. Unable to shower, the limp locks clung to her.
“I did it,” Ellie said. “I told myself I had to breathe for David. Over and over I chanted, breathe, breathe. The doctor had me off the ventilator before I went to recovery. I survived for my David.”
“You’re an amazing woman. David’s lucky to have picked you out at the teachers’ dance all those many years ago. How long have you been married now, forty-one years this August, right?”
“Yes, forty-one wonderful years.”
“Last night, David shared your song with Phil. How romantic—Across a Crowded Room.”
“It’s true. I sat at a table with two of my teacher friends. David glided across the dance floor and scooped me up. We danced all night. I didn’t even know his name. But I knew I loved him.”
“He told me the two of you eloped. Some couples are just meant to be together.”
Ellie smiled, but remained silent.
After several minutes, her color brightened as she leaned forward and whispered, “I made him have the talk. You know—the one about my funeral. I insisted. He finally agreed. If I’d died during surgery, I wanted him to know my wishes. Now it’s all written down. Even who will sing the songs.”
How courageous she was. “That must have been a difficult discussion.”
“Yes, but don’t you see, if anything happens to me, David needs to know what to do. This way, he has a guide he can use if…”
“You’re right. Knowing your wishes will help ease his mind.”
“I love my dear husband. It’s just been the two of us since we met. You and Bill are our closest friends. We have no family in Oklahoma. Our parents are deceased. We never had any children. He’d be lost if anything happened to me. Promise me, you and Bill will look after him.”
They joined hands and shared tears. “Nothing is going to happen to you, Ellie. The operation’s over and the mass has been removed. It’s time for you to heal.”
One evening, Ellie smiled as she described her process of managing their funds. Being a retired teacher and one hundred percent analytical, her financial records were complex and detailed. She tracked every penny, planned for all current and future expenses, and balanced her bank statement. “David fusses and insists I’ve developed a process only a genius would use.” She gave me her impish grin and added, “But he’s learned it and now he pays the bills and tracks our income. This way he will always have the money he needs.”
“You’re evil. David doesn’t have a chance. You’ve got his whole life planned.”
“Yes. I’m glad he’s a fast learner.”
About four weeks into her recovery, she announced that David was planning an exciting vacation. “He wants to take me on a trip back to Maine. We were hippies when we met. We spoke our vows by the ocean in Algonquin.” Ellie hugged her chest. “Our hearts belong to Maine.”
“You and David vacation in Maine every other year. Is it time to go this year?”
“We went last year. But we want to revisit all our special places. It could be our last trip.”
“Are you strong enough to travel?”
“Yes. The doctor won’t approve flying, so we’ll drive. We’ll stop if I get too tired, and I’ll use my walker. I’m going to give him this trip.”
The June trip, planned for eight weeks in the future, would require a miracle—and the miracle happened.
After their return from Maine, Ellie grew stronger and more active. Her strength improved as did her appetite.
Anytime David had an appointment, Pam dropped everything to stay with Ellie. The two friends worked together in Ellie’s kitchen to make small meals. She taught Pam where her pots and pans were stored, and her method of cooking. Pam spent more time in Ellie’s kitchen than her own. They laughed, cried, and enjoyed each other.
In late July, Pam teased, “Are you ready for our pedicure yet? My poor feet are starving for pampering.”
“We’ve been too busy for a pedicure, lunch out, or a movie in months,” Ellie kidded. “ Want to go?”
“Good. I’ll pick a movie. We’ll get our pedicures, then after lunch at Mimi’s Café, we’ll see a show. You be ready to go tomorrow at ten.”
And go they did. Ellie drove the car for the first time in six months.
Pam and Ellie relaxed in the salon, pampering their tired feet. They snickered as if teens. The owner, relieved to see the two back in his shop, offered extra services to both. “Just a plain pedicure, please,” Ellie said. “We have places to go and things to see today. No time to linger here.”
Lunch included huge blueberry muffins, and chicken salad—delicious as usual. The two dragged themselves out of the booth and slowly crawled into the car. “I can’t believe we ate the entire muffin” Pam said. “When will we learn?”
They chuckled as Ellie attempted to park in the narrow space at the theater. Ellie finally located a pair of parking spots and slid onto the center line. She hung her handicapped parking sticker. “Just let them try to give me a ticket for parking in two spots.” Their day was perfect.
In early August, Elli suffered several serious setbacks. She was in and out of the hospital ICU. But her spirit flourished—bright and hopeful. Ellie’s positive attitude provided unwavering hope.
A week later, Ellie was rushed to the hospital. After one night in ICU, she was sent home. The prescription—Hospice. The doctors had spoken. She had days to weeks to live. Too weak to walk, Bill and David carried her into the bedroom and settled her onto the loveseat. She smiled at the three of them, too weak to carry on a conversation.
The next two weeks, Ellie slept. David stayed by her side day and night. He administered her pain medications every two hours and cared for her with all his love and strength.
At six the morning of August 16th, Pam’s phone rang. She heard “Its time. You’d better come.”
“I’ve never been able to cry,” Bill said.” I’ve lost both of my parents but I couldn’t weep.” He sat on the edge of their bed, staring down at the floor.
“Everyone grieves differently. You were reared to hold in your emotions but they’re still inside of you.”
He sighed, shook his head, and took her hand. “Don’t I need to show my grief?”
“Sure, tears help heal us. But if you don’t cry, it doesn’t mean you don’t care.”
Bill and Pam braced themselves and reached Ellie’s home within fifteen minutes. David had set up two chairs next to their bed. Bill dropped onto the loveseat across the room and they prayed. Ellie’s breathing labored. Her body shook as she moaned, but death delayed.
“Thank you for the most wonderful days of my life,” David whispered to his wife. “Please understand it’s okay for you to leave me. We’ll be together one day”
Her small frame raised and fell as she fought death.
Pam leaned closer to the bed and brushed her cheek. “Ellie, you’ve been the most wonderful friend. I love you but it is time for you to be with God. He will give you a strong, healthy body with no more pain.” Pam wiped the tears from her cheeks. “We had such wonderful times together. I promise that Bill and I will take care of David until you two are reunited.” Pam sobbed as Ellie moaned through intermittent breathing. Six hours passed. A small tear trickled down Phil’s cheek. He rose from the loveseat and settled into a vacant chair closer to Ellie. He spoke softly, prayed, and stroked her hair. “Ellie, God is waiting for you. Let us take care of David for a while. It’s time for you to enjoy your rewards in Heaven”
Had she heard him? They’d have to ask her when they got to Heaven. Her body relaxed. She was gone. Her flesh became a shell—no spirit within.
With tears shed, final words spoken, a sad quiet filled the room. David bent over her still body and tenderly removed the necklace from around her neck. He turned to Pam and whispered, “This is now yours. Ellie would want you to have it. We picked it out during our last trip to Maine. It’s from her favorite jewelry store.”
With trembling hands, she clasped the delicate silver and pearl necklace around her neck. “Thank you so much, it’s beautiful. I sense her presence. This’s a perfect reminder of her—delicate, and yet strong and resilient.”
With strength and resolve, Ellie wrapped the three in unfailing love. She knew she would be leaving. She fought death as the cancer consumed her. She taught David how to live without her and presented Pam with a friendship that death could never destroy.
For Phil, she gave the ultimate gift—permission to show his grief. Ellie walked in pain that day waiting for a grieving friend to say goodbye. Even in death, she put the needs of others first.
Pay it forward. Be a friend like Ellie.