Yesterday my best friend called me in the morning with devastating news. Two weeks ago her mom had a heart attack. Since then, she has been through two surgeries and been sedated on a ventilator for 10 days. On Friday she was awake, alert, free of the ventilator. Her family celebrated this milestone, because days earlier they were encouraged to say goodbye to her as the doctors weren’t confident that she would pull through. She did pull through and returned much to her normal self for almost two days. It felt like the worst was behind and the days ahead were promising. She would transfer to a rehab hospital on Sunday afternoon.  Sunday morning she died.  No one expected it. 

Things can change so quickly. We often get complacent. Not necessarily lazy, but just so caught up in our own world that it is difficult to figure out how to fit important things in. It’s easy to realize when something like this happens. Nancy spent nearly every hour of her days at the hospital with her mom, even when she wasn’t awake. During that time she still hosted family from out of town, continued to take care of her family and household, and knowing her, she likely still continued to complete anything that was on her calendar before life threw her this curve ball.

Our family prayed diligently for Gerri. Countless rosaries were offered, small sufferings given up for her, many additional mercies begged for, all on her behalf. With the news on Friday of her successful wean from the vent, prayers of thanksgiving. So many people were on their knees for days and days pleading for Gerri, and then when all started to look good again, I stood up. I admit it. I thanked God and went on my merry way. I thought about this as I drove to the hospital after Nancy called me with the news. I hadn’t prayed a rosary for Gerri since Tuesday. In fact, I kind of just offered up a few little prayers at random times, not feeling the urgency as in the days before. What if I would have prayed more? I had planned to stop at the hospital after church to visit on Sunday. Why didn’t I go see her yesterday? In fact, why haven’t I been to Hastings in the last couple of years?

Why is it so easy to reflect on things and suddenly it feels like it would have been so simple just to do those things that I didn’t? Would it really have been that hard to detour 20 miles off the interstate on our way west to see the woman who provided a roof over my head, food for my belly and a parent’s love to nurture me in the absence of my own mom and dad during my junior year of college? Why don’t we just DO what we think we really want to do and should do?

Nancy and I became friends sometime during our freshman year of college. We played volleyball together…well, we both played for Hastings College, although she was the incredibly awesome, really tall, hard-hitting freshman superstar recruit and I was the “excited-just-to-have-a-chance-to-play” new kid on the block. I would have never guessed that we would be as close as sisters one day when I first saw her. Our friendship grew as we lived in the same house during our sophomore year, and by the end of that year, we had already made plans to live together the next year…at her home about a block away from campus. We were nearly inseparable during our junior year, and by that time, we truly did play volleyball together…although she still had way more “All-Star” achievements than I did!

By the time our junior year ended and I moved home for the summer, we knew we had formed a friendship that would stand the test of time…a lifetime! We would have so many more adventures together including PT school, weddings, 1st homes, babies, jobs, more babies…there weren’t very many things we didn’t share. Nancy’s mom held a very special place in my life as did the rest of her family. They had totally taken me in…all of me. Gerri got the whole package: the college dating drama, late night studying, theological discussions (I think it was a happy day for Gerri when I joined the Catholic church!), I guess everything that comes with adding another daughter to the family. I think there were many a nights that I probably talked her ear off! I have no idea what I really ever said!!

We visited often before we were married and even after we were married. Gerri always welcomed us…all of us. She liked to have a houseful. She always had a big meal on the table…especially if Tim was coming…it was necessary for her to provide meat and potatoes even if Tim would have requested cereal. (Tim never complained though!) Nancy inherited her mother’s hospitality, generosity and selflessness. We stayed several times after we had babies. I think up to four kids even, and then it slowed way down. It just got harder and harder as our family grew and became busier. I wish it wouldn’t have.

I’ve noticed that it has gotten harder for Nancy and I to nurture our friendship as each of us has become busier with our own families. Our circles used to be almost identical and now there is just a small part of each of our circles that overlap. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until I rushed to her side to console her after that phone call. I had no idea what to say. All I could do was hug her and cry with her. Her siblings were all there and even all these years later, they treated me as if I were still part of their family. I’ve always referred to my love for her as a love between sisters. She’s always been considered family before friend. I can’t even find a picture of us recent enough to have been included in my digital files. I sat with her all day, and all day I thought “Why is this so hard to do when there isn’t a reason? It shouldn’t be.”
“Who will I talk to now?” Nancy asked…”She was the one I called about everything!” “I know” I thought to myself. I remember when my mom was in Germany for a couple of weeks…maybe it was only a week, but it seemed like forever because I couldn’t call her whenever I wanted. I hated that. I want to go to sleep and wake up and realize it was just a bad dream. I want to call Nancy and have her tell me that her mom is going home…to her earthly home. I want to feel like we all got kicked a little so that we could recall how important little things can be so that I will make an effort to go to Hastings and stop at the Farmers to visit.
Gerri did go home…to the best home she’ll ever know. I’m glad that her children had two good days with her before she left. There will be a good amount of really tough times ahead. I can’t imagine and I don’t even want to. There is always a reason for everything, although sometimes we don’t know what it is until much later. I know that my life is better for having Nancy and her mom in it.  Maybe I will hold onto those relationships that are important to me a little tighter. Maybe I will make fewer excuses for the things I really want to do. Maybe I will embrace my kids more and the world less.  Maybe I will not let my praying knees get lazy.  I know that I can’t change things about yesterday, but I certainly can change things about tomorrow.