Monday, May 26, 2008

Music of the heart

She is tall. Statuesque. A princess of polish descent. Regal. Graceful. Big-boned. Big-hearted. Big-spirited. Long white hair neatly folded into a braid that marches serenely down her back ending almost at her waist. She's just turned 70+ but looks a decade younger. Her blue eyes sparkle, her brow remains unwrinkled with time's passing. She is kind and caring. Loving. A woman who never speaks ill of anyone. Who does not gossip or betray a trust. She is a woman of great strength. Of enormous character. Of deep heart.

We've been friends since the early 80s when she and her husband moved here from the east. I was one of the first women she met. Our friendship formed fast. The fifteen+ years separating our ages nothing compared to the recognition of our kindred spirits. We've been friends ever since.

She was there for me when my daughters were born, when my marriage disintegrated and my heart was broken by other relationships. When I had knee surgery years ago she insisted I stay with them so she could look after me. And she did. With grace and ease, as she looks after everyone. She's just that way.

And now, I get the opportunity to be there for her. To take care of her. To do for her as she has done for me and so many others.

It's not what I wanted. At least not to have to be there for her in this way. This way isn't fair.

She's got cancer. Breast cancer to be exact. An insidious disease eating away at her body, depleting her spirit from the inside out.

"Women agonize... over cancer; we take as a personal threat the lump in every friend's breast." Martha Weinman Lear, Heartsounds

And I do agonize over this cancer. I agonize over her health and how she's feeling and what she's thinking and if she's going to be okay. I agonize but I cannot tell her that. She doesn't need my agony. She needs my hope, strength and encouragement.

You can't tell. About the cancer. At least not on the outside. She is still smiling and doing. Caring for those she loves, and worrying about everyone.

It is her way. To put others first. To take care of someone else before thinking about herself.

It is her way. But her way isn't helping her right now. She doesn't know how to say 'no' to someone asking for help. She doesn't know how to say no to her husband of 45+ years who has always relied on her to do for him the things that need doing at home. Or the acquaintances who call because they've heard she's ill and want to chat. She doesn't want to chat about her disease. She's not ill, she insists.

But she is scared.

Scared of what the healing from this disease will do to her body. Scared of the future if they don't get all of it out as they say they can. Will it come back? Will some be left? Will they remove her breasts and then continue having to remove bits and pieces until nothing is left?

She is scared yet, in her fear, she continues to take care of the ones she loves as she struggles to learn how to take care of herself.

I can learn a lot from my friend. She is 'poetry in motion'. The essence of love. The truth of caring. She is a beautiful woman living in fear of tomorrow yet doing today what creates value in her life right now. She is painting. Walking her dog. Spending time with her daughter and husband and friends. She is being the amazing woman I have come to love. The woman who drops off a bouquet of flowers because the colour made her think of you. The woman who makes her special chicken soup just for my youngest daughter because she knows she loves it. The woman who calls and says, I've booked you into a painting course, just because she knows I love to paint.

Cancer survivor Emory Austin wrote, "Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway."

I cannot give her tangible things. She has everything she needs and that which she doesn't have, she can afford to buy. I cannot give her cards and flowers. Her house is filled to overflowing. She wants for nothing, except good health and a light heart.

On those days when my friend's heart is heavy. I can sing for her. On those days when she has forgotten her song, I can remind her of the tune.

And always, I can give her my love, my encouragement, my support. I can give her my time. My loving care. My unflagging belief that she will beat this disease, she will come through the surgery with flying colours and sit at the head of the table as she did last night and grace us all with her beautiful smile, her gentle laugh and caring ways.

I cannot fear for my friend. She doesn't need my fear. She needs my love, my courage, my steadfast and unflagging strength. She needs me to be there for her without question, without needing anything other than the gift of sharing my love.

As British Broadcaster John Diamond wrote, "Cancer is a word, not a sentence."

There is only one sentence my friend needs to hear. It is the music of our hearts. The song that doesn't need words to say, "I love you".

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