I stood in my closet, starting at the rows of shirts and pants and dresses, unable to move. How are you supposed to pick out an outfit for the day you know your friend is going to die?
I settled on some combination that I don’t remember even slightly. The miles of road between home and the hospital were filled with silence – I couldn’t even bring myself to drown out my thoughts with the radio. As I pulled into a narrow spot in the cramped parking garage, I thought, “This is the last time I’ll need to find a space to park.”
Four days before, a short Facebook post by Julie’s daughter caught my eye.
“Please pray for my Mama right now,” the post begged.
I quickly dialed her number and the call was answered swiftly, with deep sobs ringing out from the other end. “Mama had a heart attack at work this morning. She’s at the hospital. She hasn’t woken up yet.”
Julie had become a friend as we volunteered side-by-side in the preschool ministry of our church. She became one of my trusted leaders over the years, starting out rocking babies in the nursery and progressing to the coordinator over multiple preschool classrooms. I had a front-row view into the ways God was changing her life. I watched as she navigated leaving a toxic work environment in order to thrive in a new, healthy position. I celebrated as her family grew closer to each other and to Jesus as they watched Julie lead the way.
How could I be standing helplessly by her hospital bed, saying goodbye?
When tragedy strikes – and oh! it will strike – what we need more than anything is to be surrounded by the people who love us. The small, cramped waiting room for the ICU was filled and overflowing with Julie’s friends and family and coworkers. From dawn until well after dark, people streamed off the elevator and through the door into that tiny waiting room. The owner of the company where Julie worked flew in from Wyoming. Neighbors and church friends brought food and blankets and pillows and phone chargers and Wal-Mart gift cards.
The outpouring of love was a shimmering reflection of the impact Julie had on so, so many.
At first, we were filled with hope that she would heal. She was stable enough to have a heart catheterization that revealed the need for bypass surgery once she was stronger. That first day, she didn’t wake up, but she gripped the hands of her husband and daughter. There was hope.
Then it all changed. Subtly.
She stopped turning her head toward the person speaking. Her hands stopped squeezing. And we knew.
As we passed the countless hours in the waiting room, we reminded ourselves and each other of the innumerable ways Julie loved. Her daughter said it best, “She loved hard.” So it came as no surprise that she had promised her very organs to help others, should the opportunity arise. Days of tests and conversations and hard decisions followed. But Julie was meant to give in death as she gave in life – freely, wholly, completely.
It’s been a year since I whispered that final goodbye and kissed your cheek. I still have a hard time believing you are gone. Julie, you would be so very proud of your family. In a time that could have turned them away from each other and away from God, they have instead chosen to draw closer. I love you and miss you, my friend.