A life well lived

“Debra’s been transferred to hospice,” said Bob. “So if you’d like to see her, you should probably do it soon.” My heart sank. We knew it was coming, but we clung to the futile hope that there might be a last minute solution to buy our friend just a little more time. It was hard to accept that someone as vivacious as Debra could be approaching the end of life so quickly.

Bob and I were actually classmates from fifth grade onward. We never really hung out together back then, but I remembered him as a nice boy. In high school he met Debra (a nice girl), and they married a couple of years after graduation. We hadn’t seen each other in decades, until a few years ago – surprise! – we discovered we’d been sitting one pew apart for several months.

Around the time our serendipitous friendship began, Debra was diagnosed with lymphoma. Since then she had endured a gauntlet of miserable procedures, harrowing treatments and the brutal effects of the cancer itself. Through it all, Debra remained true to character – kind, uncomplaining, faithful and gracious.

Heading to the hospice almost felt as if we were invading sacred family space. As we drove into the city Jack wondered aloud, “What should we talk about?”

“It won’t be a problem,” I said, “Debra is such a people person.”

She proved my point the minute we walked into her room, greeting us with her trademark smile. Trust Debra to welcome you in any situation. Conversation flowed as freely as ever. We began telling her about the fabulous new house other friends of ours had recently built. “And the view from the great room is just incredible!” I said.

Her blue eyes sparkled as she responded to my enthusiasm. “Okay, but I think my new house – the one that I’m moving into – is going to be way better yet!”

“Can’t argue that,” Jack said with a laugh.

Facing death with joy

When the time came to leave, I dropped my COVID mask and kissed her cheek. “We love you, Debra.”

“I love you, too,” she said, “But I’m not going to miss you.” She let out a giggle. “Isn’t that weird? I’m going to be perfectly happy where I’m going.”

“I realized lately that even though I’ve read the Bible all my life and studied it faithfully, I know this much about heaven,” she said, pinching thumb and forefinger together.

“You’re right,” said Jack. “It says a lot more about how to live here than what we’re looking forward to there.”

a smiling woman
Dearly loved and deeply missed: Debra will always be remembered as a woman of solid faith.

“But it’s going to be amazing, we know that much for sure,” she said. Joy radiated from her face as she spoke – pure and contagious joy.
On the way out we met Bob and one of his granddaughters. The sadness etching her sweet face broke my heart. As immense as Debra’s joy, this young girl’s sorrow was profound. For those left behind, grief is a formidable mountain to climb – the deeper the love, the steeper the cliffs.

Bob called as we were having breakfast last Friday morning. Debra had died peacefully with her dear husband at her side. About the time I opened my eyes to greet my 65th birthday, our friend closed her eyes for the last time in this world and opened them in heaven.

Debra’s battle is over. Her faith has been made sight. Her hope is fulfilled. Her legacy of love endures in the lives she touched and continues to point us in the direction of her precious Saviour.

To live is Christ; to die is gain. Debra understands that fully now.

  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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