When I was fifteen and a freshman in high school, I met Marilyn (Photo: me left, Marilyn right). She and I would become lifelong friends, though at the time we were totally clueless about the assortment of dramas we'd face (sometimes we actually created them) ~ some wonderful, some hurtful, some downright terrifying. I could fill up a journal of our escapades, the bulk of which were the simple doings of silly teen girls as well as the equally silly doings of young women attempting to grow up.
Two years ago I got a call late at night from Marilyn's husband. He wanted me to know she'd suffered a major stroke; that the base of her brain was pooled in blood and, quite likely, she'd not make it more than a few days.
At dawn I drove to the hospital. Through the tearful meandering among memories and prayer, I made my way to bid farewell to one of the few people on this good earth to harbor my history, and me hers. A lifetime of laughter and memory-making can seem a mere flash at such times.
Marilyn, who had gone to a different grade school than me was a childhood chum to my husband. It was at a football game early in our sophomore year that she introduced the two of us. Several weeks later I introduced her to one of my own childhood friends and shortly the four of us were inseparable. (Photo: Don & Marilyn, me & Terry)
As life is prone to do, the trajectory of those dating days took jigs and jags, leading us forward into the unknowns of adulthood. And as high school came to an end I would go on to marry my beau; she and hers would part company.
The intervening years were largely kind in my case and largely cruel in hers.
We were both married (Photo: Marilyn with her first husband, the father of her children); had children; raised little ones & took family vacations. What's more, we faced many a storm tethered together at life's mast.
(Photo: Marilyn with our oldest children in 1970; her Jeff, my Brad)
There are a myriad reasons Marilyn's life experience differed from mine; reasons I need not elaborate upon here. Suffice it to say, her present battle for her life was not her first such engagement. On many levels she navigated life one breath from a battle at all times.
I was deeply saddened when I entered her hospital room to find Marilyn hooked up to tubes & devices ~ a very clinical, Extra Terrestrial-like appearance. A symphony of her labored breathing coupled with clicks & hums against stainless steel made it all seem surreal.
When I sat to take her hand she stirred but didn't waken. She couldn't waken. She had been placed in a medically induced coma while the medical team did all they could to alleviate her brain bleed and the pressure it was causing. A pinkish liquid filled the tube that ran from her head to the plastic bag colony beside her bed.
(Photo left: at lunch in 2010 with Marilyn at the right and another lifelong BFF, Mary Jo)
I sat for a long, long time just holding her hand and watching her ~ no thoughts, no words. I felt as blank as she looked. But at some point I began to pray, and pray aloud. I scarcely recall the whole of those prayers, but I do remember thanking God for Marilyn, asking that He visit her in the depths of her being to let her know He was there with her.
A few days passed and her husband called again to let me know the doctors had begun bringing out of the coma. She was wakeful, though very disoriented. There was little hope for her recovery, but "little" seemed a huge step up from "no" hope just a few days prior.
The next day and for two weeks following I visited. I talked to her as though she were awake and could hear me. I prayed aloud. Occasionally she'd push my hand away, or call out my name. And, when she was awake enough to actually eat food, I bossed her around until she agreed to try it. I roared when she actually, through garbled, halted but recognizable speech refused her lunch, telling the dumbfound nurse holding her tray: "No ... it tastes like s_ _ _!" I took it as a good sign. Marilyn could be sharp and combative in the best of health. She was much worse in this condition.
Little by little over the course of those two weeks Marilyn went from near-death to recovered-enough to be sent to a nursing facility for rehabilitation. My visits continued there and I watched her learn to form sentences, get in and out of bed on her own, and use a walker or wheel chair. And always, just before leaving, I'd say to her as I had for so many long weeks: "Let me pray for you." I'm not sure which of us was the more greatly blessed at those times knowing as we did that, short of God's healing hand, I'd be visiting her grave-site instead.
After two months she was released to go home, where she continues to defy the odds of her "no hope" stroke.
I recall this today because I need to.
How could I have known back in 1962 when Marilyn & I first formed a friendship that it would lead to a bedside vigil such as this one? How could either of us have predicted the route our life's journey would require of us, or how many of our choices would impact our steps along that way? How could I have known the things God would use in my life and hers to lead us? Who knew the span from 14 to 70 to be so very short?
God did. God does.
I would have lost heart unless
I believed that I would see
the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.