It’s strange how my mind still doesn’t know what to call her. In a way, she’ll always be Mrs. Pharr to me. I’ll remember her teaching us calculus, writing furiously on the overhead projector, pushing us all toward a greater understanding of higher-level mathematics and 5s on the AP exam. I’ll remember her as the fiercely competitive sponsor of our Quiz Bowl team who wouldn’t rest until we beat Bentonville.
I’ll remember her as the loving mom to her two young daughters who hung around our after-school Quiz Bowl practices. At the time, I was too self-absorbed to wonder how she did it all, how she balanced her home life with being an engaging teacher who poured into us day after day.
I’ll remember how she saw that I had a gift for math and encouraged me to develop it. Her spunky personality made being a math geek seem much more acceptable than it really was.
I’ll remember how she trusted me with the responsibility of helping teach my peers calculus. How she had confidence that I was capable of just about anything – with the exception of her beloved sport of waterskiing, that is. She never could coach me to success there, and I know it drove her crazy.
But sixteen years after I left her classroom, our lives intersected again – we were diagnosed with cancer on the same day, she with stage 4 breast cancer and I with angiosarcoma. We both had a slim chance of surviving five years. And as members of a tight-knit club that no one wants to be part of, she became my friend, Jean.
We visited a couple of times—once when I was battling cancer, and again after my battle ceased and hers continued. And then in April 2015, she retired from her job in education and her second job of receiving cancer treatment, and she entered hospice care. So I decided to pay her a visit. One visit turned into two, and eventually these visits became a regular part of my schedule.
The first couple of visits were spent mostly sharing memories and catching up. But as time went on, our visits were less about two people who shared a past and more about two people who were sharing the present. But looming over our friendship was the unavoidable fact that one of us faced a short future. We talked about family, faith, fear, cancer, and dying.
And now she’s gone, taken home to glory, finally healed. My routine is left with a gaping hole. My heart hurts. I don’t want to go to her funeral. I want to pick up lunch from Panera, drive out to her house on the lake, and chat with my friend.
In a way, my grief feels selfish. For months, I tried to make our visits less about me and more about what she needed. And now I’m focused on my own sadness. But she doesn’t need me anymore. She doesn’t need anything. She is complete in her Savior. The tears have been wiped from her eyes, and now it’s my turn to weep.
And as I do, I will cling to my Savior, who knows how it feels to weep at the grave of a friend. He knows the pain of death, because he endured it to bring me eternal life. He sees my tears and promises that this hurt won’t hurt forever, that this separation is only temporary. He alone is the anchor of hope for my grieving heart.Share