Facebook is a terrible way to learn a friend has died.
A heavy feeling settled in my chest as my newsfeed swarmed with strangers writing messages to Julie about shared memories.
When I saw the first “RIP,” I crumpled into a mess of tears.
Julie and I met in the radiation waiting room at MD Anderson Cancer Center. In May 2011, I reported to Waiting Room J each weekday at my assigned time. It didn’t take long to recognize the familiar faces of those with similar appointment times.
Julie struck up a conversation with me during my second week of radiation. She was about my age and recognized me from the ninth floor Sarcoma Center waiting room. (Cancer demands a lot of time in waiting rooms.) Although she was clearly in pain from the growing tumor in her leg, her smile was brilliant, shining from a face adorned with a spunky, color-streaked wig.
We bonded quickly over the chemotherapy regimen we’d both endured and the experience of being moms with cancer. We shared our life stories and cancer stories, and I learned that while chemo caused my tumor to shrink like a snowball in a frying pan, Julie’s tumor grew steadily and ominously.
We celebrated the end of Julie’s radiation, and she stood proudly beside me as I rang the bell at the end of mine. We planned to see each other when I returned to Houston six weeks later for surgery. But by then, Julie was gone.
I never found out exactly how she died. When you make friends in a radiation waiting room you don’t know each other’s people. I never met her friends or family. I had no one to grieve with, no one to share common memories with, no one to answer my questions about her final days. Did she suffer? Did she die in the hospital? Did she have enough warning to say goodbye to her son? I’ll never know.
I’d been battling cancer for nine months when Julie died, and I hadn’t yet asked God why. It’s not because I’m a spiritual giant with unshakeable faith; it just never occurred to me to ask. I knew the brokenness of this fallen world, and I trusted God to use my suffering to accomplish His loving purposes for me. From the beginning of my cancer journey, I could see Him chipping away at my self-sufficiency and drawing me further into dependence on Him.
But when Julie died, “Why?” was suddenly the only question in my mind. Why would God allow a single mom with a young child to die? Why was He allowing me to survive? Again, I didn’t have the answers, and I never will.
I do know one thing: I’ll never regret Julie reaching out to me in Waiting Room J. I’m better for having known her. She inspired me with her courage through pain. She taught me to trust the Lord more deeply, even without the answers I craved.
It’s easy to believe God’s promises when life provides answers to all your questions. But that isn’t trust. Trust is belief that perseveres through adversity. Trust struggles through the answer-less places and strengthens in spite of the questions.
Because of Julie, I wrestled in that in-between place where I’ve been ripped from a problem-free life but still lack answers. In that difficult place, God grows my faltering faith into tested trust.
Are you in that place today, friend? You’re not alone.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4 (ESV)
I return to that wrestling place often, and each time, the Lord pours out His presence, peace, and rest. I can’t say I like it there. I’d rather have an easy life or a clear understanding of the silver lining to my suffering. But by the Lord’s power at work in me, I’ll keep walking with Him through the in-between, trust-growing place until He takes me Home and all my questions fade away.
This post was originally written in March 2018 by Marissa Henley.
In the midst of pain and faltering faith, the Lord pours out His presence, peace, and rest. -@marissahenley: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
We love stories of trials endured, silver linings found, and spiritual growth achieved. We don’t like stories that can’t be tied up with a pretty bow. More and more, these types of stories (like my best friend’s daughter dying of a drug overdose) don’t make sense in this world. I’m learning to adopt a more eternal perspective. Sometimes I realize I need to adjust my lens to accept that a life cut short in this world, may have trained up a pillar of faith in the world to come. When God promises us a “hope and a future” it may just mean in the next life. It’s times like these that make me homesick for my Heavenly Father and my eternal home. So sorry about your friend. May your memories bring you comfort until you meet again.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
We can ask all sort of questions. Why God do you allow. This to happen. This person to get healed. Should it by direct by you God yourself or the Doctors and the treatment they are getting. Or God do you decide just to take that person home to Glory if saved. Our is not to ask why. Especially if a Family member or close friend. Watching them suffer go through all the treatment to try and get well. Put their trust in you God. Plus the Doctors and still not get healed. Then see a person healed. No matter what why it is should it be though God directly or the Doctors with the treatment they are getting. Their family’s watching them go through all the pain of the treatment to try and get better but get no better. The tears of their family’s is sad. Especially more so when they pass away. We can wonder why God did you let this happen. They had more living to do. We are not to ask why. We are to keep our eyes on God his word the Bible the Promises in it. As followers in it trust God no matter how how difficult it is. Know he knows best. Even when you don’t have all the answer. To why some get healed some don’t in these different ways. We still as Gods people. Have to keep trusting God no matter what. That can be hard. But this is what tests are faith as true followers of Jesus. Sad you lost a good friend. Said a prayer for you. We will get the answers to theses questions when we get to Glory one day. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xxx
Thank you for sharing your deeply emotional story. May God continue his blessings on you.
I am going to share this with the GriefShare group I co- facilitate. Thank you and God’s peace to all.
Maura Michael says
Maybe the why about Julie is so that her story can inspire others, as from reading your post, she inspired you.
Barbara K Rothman says
I understand how you feel totally because my husband was diagnosed with melanoma back in 2005. He was misdiagnosed with our primary care doctor because what Jerry had was so rare. By the time we were referred to a dermatologist it had spread to his lungs. Right away we were sent to St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica to a top doctor who did surgery on Jerry’s face within a short time. All the nerves on the right side of his face were cut but he still has his vision. From there he had many surgeries as the cancer continued to spread. Going down to St. John’s for years we met many people dealing with cancer. The cancer continued to spread for the next 10 years. Then in 2015 we were referred to The Angeles Center in Los Angeles & went down every other Monday (a 200 mile one way trip) for an early morning appointment). This is when we really met other patient’s & their care givers.
Marissa, I hope & pray that you’re cancer is now in remission & that you’re able to go on with your life. I’m sure you have many appointments each year to check up on how you’re doing.
Jerry has been in remission for 5 years now. He was in the drug trial for keytruda & did amazing. We never asked God why but thanked God for this trial & the ability to have a doctor to help my husband. I thank God that He allowed Jerry to live, I’m thankful for my husband. God is good no matter what the outcome & we don’t know His plan for our lives but we need to be thankful in everything.
Lord bless you Mirassa in your road to recovery.
Lord bless you,
Beth Williams says
God promised us that we would have trials down here. But take heart-for I have overcome the world. I believe those trials & tribulations are what He uses to woo us closer to Him. It worked for me. My aging dad’s dementia got so bad he had to be hospitalized (geriatric psych). To say the least I was nervous, anxious & unsettled as to what would become of him. During that month I cried out to God & sought His presence. After a month there dad was healed. He was restored to his old self again. At that point I knew I could trust God completely with anything. My faith grew also. This world likes happy endings that are seen in movies. Life down here isn’t always that way. People get diseases, hurt, killed, etc. In the midst of all that we, as Christians, can trust God to show us His presence & give us His peace. He is with us always. So sorry about your friend. Prayers for peace & comfort.