Monday, January 9, 2017

See you later, sweet friend

My friend Bonnie (second from the left)
When you live in the country, you become friends with just about everyone. Neighbors offer a friendly wave if they're out when you pass by. But after almost 3 years, we haven't quite gotten used to the small town feel here. Even though we're very familiar with small towns and had come from a small town in the Metro Atlanta area, it's just different down here. Everybody seems to know everybody else's business. So today, when I went to get my mail and found a pink sticky note stuck to the top of my incoming mail, I wasn't really surprised to see a note from my mail carrier. (She and I had become friends shortly after we'd moved here and were on a first name basis.) I read the note she'd scribbled and stood in my driveway dumbfounded. She'd asked about the neighbor who lives behind me. The neighbor who also shares my same first name. 

Bonnie was an older woman who lived alone. She was used to being independent and had been since her husband died tragically ago in a small plane crash. I remembered her telling us about it shortly after we moved in. She said he'd had his own plane and had been flying for years. They had enough land for a landing strip and he'd made one. Flying was one of his biggest joys but she wasn't as fond of it so he usually flew alone. The day his plane crashed literally in their back yard, her life had not been the same. She'd done the best she could to get over it and get on with her life but she was struggling. Her children lived out of state and she loved her privacy so she didn't like visitors unless she invited them. She had a beautiful home and had taken time to make each nook and cranny exactly as she wanted it. Everything in her home was something that pleased her. Whenever we were invited to visit, our eyes couldn't help but wander over her eclectic collections. I wanted to be like her when I grew up. 

As our friendship grew, Bonnie and I talked about how we could differentiate ourselves from one another. Since we shared the same first name and she was a good bit older than I was, I laughed as she told me, "I'll call myself, Bonnie over the hill, and I'll call you, Bonnie down the hill." I agreed to her choice and from that day forward, she'd sign her emails Bonnie OTH and I'd sign mine Bonnie DTH. She preferred communicating through email instead of phone. Privacy was so important to her and her time was very valuable. I came to understand why when she shared about her health. 

Bonnie was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis but she also had breast cancer. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer, she told me, about 22 years ago. She'd gone through all the treatments and had done everything the doctors wanted her to do but it came back earlier last year. She was one of the first women I talked to after I was diagnosed in 2014 because I knew she'd understand how scared I was. Bonnie told me she was shocked when the doctors told her the cancer was back. She agreed to receive treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and they'd done all they could do. She was sent home to hospice care and had 24 hour assistance through a home help agency. Bonnie hated that. She just wanted to be left alone but as she grew weaker, she knew she needed someone to be with her so she accepted what was to be. For the past year, she's been fighting to live but none of us knew she was close to death. We thought she'd lick it just like she did the first time. 

Kim, our mail lady, had left her phone number on the sticky note and had asked me to call her. When I called, I asked Kim why she might have thought something had happened to Bonnie. She said she'd been around to take Bonnie her mail and had noticed boxes on the front porch and all the lights off. She'd also seen a "No Trespassing" sign on the property. That wasn't like Bonnie. Something was definitely up. I told Kim I'd call Bonnie's property caretaker. I'd met he and his wife at a holiday party at Bonnie's house earlier last year and we'd swapped phone numbers just in case we needed to touch base. That's the way country folk are...we look out for one another. 

I called the caretaker and reached his wife. As I explained I was worried about Bonnie, I heard her breathe a heavy sigh. In a quiet voice she told me Bonnie had passed away. I was shocked and felt the emotion welling up inside me. I listened as she gave me details of Bonnie's death. She'd died on January 1 with her daughter and two sons by her side, just the way she wanted it. The family had decided not to have a funeral service now but to wait until Spring, when all the flowers were blooming. That's just the way Bonnie would have wanted it. She would have wanted them to celebrate her life instead of mourning it. 

The news of losing another friend to breast cancer was extremely hard on me today. Although Bonnie had passed away a week ago, I hadn't been prepared to hear the news. I'd assumed she was still fighting. I assumed she'd be around a while longer. I assumed I'd have time to talk with her again and visit her again, but I was wrong. 

I'm so thankful we were able to meet and become friends. My life is richer from having known her. Bonnie was a tough cookie and she was determined. Her fighting spirit will always be an example to me. I wish I'd had the opportunity to visit her before she died. I would have liked to have talked with her about eternity but God knew best. I don't think I could have handled seeing her at the point of death, especially since we shared the same diagnosis. 

I was able to talk with another friend today and she let me know she'd made sure to share the plan of salvation with Bonnie a day or two before her death. Bonnie assured her she'd accepted Christ as a young child and she felt secure in her salvation. I'm happy to know I'll see her again one day and I'm extremely grateful she's no longer in pain. 

I've lost so many friends since being diagnosed with breast cancer and I'll be honest, it scares me to death but all I can do is put my faith in God knowing He's numbered my days. He's not going to take me home one second before He's ready so I'd better keep on living my life and living it well. It hurts to lose a friend and instead of saying goodbye, I'll just say I'll see you later, Bonnie, because I will see her later. When I cross into glory, she'll be there and she'll have a completely healed and whole new body and we'll be able to rejoice together in the presence of our King. 

Living in a small town has it's perks. People rally around each other and help out whenever there's a problem and they share news when appropriate. Small town living hasn't changed much over the clothesline gossip days except there aren't many visible clotheslines now. 

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