Remarkable Faith: Reflections on a Funeral…


I met her the summer before I was married. I was 20 years old and she was a couple of years older, married to one of my soon-to-be husband’s best friends. She was, in many ways, everything I was not: a black-haired, vivacious, flashing-eyed fashion plate. She was also deeply kind and a lot of fun and we hit it off almost immediately. As she and her husband went through our wedding reception line six months later, we laughingly said to each other, “Well, I guess we’ll see you in Africa!”

And that’s exactly what we did. Both couples sailed across the Atlantic on a freighter (different ships) to live and teach in central Africa as short-term missionaries. We lived there for two years and were stationed 500 miles apart. Getting together was the highlight of our school holidays – and we got to ride a steam train overnight to do it. She and I shared a deep commitment to Jesus, a healthy pleasure in the joys of married life and a wacky sense of humor. She was a good cook and taught me a lot. I learned to sew and taught her a little.

When we were back in the states, we lived about 90 minutes apart for nearly 30 years. And we got together with some regularity. As our families grew, we spent New Year’s Eve and Day together for many years and even camped together a few times. It was a deep friendship, based on a shared story at a critical time in our lives, and I valued it more than almost any other relationship I had.

Then came the phone call. “Are you sitting down? I have stage 4 breast cancer and we don’t know what we’re going to do…” The four of us went away for the weekend, prayed together and she made the decision to try an alternative approach in lieu of the recommended medical treatment. She was gifted with about a 14 month remission in which she gave praise to God, speaking at women’s gatherings all around her hometown.

At this point in my own life, I graduated from seminary and began a part-time pastoral role in our home church. She and I celebrated together with notes and phone calls and occasional visits. Then she invited us to come to a college not far from our home to see her son in a play. She stood in the back the whole performance and when I asked her why, she said, “My back hurts.”

And I knew. And she knew that I knew. But. She wasn’t ready to move from the place of hope and healing she had enjoyed for a little over a year and she didn’t want anyone around her who had any doubts about the outcome. So…she pretty much cut me out of her life. I sent notes. I called her husband to see how she was doing. I followed from a distance. And it hurt. It hurt so much.

I received a call to serve a church over two hundred miles away from her and agonized about how we could maintain contact with her failing health. In early November, her husband called and said that she had come to realize that her life was coming to an end and she wanted to meet with a few people she had cut off – could I come and see her the following Saturday? Oh, yes. I most definitely could.

But. On that Thursday morning, her husband called to say simply, “She’s gone.” And I was more grief stricken than I had ever been in my life. Oh my, the pain of that loss! I was asked to give the eulogy at her funeral – something I felt honored to do. The service was filled with loving comments from so many people! The young women’s group at their church who came and gave her manicures and massages during those last few months. Friends of short and long term who spoke of her strong faith and her sweet spirit.

My words? I tried to share something of the woman I had known and loved all those years. In the turmoil at the beginning of this last journey, she had shared with me that one of her greatest fears about dying was that no one would remember her. Now that I could speak to – and I did, loudly and clearly. My sweet, brave friend will always be remembered by everyone who knew her. It’s been 14 years since she died, and occasionally, the tears still flow when I think about her. In those 14 years, I’ve been privileged to plan and lead many memorial and graveside services – each one a gift and a rich experience of worship and remembrance. But that one, that one stands out. The friend of my heart, the friend of my youth, my dear, deep friend in Jesus is gone – and she is still missed.

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Comments

  1. Diana, I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. And I’m so sad that she cut you off in those days before she passed away. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you (and probably for her as well). Your post is a beautiful tribute to her and your friendship. Thank you for sharing it!

    I especially love this explanation: “It was a deep friendship, based on a shared story at a critical time in our lives.” That is such a great way to describe several friendships I’ve had, including the ones I wrote about this week and last!

    Thank you for linking up this week.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your thoughts today. It’s wonderful that you were able to eulogize your friend and also serve at many other memorial services. God has given you such a wonderful gift.

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