Holly was in the hospital, spending her last days of life in great pain. And she was smiling. She wanted to sit up while I visited and asked me for help. I lifted her with care and as one who was privileged. Holly stopped our conversation throughout the visit to breathe through a wave of pain. The cancer had destroyed Holly’s strength. But not her spirit.
We talked about her husband and young daughter, and we talked about “why.” We discovered that the woman who had shared a room briefly with Holly was also a friend of mine: Marga had died a few months earlier. Hearing Holly tell the story of how the two had bonded was a gift to me from a dying woman.
And she looked as beautiful as she did when we first met, back in seventh grade.
Holly and I found each other as we shared classes held in the “quad” at La Cumbre Junior High School. Grouped together with the “advanced” students, we found that we shared the same goal: an “A” grade in every class. We became friends immediately.
One day she invited me to study at her home after school. When we walked through the door and entered the living room, I was taken aback by the look of the home. The furniture was white, clean, and neat — the opposite of what I had at home. When Holly plopped on the couch and invited me to join her, I hesitated at first. Can I actually play in a room that looks like this? was my concern. Her mother came out to greet us and she looked like an angel. We enjoyed snacks and did our homework in a dining room that carried touches of the family’s Japanese heritage. I was intrigued by the peace that was present, and it prompted in me an urge for something better.
When we moved up to high school, Holly had an uphill battle in keeping me on the road to college. The turmoil in my family life was affecting my focus, and a high GPA was becoming less important to me than sheer survival. I never revealed to Holly what I was living through until much later. We were busy planning and working towards the future, and with that I could ignore the ugly present for a while.
Even while attending college together, Holly urged me on to do my best. And she was a true friend in warning me about the choices I was making during this time of independence. I only wish I had listened.
Then came the day when she told me about the special man in her life. That beautiful smile of hers was brighter than ever. I attended her wedding and saw true happiness and love that made me weep. Several years later came the fruit of that love and Holly’s one and only child became her pride and joy.
Why am I not being healed? Do I not have enough faith? Holly fought the evil of this disease for four years. There was no warning at onset, and it was a rare form of ovarian cancer. These questions were hers during our visit. As I fought tears, I attempted an answer: “Sometimes God’s answer is ‘It’s time to come home.’ You received enough faith, Holly, from Jesus Christ when you gave your life to Him. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need more. It’s time for you to rest in that.” It was a long yet gentle conversation in which those truths were spoken.
Holly and my friendship began with her picking me up and cheering me on to greater things. And at the end of Holly’s life, in that white, clean, and neat room, our roles reversed and that loving task was given to me.
Holly went to heaven a short time later. At her memorial service, her husband said that she died with a smile on her face.
That beautiful smile.
“Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!” (Psalm 39:13)
Holly died in 2004. She would have turned 53 years old on September 2.