Last April, a couple weeks after our heartbreaking weekend in Colorado attending Jim's funeral, we received more terrible news that our dear friend Jake in Phoenix had also passed.
A double whammy. A big fat terrible month. E and I could hardly believe it. We knew that Jake was deteriorating and that it could be soon, but we weren't expecting it then - even as we read each of Jord's posts on Jake's condition.
E and I at Jacob's burial - May 3, 2016
It was a confusing/heartbreaking time for us. Our children feared for the loss of us. Something that kids don't usually have to worry about, but was a reality in their minds after their best friends had literally lost their fathers. E and I held each other tight. It was a tender time in our marriage as we mourned together.
For all the pain we felt it was unimaginable fathoming the depth of anguish Sarah and Jordan experienced then and still. It comes in waves and at different times, but it's there.
Much of that time and through subsequent months we went through feelings of frustration, anger, hurt, grief, sadness. We spoke of our friends often and reached out when we felt it was appropriate fully knowing that nothing could really be said or done to make it better. We vowed to do our best even with miles and miles between us to do whatever we could to ease even the tiniest of burdens. We committed to live lives more full of love and kindness. Patience and empathy. Trust and service.
Right after Jim (in Colorado) was diagnosed I immediately called Jordan (in Arizona). She lent an empathetic ear and told me that knowing others going through the same things had eased her burden.
I asked her if I could give Sarah her number and she agreed. I texted Sarah knowing that she might not ever call Jordan, and knowing that her whole world had just been ripped out from under her feet it likely wouldn't even happen for a while - the beginning of Jim's symptoms/diagnosis/treatment were brutal and aggressive.
I gave her Jordan's number. It was the only thing I could think of to do at that time. Sarah at that time was unable to speak on the phone and barely messaged friends and loved ones. Sarah later told me that when I gave her Jordan's number she didn't understand. She thought: Why should I call her? I don't even know her. Her husband is dying...mine is not.
I believe she did communicate with Jordan though...only a couple of times at first - I'm not sure if they even talked, just messaged maybe.
Then Jim died so suddenly and tragically. 6 weeks after his first symptoms.
And Jake died 2 weeks later. 2 years after his fight began.
Little by little my two dear broken widowed friends held each other up. They confided in each other and understood each other when no one else did - or could.
I visited Sarah last June. It was 2 months after Jim's death - on the weekend of their wedding anniversary and Father's Day. Sarah and Jim have 5 beautiful, active, funny, adorable children and for 5 days I did everything for them. It was exhausting and challenging, but I would not take that time back in their home for anything. Sarah was broken, wounded, and ripped apart by Jim's death. She could not process thoughts and was almost incapable of making decisions. I loved stepping in and caring for her and her kids in their home at that time. I loved chatting with the girls and rough-housing with the boys. I loved seeing Jim's eyes, laugh, humor, and whit in each of them. I tried my best to honor Jim and Sarah's anniversary and make Father's Day (that same day!!) a little less painful. It was beautiful to see her perk up at times and I treasured the time spent serving her and doing what I could to comfort her kids.
I was amazed at our beautiful Colorado community and their rally. They did and are still doing everything they can to ease the burden. I love those people.
During this time Sarah told me what a blessing Jordan had been and continues to be to her. They continue to share a beautiful friendship amidst the most heartbreaking bond.
My favorite moment from that trip was quietly watching the beautiful Colorado sunset from Sarah's deck that last night there. Her broken heart and weight of the ache she felt was ever apparent as she shared just a few of her burdens with me. I was proud of her as she showed up for her kids that hard, hard day. Hearing Jim's laugh on their home videos, gifting Sarah with comforting items and letters from her kiddos, and enjoying a wonderful homemade dinner in their beautiful home were small things, but also very sacred on that day.
Last September I got a missed call from Sarah and a voicemail. It was odd that she was calling me and I was mad that I missed it. I went to a quiet spot and listened. She was crying as she told me what had happened. She was in her basement looking through Jim's missionary photos. She said that she came across a photo and in it was young Jim - a MTC missionary with 3 other guys. One of which...was Jake. She was overwhelmed. To her knowledge they were strangers to each other. They has never spoken about one another and yet, there they were. Together. She told me that in that moment she did not feel abandoned or forgotten as she had been. She felt love from her Heavenly Father and such gratitude for this tender mercy.
Her and Jordan had just had a discussion as to whether their husbands were friends in heaven - and she felt she got her answer.
Jordan later told me that she had searched Jake's mission journal and he had written briefly that Jim was his district leader and he (Jake) was his assistant in the MTC.
Jake far left and Jim far right in the MTC, Provo UT
Last Fall Jordan moved with her 4 children to Provo, UT. Her and Jake had planned this and actually found the home that they wanted to purchase in the foothills to be closer to family. When Jake became more sick near the end of his life plans were delayed, but in August she was able to make the heart-wrenching move from Phoenix.
On the weekend we planned to come, Jordan was actually invited to attend a Halloween party in Phoenix that she really wanted to go to. Eric and I were more that happy to look after her home and children while she snuck away for the night.
We were able to do knock a few things off her to-do list while she was gone and also provide the kids with lots of play-time. Fortunately, Eric did not mind having a little side-kick at all and he and Tommy became quick buds. After all, Tom learned that E was good with tools as a bonus to being a friend of his dad's.
We did have some time with Jord which was invaluable. It happened to be the 6 month anniversary of Jake's passing. We loved chatting with her about Jake and their little family and our memories. Her boundless love for Jake is evident in everything she does. She was proud to be wearing an old watch of his and happy to share a few of her sweet memories of him with us. Even though Jake's death was prepared for she expressed to us her anguish and mourning. Jake was sorely missed on our visit - we missed his quiet humor, witnessing his loving interactions with his wife and kids, and his stories and ideas. So much of him lives on in Jordan and their children that you can't help but be reminded of Jake - which is truly a wonderful gift.
Death and cancer are hard. They are confusing. There are so many, too many, feelings associated with it that you can't sort through it all.
I don't pretend to understand it. I have tried and failed.
I don't think it's God's doing or God's will.
I do think it's just something that just happens. Something so terrible and so tragic. I think that sometimes it can be prevented or delayed, but in my experience, both personally and clinically it just...happens.
I have learned to hold tight - really really tight to those you love. Be real with people like Jim was - love people and learn from them like he did. Laugh and embrace, do things that are uncomfortable, help others feel your love. Be thoughtful like Jake was - consider all angles and give people the benefit of the doubt. Take care of your body like he did - learn and adapt - don't be afraid to do hard things.
Both Jim and Jake were good at developing and keeping good relationships. They spent time with people and listened. They loved their families, spouses, children, and friends. You felt it and you knew it. They honored their values and beliefs and were firm in their faith without disrupting others or making others feel guilty.
We are far better off knowing them for the short time we did than not at all.
To be continued this May when Jord and Sarah meet face to face. ps. They are letting me crash the party. :)