My friend, Staci, died on Sunday at approximately 1:00 p.m. At forty, she was beautiful and died too young. She was married to Rob and had two daughters. Two of my children, ASW and Bear, were their classmates.
She died of breast cancer, and although I know pink is traditional, Staci was definitely not a pink kind of girl. She was fiery and feisty, and she deserves every bright and shining color in the crayon box.
When people die of cancer or some other debilitating disease, we read in their obituaries that they fought the good fight, were brave, but that they were eventually defeated. We also read about their families left behind.
My friend was so much more than her disease, and I don’t want her defined by it. She was a wonderful mother, who loved her children as fiercely as a mother bear. Even when she was confined to a wheelchair, she managed to attend most of their school activities, and she worried about how they would grow up without her.
Staci was a musician. For several years, I was a Brownie and Girl Scout leader. I was grateful when Staci joined her pure, clear voice to ours as we sang Christmas carols in the nursing homes. She taught piano and voice, and she was a substitute music teacher at our school. She sang until her lungs could no longer push out the notes. Even then, she sang in the depths of her soul. Last Christmas, I watched her mouth the words to the school program as our children performed.
When diagnosed with her latest recurrence, she quit teaching altogether. She wanted to spend as much time as she could with her family and just do regular things like cook dinner.
Toward the end, her husband protected her with a fierce dedication and love which told me she was a good wife and partner to him.
Most importantly, she was an earnest and truthful follower of the Christ. Like St. Francis advised, she evangelized everyone she touched, and if necessary, used words. In her every action, she lived as though Jesus were standing beside her.
Ironically, without her disease, we would probably have been only acquaintances; two of my children went to class with hers, but she was quite a bit younger than me, and we didn’t travel in the same circles. That all changed when our youngest children were in kindergarten, and I was one of the homeroom mothers. Our school is small and very supportive. We reach out to new mothers and to the sick. I was told one of the moms was ill with breast cancer. I helped coordinate her meals for my class, and I got to know her well through our long phone conversations. Staci was very private, but soon we both opened up about our challenges. My mother was ill. Her mother was ill (with ovarian cancer), and that gave us a launching pad from which to form our friendship. When I called to check on her, no matter how bad she was feeling, she always asked about my mother.
I rejoiced when her cancer was again in remission.
A few years later, the cancer returned with a vengeance. It was now in her bones, but she was philosophical about it. In fact, she spoke about her experience in a video for her church.
Two years ago, she still felt well, yet she lived every day as if it were her last. On one snowy day (an unusual occurrence in Oklahoma), she showed up at the school office and told them she was checking her girls out for the day. She wanted to play with them in the snow.
I’ve tried to learn from her example.
When two of her friends, Leslie and Pam, who served in the trenches with her, told me they were taking her out to lunch, I asked if I could go too. Lunch was no easy task. Confined to a wheelchair, Staci had to be partially lifted in and out of the car, and two of my tiniest friends did the heavy lifting. Those lunches taught me a lot about love. We didn’t discuss the disease, but instead talked for hours about our children, husbands friends, sex, and other beautiful things. I will cherish those lunches for the rest of my life.
Staci was witty and always truthful. She didn’t have time to beat about the bush. If you asked her opinion, you got it with no sugar coating.
I miss her already.
This morning, I told my fourteen-year-old son that the funeral is on Saturday. He’s having a minor foot surgery on Friday. Being a self-conscious teen, the first thing he said, was “Oh, boy, Saturday, my foot will look dorky.”
I told him he didn’t have to go.
He looked me straight in the eye and said “Oh, yes, I do. B. (her daughter) is my friend.”
So, on Saturday, we’ll all make our final goodbyes to our friend, and we will soldier on.
I know what Staci would say–
“Don’t weep for me. I am resting in my Savior’s arms. I am home.”