Photo courtesy Aimee Carr
I’m a writer. I’m a talker. It’s what I do.
But there are times when the words don’t come easily, and this is definitely one of those times.
For days my hands have hovered over the keyboard as I attempt to communicate my heart, but every spoken word, every written word feels inadequate.
On Friday around noon, My friend Paula went to Heaven to be with Jesus.
I know people like to use the phrase “went to Heaven” as a euphemism for death, but in this case, I have no doubt in my mind there is a Heaven, and Paula is there.
I met Paula shortly after we moved to Utah in early 1999. We began attending a tiny little church that had recently moved from the lead pastor’s basement into some office space.
Paula’s husband Shawn played guitar and sang on the worship team, a set-up that, between guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, speakers and mixing board, and three singers on mics, took up most of the room.
Oh and Shawn’s hair took up the rest.
Shawn and Paula circa awesome hair band days
My first impression of Paula was that she was the perfect yin to Shawn’s stage-ready yang. He was the performer, she was his grounding.
We started attending a small group evening Bible study together along with the worship pastor and his wife, some of Shawn and Paula’s friends who had recently begun attending our church after leaving their previous faith, and some other couples from church.
When we would all get together, you could feel that something special was happening; the result being huge spiritual growth in all of us, and a bonding that took place.
Paula would listen more than she would talk, and then she would say something so profound that I would sit in awe of her. She had a quiet, gentle way of cutting through BS to the truth that was inspiring and sobering.
Paula was a Proverbs 31 woman- faithful, steadfast, giving, charitable, loving. She didn’t have an easy path, which made her cling to the promises of God all the more. And she was silly. She found humor and delight everywhere she went.
One of the things I loved and admired Paula for was her constant state of gratitude. Even before she got sick, I knew that here was a woman who took nothing for granted: not her marriage, not her children, not her friends, and definitely not her faith.
Last summer Paula was diagnosed with cancer. She was supposed to beat it. In fact, she did beat it. Just a little over a year after her diagnosis, she rang the bell signaling the end of that journey.
She found herself in a strange place emotionally a couple weeks later as she contemplated life going back to normal. She lamented the return to ordinary after her extraordinary year.
What happens when someone is facing a diagnosis like cancer, is that often life becomes significantly more intentional. The opportunities to give and receive love are clearer, the desire to make the moments matter is stronger, the things that are insignificant are revealed for what they are in light of what truly counts in this life.
Just a couple of days after writing that blog, a mere three weeks after being declared cancer-free, Paula and her family learned that her cancer had returned with a vengeance.
My first indication that something was wrong was a post made by her newly-married daughter that was quickly deleted. My heart sunk.
In the spring, I seriously considered making a trip out to Utah to visit my friends, particularly Paula and Shawn. As her treatment came to an end, though, I breathed a sigh of relief and the urgency slipped away. It had been years since I had seen her, but now that she was going to be okay, waiting another year or two (or three) didn’t seem like such a big deal. After all, we kept up on Facebook, and that’s sort of the same thing, right?
And then came the word from Shawn:
The LORD is SOVEREIGN
He said NO…
PAULA ‘s Lymphoma is back, all throughout her lungs, and is terminal.
We have ‘weeks’
Thank you for your love and prayers. This last year was a gift, but now He is calling her home
And I fell to my knees sobbing.
My first thought was I need to get there, to be there. I irrationally and immediately booked a flight to Salt Lake.
But friends had gifted Paula and Shawn with a vacation to the Oregon coast and they were headed this way. I cancelled my flight and told them wherever I needed to go to see them, to hug them, I would go.
We made plans to meet up in Portland on their way to the coast. Paula may or may not have also procured cannabis oil from a hipster on a bicycle in a park, but I can neither confirm or deny that. (Bucket list- √)
We went to dinner and then back to Shawn’s sister’s house to hang out before I had to drive back home. We caught up on things the way we would have under any other circumstances.
We watched the country music awards and made jokes about what we were seeing.
We talked about old times, and about times I missed since moving away 10 years ago. Shawn plucked on the guitar as we talked and threatened to make me sing with him. Paula told me about how they nearly adopted children who had escaped polygamy, but in the end, another family from our church was a better fit.
Shawn would say something that annoyed her, and she’d say, “Shawn…” with a disapproving tone. I loved that they were still them.
And I loved that as he talked about his wife and their tough journey of the past year, his admiration and love was shining from his face. Whatever the year’s long battle had taken from them, it had failed to temper their beautiful relationship.
As the evening wore on, Paula became more tired. She crawled up on the couch next to her mom and laid her head on her shoulder. Her mom stroked her head as Paula lay there with her eyes closed. It was a beautiful heartbreaking sight, one I will never forget.
Soon she said it was time for her to go to bed. I hugged her and we said, “I love you my friend.” But we didn’t say goodbye. We said goodnight.
On Friday, while her family sang praises and prayers over her, Paula went to be with Jesus.
If I had it to do over again, knowing it was the last time I would see her, I don’t think I would change a thing.
“I love you my friend.” What else is there to say?
Theoretical park where we might have possibly maybe obtained medicinal cannabis oil
Say a prayer if you could, for Shawn, Hollee, Heather, Andrew, Grace and Paula’s mom LuAnn.