- Maggie Wallem Rowe
When Dying Feels Unfair
Old Wethersfield, Connecticut
March 21, 2023
Two months ago, my best friend co-directed an annual retreat focusing on wellness for writers.
One month ago, my best friend arranged to have a shy southern humorist named Sean perform in Mark Twain’s home – a dream come true for a high school dropout turned Grand Old Opry star.
This month, my best friend entered hospice care, her body ravaged by cancer.
How can this be?
“Here I am again, feeling there must be some mistake in the numbering of my days, in the ways my remaining hours so rapidly dwindle toward an unwanted end whose approach I cannot slow.”
I am in Connecticut today with her family, sheltered and transported by other friends who love Lucinda – always Cindy to me - as I do.
Although Cindy attended Gordon-Conwell seminary in the late 70’s with my husband, Mike, we did not meet again until I accepted a position in 1991 leading a New England regional ministry to women that demanded everything I had and – more to the point – everything I did not.
Exceptionally gifted at organizing events and people, Cindy wrote to offer her assistance. I gratefully accepted. A friendship launched that was to last a lifetime.
Or should have.
“I am like a child, O Lord, who knows the injustice of an early bedtime imposed while the house is full of feasting and songs and stories and laughter.
“I do not want to leave this life. I do not want to leave this place and time.”
Almost from the beginning, Cindy called me her BFF. Truth be told, I wasn’t comfortable with the honorific at first, felt I wasn’t deserving of it.
I had no close friends as a child. One magically appeared in high school and another in college, both of whom stood up in my wedding, but as the years passed, I rarely heard from either unless I initiated contact. Friends must see some value in a relationship to stay in touch – perhaps my old friends saw too little in ours.
But Cindy did value our friendship, as uncertain and insecure and dithery as I was. She gave me opportunities as a writer and invited me to speak alongside her at events. She raised four children while authoring 16 books and championing her oldest son in Special Olympics. She served alongside her pastor-husband and directed caring ministries in their historic church.
We both loved Jesus, the Light of the World. But when it came to letting our individual lights shine? I was a 40-watt bulb. Cindy was a chandelier.
“Will they simply carry on without me – these stories, these people, this ceaseless unspooling of moments spinning past into memory?
“I do not want to leave this life, O Lord. I do not want to be unwoven from the world.
“Can you not call a halt to my dying till some time hence when my race might finally feel complete, and not as if I had suddenly stumbled, my muscles giving out in the midst of a marathon my heart yearns yet to run?”
Too weak to lift more than her hands in prayer, Cindy rallied yesterday to ask the hospice nurse, Jennifer, to instruct her about dying.
“I want to do this well,” she murmured, “and I need to know what to expect.”
Commending her courage, Jennifer spoke frankly, gently. Then, adjusting the blood pressure cuff, “I hear you are a writer. What sort of books do you write?”
Cindy’s reply was an exhalation, a prayer.
“I want people to know about God, and how good He is to us. He has done so much for me, and I will praise Him with my…,” and the nurse leaned close to listen.
“I do not want to simply reach the end, Jesus. I want to finish, and I want to finish well…This is not my chosen way or time. Is it yours? It is not mine. But is it yours?
“How could it be?”
My friend is dying. Apart from my husband, my best friend. The only one to ever call me BFF.
I massaged Cindy’s feet with lavender lotion, slipped on soft socks. Hugged her daughter and sons. Ran errands. Got ice, fetched water. Anything to be useful, to show love to one who has always given it unconditionally to me.
Mindful of her need to conserve strength for her family, I left as the shadows lengthened.
“Remember, BFF,” I said as I bent to kiss her forehead. “The final F in BFF? That means forever.”
“We all must die. But afterward, we rise again, to life. If this is true, then quiet now my regretful, grieving heart, and let me remember your sustaining love, O Lord, and rest again in you…When I pass from this life to the next, no regret I now carry will carry over.”
Some friendships are forever.
I’ll see you in the morning, BFF.
Portions in italics taken from “A Liturgy for Moments: When Dying Seems Unfair” by Douglas McKelvey, Every Moment Holy, volume II, Rabbit Room Press, 2021.