She was my best laughing buddy. Billie Ann and I had met while passing one another on the breezeway at Alco Baptist Church, dropping off our respective children at daycare. We started out saying Hello to one another. Then, it was short conversations as we waited for our children to gather their things. After a while, it turned into longer conversations. Over time, a friendship developed.
She worked for a contractor and I worked at a foundry. We discussed our jobs, kids and exes. And we laughed at anything and everything.
She went through some hard times and so did I. We were both laid off from our jobs. But we still laughed. We started hanging out at each other’s houses, met each other’s families, shared meals and kept laughing.
She was a little heavy and decided to have bariatric surgery to lose weight. I cheered her on. She had to have a whole battery of tests run beforehand. They x-rayed her whole body, I think. She was winded easily, but I always figured that was because of her weight.
When she moved out of her house, I helped her move. Our children played together, fought with each other and went to each other’s Birthday parties. We all sometimes attended church together. We were like peas and carrots.
I remember her saying that she was feeling kind of spooky about praying recently because everything that she prayed for was coming to pass. She said that it was the first time in her life that this had happened.
The day of Billie Ann’s surgery came and she did well. She stayed in the hospital a couple of days and then went home to her Aunt’s to recover. The boys and I visited her there, and other than being tired, she seemed well and was losing weight. The plan was for her to lose a certain amount of weight, and then find a new job.
I took her for return appointments and to get a B-12 shot for energy. They gave me a B-12 shot too. She started feeling really bad and they put her back in the hospital. She remained winded and had some other complications that really puzzled the doctors. I got my ex to watch the boys and went to the hospital to visit her and laughed with her. We hoped they would find the problem soon.
The next day, I found out that she was in ICU. The doctors knew that she was getting worse, but still couldn't pinpoint the cause of the problem. Again, I visited and we talked and laughed together. I didn’t know what to do to help her. I wasn't a doctor. But they say that laughter is the best medicine, so I could definitely help with that. We spoke about our plans when she was released from the hospital. We laughed some more, I fed her some ice chips, which is all they would let her eat and started towards the door to go home.
This is the part in which I have to talk about the fact that I am not a mushy person and don’t go around telling people that I love them all of the time. Really, I don’t. Obviously, if I didn't like someone, I wouldn't be around them. I count my mere presence as affirmation. I expect for others to do the same. But, for some reason, something told me to tell Billy Ann that I loved her. It was like a little voice that I didn't hear often. But I obeyed. I turned around and said, “I love you”.
I went home and started to go and visit her the next day. Again, that little voice spoke to me instructing me this time to put my own family first, so I took my son to his soccer game instead. As I was turning in to the field, I thought of John 14:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
This was a comforting scripture to me that had been recited by my grandmother with my mother when she was dying. I made a mental note to read it to Billy Ann the next time I visited her.
But it was not to be. See, Billy Ann passed away at the same time that the scripture was brought to my remembrance. Her lung collapsed, and the doctors did emergency exploratory surgery to determine the cause. That was when they found a massive, malignant tumor wrapped around her heart and lungs. They said it was inoperable and that she would die. And she did just a few hours later. I always wondered how they didn't know about the tumor with all of the tests that they ran before her initial surgery. And, I understood why she had been so winded all of that time. It wasn't because of her weight alone, but because she was fighting against a tumor that she didn't know she had.
One thing I was glad about was that my final words to her were “I love you”. I had no regrets about our friendship; none about words not said. When we think about what we are saying to people, we need consider whether it will be our last time to speak to them. Those moments happen when we least expect them.
copyright 2012 by Kathy Robbins