May 2, 2010 12:16:00 AM
I woke up one morning thinking about Sue. There wasn''t anything Sue couldn''t do, except beat cancer. She was the epitome of the "earth mother." She made everything from scratch, organically. She organized food co-operatives: "Apple Blossom," another "Milk and Honey," one beautiful; one basic. Every Tuesday her garage was filled with brown paper bags. Women came to retrieve their weekly rations, the click click from the high heels of the bank teller to the soft padded steps of the soccer mom.
Once Sue''s stove stopped working, undaunted she cooked for more than a year on her barbecue grill. She was determined to fix the stove herself, needing only a tiny part from an old stove. One day she found it and fixed the stove. If anything Sue was determined, but the cancer was more so.
Before, Sue was a work colleague. I went to the hospital after hearing the diagnosis. I was dizzy with grief and could barely operate the elevator. Wearing sunglasses to hide tears, I tried to sound as cheery as she did; only the tears broke through. I ripped off the sunglasses and cried, "This is stupid! I''m trying to act like I''m not upset, but I am."
"Shannon, don''t you know that all things work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose?" she said gently.
I had heard that all my life, but I wanted to scream, "You don''t understand, this is cancer. That does not apply to cancer!" Six weeks later she was gone, and I wasn''t prepared. This would not happen to me again. Cancer does not work on my timetable.
Genevieve was a stationer on Main Street; her shop was the Hummingbird. That was before everyone had computers and could make their own stationary. It was before condolences and birth announcements were sent by e-mail. Before they told anyone, she and her husband slipped away to Grayton Beach, Fla. It was a quiet beach village where real people live. Everyone should go to the beach when they are told they have cancer.
Genevieve returned and began her treatments; her friends took turns sitting with the store. She paid in stationary. I delivered baskets filled with treats. We visited and talked about her girls. She said, "I worry most about Helen. Helen has never had a thought that she didn''t share with me."
Each one''s life was shorter than I wanted, but each life was more than significant enough. I''ve learned as much from their deaths as I did from their lives. They left me changed; not taking time or friendships for granted.
Paraphrasing John Winthrop for gender, "That everyone might have need of other, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bond of human affection ... made for the glory of their Creator and the common good of mankind."
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.