“And Jesus said,…I call you friend…” John 15:15
Four days before we got the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the L.L. Bean catalogue arrived in our mail box. Bill liked the classy yet rugged look of the clothing lines carried by L.L. Bean. He devoured each page of the catalogue and in no time had picked out several shirts that he wanted. After all the weight he had lost over the previous months, he was proud of his new svelte figure and determined to have a smart new wardrobe for the fall. He asked me to phone the 1-800 number and place the order. I was happy to do so because I knew this would make him happy. After all, what are friends for?
We both knew that he was sick. We didn’t know how sick. But at that point, pre-diagnosis, Bill wasn’t thinking about dying. He was thinking about looking dashing. Or maybe he was thinking about dying and with his characteristic obstinacy was determined to be the first in history to defy the adage “you can’t take it with you”.
We have been friends a long time. Our thirty-third anniversary occurred on August 17th, while he lay increasingly incapacitated in a hospital bed in our living room.
In days gone by, those of us in a certain community used to say when introducing our partners, “he’s my ‘friend’ ”. The implied quotation marks around friend were indicated by a raised eye brow, a wink or a nudge. It signified that this person was a lot more than a mere acquaintance.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about what it means to be a friend. And my reflections were prompted by two incidents with Bill on the day we got his diagnosis.
At around 5:30 pm on Friday August the 7th, we were sitting in a room at Toronto East General Hospital waiting for the doctor to return with the results of the tests that they had conducted during the day. Bill was in a bed and I was sitting beside him. We were holding hands. In walked the doctor, looking grim. In a sensitive yet professional manner she said, “I have the results of the tests particularly the CAT scan and I am very sorry to have to tell you that it is very bad news”. She then described the virulence and pervasiveness of the cancer indicated by the tests. Bill looked at me and in a calm voice said, “Are you alright?” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, I cried. Thinking back, I was in shock but he was calm and, as the best of friends, his immediate reaction was one of concern for me.
We drove home in silence. We had already agreed that whatever the results, we wanted to have him cared for at home. Once we got back up into the apartment, he went to bed to rest as I convulsed on the living room floor, trying to stifle any sound so as not to disturb him.
About an hour later, he awoke laughing. Not a little giggle but hearty robust laughter. I ran into the bedroom. Bill’s eyes were radiant. He described a dream that he had just had walking in the garden with Jesus who had just called him His best friend. They had laughed together and kibitzed. Jesus had even told him that he was looking sexy. Bill loved that. Jesus also told him that he should drop any burdens that he was carrying, forget any of the things for which he felt guilty. All was forgiven. He was loved and Jesus was ready to welcome him into heaven. His pain would soon be over.
My prayers of the past few months had been answered. My most fervent prayers had been that Bill would experience spiritual peace. Spiritual peace he now had in spades!
For the next few days, our conversations and our prayers were of thanksgiving – for the wonderful life we had had together, for the wonderful experiences that we had, for the wonderful friendships with which we had been blessed, for the vibrant communities of which we had been a part.
Later, our prayers did turn more toward petition because, though Bill’s spirit was ready and anxious to leave, his body would not set it free. The pain and the distress worsened. We prayed that it would be over soon. After about two weeks, on Sunday evening August 23rd, quietly and with me by his side holding his hand, my friend breathed his last.
In John 15:15 we read that Jesus said “…I call you friend…” The thrust of Jesus’ message was that He was signalling a new relationship with his disciples, one of equality between Him and them. What is the implication for us? We are to love each other as Jesus loves us.
Bill specified only one thing that he wanted to make sure I would say at his Memorial Service. He asked me to tell his family members and his friends this simple injunction: “Be kind to each other”. That’s what he wants of us. To be kind to each other.
That is one of the key ingredients in being a good friend.
Jesus called Bill His friend. And now He has also called this friend away from us and into His arms.
Thank God for good friends.
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Information on “August Farewell” is available on my website http://DavidGHallman.com
A short YouTube video on why I wrote the book can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/jZrEbf
August Farewell is available from on-line booksellers including http://amazon.com