Post #2 in the miniseries, Refuge from the Ruins
On Wednesday January 8th I received the text message that Katie had been rushed back to the hospital. Being in the hospital had become a somewhat routine part of Katie’s life. But as the hour passed, something shifted in the tone of the text messages with her family, twisting my stomach into sickening knots. Then I received the message — Katie had been moved to the palliative care unit. My heart shuddered. Palliative care?! But isn’t that where people go when there’s nothing else that can be done for them except make them more comfortable? Isn’t that where people go to die?!
My hands started trembling. As panic threatened to take over, I fought with everything in me to stay calm, breathe and think logically enough to figure out what needed to happen next.
As soon as I received the O.K. from Katie’s family to join them at the hospital, I left the house and tried to mentally prepare for what was about to happen, pleading with God for his strength, his peace and his mercy.
When I got to the hospital, the entire waiting room was filling up with Katie’s family and closest friends. Everyone who walked by that room knew one thing for certain—this girl was incredibly loved!
Over the next 12 or so hours, we took turns visiting with Katie in her room.
At first, she was still awake enough to talk, crack jokes and respond to whatever words I struggled to say. My mind raced to try and analyze the situation. What do you say in a time like this? Should I still stay strong for her, or is this the time to just fall apart? She’s cracking jokes. She doesn’t seem like she wants us to sit around and cry yet. God, give me the grace to be what Katie needs. I don’t know how to do this. This can’t be real.
Having no clue how to best handle the end of this 9 month nightmare, I looked into her sweet eyes and started telling her how much I loved her. She would just smile quietly and say, “I know.” No profound words were exchanged. We just sat there holding hands, trying to find moments to laugh.
Some people might find it strange or inappropriate that we were trying to laugh during Katie’s final hours of life on Earth. Maybe you find it insensitive or careless.
But choosing to laugh in the midst of pain takes much more effort and intentionality than one might realize.
Throughout Katie’s battle with cancer, she made a daily choice to choose joy. This doesn’t mean she didn’t let herself feel or express the difficulty of what she was facing—of course she had to have those moments. But Katie chose to not let cancer have the final say in her life, and laughter was one of the ways she chose to overcome the overwhelming weight of fighting death.
Early on in her diagnosis, I didn’t really know how to respond when Katie would joke about her cancer. I wanted to sit around and cry, but here she was making jokes. It wasn’t funny. There’s nothing funny about finding out one of your best friends has a terminal illness. I didn’t want to laugh about it. I wanted to sob, yell and sob some more. But laugh? No thanks!
However, the more I watched Katie and the more I listened to her, I started to understand the importance of allowing laughter to remain a part of our lives and our friendship.
She couldn’t make the illness go away, but she could choose to not let it steal her joy—and there was most certainly victory in that!
So when Katie chose to make jokes, I chose to laugh.
I made sure to tell her it was O.K. to cry and fall apart too and that whenever she needed to just vent or be real I was there to listen. But whenever she needed to just put the weight of reality aside and let laughter lift her over the hurdle of a horrible day that was O.K. too.
It was 100% Katie’s call—which meant more days than not we were laughing instead of crying.
So as I sat there holding Katie’s hand and listening to her sarcastic remarks for the final time, I chose to laugh through the quiet tears in my eyes. When all of us girls piled into her waiting room on that awful day, we chose to laugh between the sobs. However inappropriate or disturbed we might have appeared to outsiders, we fought to find reasons to laugh. It’s what Katie wanted, and it’s one of the ways she taught us to rise above the pain.
Of course there were times when falling apart was needed, but I’ll save that for another post. For today, I just wanted to leave you with this:
If you’re fighting to stay afloat while you ride out the unspeakable pain of grief, it’s O.K. to still find reasons to laugh—even if it feels forced or inappropriate at times. Not only is it O.K., it’s good. It’s needed. It’s healing. Be graceful with yourself and give yourself permission to laugh free from judgment. And if your laughing rolls into tears, that’s O.K. too.