Every year since 2012 I’ve wanted to write about the significance of this date. I never know where to start, so I’ve never done it. So this year, five years later, I will just write.
I did not know what an impact my friend Carrie would have on my life. We saw each other often at the large church my family started attending in 2007. Our daughters were in each other’s small group in Sunday School school for three years in a row, but we never really talked to each other or did more than just smile in passing.
One year she started coming to the mom group I attended at church. We ended up at the same table in about February, I think. I hadn’t attended for several weeks. Anxiety and depression were really working on me at that time. I broke down in tears at my table, and the three other women there- including Carrie- prayed for me and comforted me.
A couple of weeks later, one of the speakers for our group was talking about the way housewives used to live in community support each other. They did their days together and were close to each other. Carrie looked at me and whispered, “I want that.” I nodded back and murmured, “Me, too.”
Over the next year, we started talking more on Sunday and on Wednesday during our mom group. We would sit together when we could, and she even came over to my house a couple of times with her younger kids. We had a lot in common and had a lot of the same desires and struggles in life, particularly having a close circle of friends that we shared life with.
I started a blog about that time, Sarah+Paper. Carrie would almost always comment on my posts, one of the few people who ever did. I helped her start to get set up to do her own blog, called Of Course I Can, detailing her canning adventures. (She made the BEST pickled beets.) All the while, our friendship grew but we didn’t spend consistent time together.
One night I was checking my email. I had one from Carrie. I don’t remember the exact words, and for the life of me I thought I had saved it but I can’t find it now. I saved it because it was one of the most touching things I’d ever read. The gist of it was, “Sarah, You may think that this is really weird but I really like you and I think we get along really well. Let’s be more intentional about building a friendship.”
As a woman who often doubted my self-worth and felt so alone and unfriend-able, that email touched me. Carrie had put herself out on the line to be a friend to ME, to take a risk on offering me herself as a friend. I have had, and have wonderful dear friends but at that time no one had ever verbalized to me the value of desiring my friendship.
I responded with enthusiasm, and we set up a time to get together one night for coffee. I do still have the email where I asked for her address and phone number, January 31, 2012. She had been having a lot of stomach issues and we had missed seeing each other at church a lot lately, so I was extra excited to see her and hear what her doctors thought. I also had some exciting news to share.
As we sat down to talk, there were a few topics of conversation I can recall. First, she was the first person besides my husband who I told about my newly discovered pregnancy with our fourth child. She had been praying for my aunt, who had metastasized breast cancer, and we discussed that. She made an offhand comment about having cancer. Surprised, I asked if she really thought she might have cancer. She said it was her fear, but probably not the case. But it did happen to people sometimes, like a neighbor of hers that she knew. I remember her saying, “You know, you always hear those stories about young mothers dying and leaving their family behind. It has to happen to somebody.”
She was having a procedure that Thursday or Friday, I don’t remember which, and we were going to talk after that. The same day of the surgery, however, an email came; a very rare cancer had been found filling her abdomen. I called her the next day and we barely talked; we were both crying too hard.
Soon I was consumed with the worst nausea from pregnancy than I had with any of my others. I also fell into deep antepartum depression. Every week, every day I would tell myself that I would call her. But I rarely did. I heard through the grapevine that she was getting her nails done weekly or so with friends, having gatherings at her home, savoring every moment of life that she had. I went to visit her in the hospital once after surgery, but most of the time I didn’t have any connection with her.
When we’d see each other at church- not often since we were both missing a lot that summer- and I almost wanted to avoid her, so ashamed that I wasn’t being more supportive and involved. But she always greeted me so warmly, her generous smile always beaming. She was always excited to see me and ask how I was doing, how the pregnancy was going. She was so forgiving of my feeble explanations of why I hadn’t been able to come over the last time or call. It seemed like she was having that supportive community of friends that she had expressed a longing for, and for that, I was grateful, even as I felt guilty for not being part of it.
As time went on, I saw her a couple more times. She had started off doing some treatment, but that in itself was so grueling. It was also very experimental (if I recall correctly) because of the rarity of her type of cancer. Eventually, she stopped treatment and spent time with her family. The pain became worse and harder to manage with the strongest prescription drugs. The night my water broke and I went into the hospital to deliver my daughter, October 4, 2012, I received an email that things had taken a turn for the worse for Carrie. It was a very intense emotional experience as I gave birth; it just kept sticking with me that my journey in growing the child in my belly began at the time cancer growing in her belly was discovered. As I delivered a child, she was close to being delivered to heaven.
I don’t remember if she ever went home again after she went into the hospital that time. I finally went to see her with two or three other friends a few weeks later. It was the first time I had been away from my newborn. I was nervous to be in a hospital. Carrie was pretty much only sleeping and mainly unresponsive at that point, and I didn’t know what I would say to her.
When the time came, I held her hand. I told her who I was, and that I was there to see her. That I loved her. With eyes closed, a faint smile came over her face and she responded in the quietest voice, “I love you.” There was a faint squeeze on my hand.
That was the last time I saw her alive. She died on October 29, 2012. I have missed her so much. I have felt not worthy of the depth to which I miss her. When I’ve gone through my hardest times, I have felt jealousy that she now gets to be in heaven, no longer contending with the trials and burdens of this earthly life. But now, most of all, I feel peace for her. I still pray for her family. I still miss her, but Carrie was such a wonderful, giving woman. I can still hear her glorious belly laughter when she thought something was funny. I can still see her kindness and forgiveness to me when I was disappointing. I still take heart when I feel alone and friendless because someone was willing to be my friend. I cling to the faith in Jesus that we share, and it means we will be together again someday.
I love you, Carrie.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25