Saturday, October 9, 2010

life is funny like that.
last saturday i was attending a wedding.
today, a short week later, an equally beautiful saturday,
a funeral.
such similar events, really.  
both celebrating an individual, a life, a passage from one life to the next.
filled with joy, fear, anticipation,
and it was such a beautiful, fall, day here in minnesota,
it was hard to be sad, to feel despair, despite the loss of this beautiful woman.
i met jamie, randomly.
a little over a year ago, doing family photos.
i was referred to them shortly after she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer.
when i met her, she was going to be starting chemo soon,
and wanted some nice family photos before she lost her hair.
there wasn't a whole lot of 'getting to know each other' in this session.
i was simply there to photograph and give them this gift.
but i couldn't help but fall in love with them.
the love and adoration that flowed between the four of them,
was larger than life.
this was, is, a family, who GETS it.
who has everything they need.
each other.
who don't find happiness in cars, homes, clothing, toys,
but in each other.
despite what they were about to face,
their smiles were overflowing, heartwarming.
i left with a heavy heart, not knowing where this journey was going to take her,
but praying it would end well.
i followed her posts on her caring bridge site, from then on.
thinking of her daily, even as i sat with my own husband, as he received HIS chemo treatments,
cursing this awful, dreaded disease.
i thought of her so much, how was she doing?  how was she getting through?
we'd gotten lucky, we were escaping the grips of cancer,
but what about her?
i ran into her at Cub, in the checkout line,
kids hanging off the cart, me, disheveled and exhausted and annoyed, as usual.
and she was behind me in line.
'hi liz!  how are you?!'
i was caught completely off guard.  i knew she'd started chemo, but wasn't expecting to see her out and about.
and there she was.  grocery shopping.
i gave her a big hug.  told her she looked amazing.  because she did.  just like the last time i saw her.
'well thanks!  yeah, i don't look like a woman who's dying, huh?'
i didn't know how to respond.  was she kidding?  was she really dying?
i giggled uncomfortably but wanted to grab her hands and ask,
'are you ok?  are you going to beat this?  what's going on?'
but we said good bye, both carrying on with our different days.
as i stood over her casket this beautiful afternoon,
i remembered.
the last time i saw her was at Cub.  in the grocery line.
and now here she is.  here she was. 
laying peacefully, hands clasped neatly, free of pain now.
life is so funny.
i barely knew her or her amazing family, 
but followed her life on this journey, from the moment i met her.
i'm sure for her family, the past four years, since her diagnosis, have been long and arduous.  i know my words could never describe what they've dealt with.
from the time i met her until today, well, it seems just yesterday i saw her at Cub.
about a week after this photo session,
she called me.  she was in the car on the way some where,
and she kept the conversation light & filled with laughter,
but in all seriousness, asked if i would photograph her funeral,
if and when the day came.
of course, i didn't know how to respond.  no one's ever asked this of me.
and how could i say no?
at this point, she was feeling good, optimistic, hopeful,
but she was a realist.  'if and when' the day comes, 
i would love to know you'd be able to capture some moments of this for my children.'
so, i've been anticipating this day too, like her family.
praying that i would never have to do it.
that God would spare her and her family, her beautiful babies.
and i've neatly tucked away the thank you note she sent a week later,
thanking me for helping her out, 'if and when' she passed.
'hopefully it'll be 30+ years down the road,' she wrote.  
it was only 2.
as i sat at her funeral today, 
my camera bag at my feet,
i thought about life.
how funny it is.
how unpredictable.
how short.
i glanced around at the room filled with her family and friends.
so many.
sweet, old couples, folded in to each other's arms,
little babes, asleep in the crux of their mother's elbows.
we all have a fate.
we do our best to make good choices, live well, 
but we just don't know.  we just know, there'll be an end.
like my husband has said on occasion,
'none of us are getting out alive, so why not enjoy it?'
he's right.
we always ask why.  why them?  why now?  why so soon?
i'm sure jamie had those moments.
but her funeral was so beautiful.  and according to friends that spoke on her behalf,
she didn't spend too much time dwelling on her fate.
she put up a good fight, but she also accepted and FULLY LIVED IN THE MOMENT while she was here.
what good a funeral each week, would do all of us.
i know, that sounds awful.
saying goodbye, letting go, pain and suffering, is not easy,
but it's there for a reason.
to teach us, to show us, what we need to see.
it shows you what's most important in life,
and what's not.
if we all know we're going to die someday,
which we all are,
why do we spend our time getting lost in the Real Housewives,
instead of reading a good book.
or better yet, snuggling with our babies?
kissing our husbands?
why do we obsess over our weight?
our hair?
our wrinkling skin?
instead of embracing it?
enjoying that peice of chocolate cake without guilt,
baking brownies with our angels,
painting our daughters' toenails instead of staring at our dark circles in the mirror,
why do we put all of our cares and concerns in to the wrong things?
the things that don't matter?
why do we care what other people think?
why don't we just do it, already?  just say it, just try it or just wear it!
we hide, we avoid, we ignore, we push aside, we dream but don't do.
that's what i wondered, today.
i know very few people that live this way.
live like they're dying.
which is so sad.
i'm no saint.  i struggle with this too.
i judge.  i'm arrogant.  i'm irritable.  i'm so selfish.  i'm impatient beyond belief.  i'm faithless so often.
i'm human.
how easily we forget.
lose ourselves in our obsessions.
add on to our to-do list.
it's much easier to not think about death, that it won't happen to us,
to fill our days with busy-ness, obsessing over things we CAN or THINK we can control,
getting lost in the everyday nonsense.  it keeps us safe, or so we think.
i don't think jamie lived her last days like this.  
i bet her t.v. wasn't tevoed to catch the latest grey's anatomy, 
that she didn't care about updating her home decor,
that she wasn't worried about what she was going to wear for that party. 
these things are nice and keep us distracted when we need it most,
but none of it really matters.
the people in our lives do.  our relationships.  
and serving them is what should be our focus here.
not that taking vacations, exercising, eating right and taking time out is a bad thing.
you need to feed your soul, replenish, i believe, this can add years to your life.
but to be appreciative of what you have, to be better for others.
doing those things with an appreciative heart, a grateful mind, is what matters.
jamie is an inspiration,
and although i didn't know her well,
she touched my life and will continue to be an inspiration for those who knew and loved her.
although her precious babes only got to have her for a short time,
she will forever be a part of their world, through memories, photographs, through the lives of those she touched.  they will forever be blessed with having been able to TRULY LIVE IN THE MOMENT with their mommy, which so few children get to experience their entire life, a lesson we could all, parents or not, afford to learn from.


Unknown said...

Absolutely beautiful Liz. You are an amazing writer who puts exactly what people should be doing with their lives in words! I love reading your blogs. Of course this one made me cry but it really hit home for me. THANK YOU for the amazing work you do and THANK YOU for doing this for Jamie.

MarianJC said...

Thank you so much. Anyone reading your words just stopped and were reminded what is important. It is sad that when we go to a funeral we stop and smell the roses. That seems to be the time that we figure out what is important in life. Let's try to figure it out without the loss of someone. I grow my own rose garden.

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