Last night I attended a memorial service for one of J’s patients. J deals with death all the time. It’s the nature of her job and her field. Many people do get better from other cancers, but brain cancer still eludes most modern medical treatments. Still, this patient had really impacted J, and when she was invited to the service she felt both honored and nervous and asked me to go. I had never met the deceased.
At the service I learned a lot. I learned that cancer had struck down a woman in her early 40s, leaving behind two children, leaving behind a thriving career and leaving behind a distraught husband. But I also learned that this women left behind a community of people who felt in every way that having known her had left them as richer people. Listening to the service, I knew my life had lost a little by never knowing this woman.
Earlier in the day I had reconnected with an old friend. He told me a story of how he had recently met a fascinating woman in Africa in her late 70’s, and during their conversations he had asked her if she had any advice for him in life, anything she could tell him about what life meant. She raised herself up on her tip toes, stabbed her finger into his chest plate and, knowing she had his attention, said “when you’re about to die, someone will ask you the question, ‘what’s your story?’ And your answer… your answer had better be good!”
Sitting at this service I realized this 40-year-old woman that I never knew had a tragic story, but at the same time, a rich and beautiful one. She made those around her better people. She had raised beautiful talented children. She had a loving husband. She had a family that loved her and were loved by her. She had, in my mind, achieved a level of perfection in her life to which I can only hope one day to reach a part of. She had a story that I will take with me forever.