Renee Albracht works at Belmont University, in Nashville, TN
The following blog was written by Renee Albracht, a member of our Friends of Koinonia Class. She has battled her own journey with cancer over the past couple of years. You will be touched by her words speaking of attending our dear friend Cheryl Hales Memorial service yesterday, October 2, 2013.
In memory of the woman who taught me how to live for Christ no matter what challenges life throws at us. Thank you, Cheryl, for your love, support, example, and inspiration.
I received an email this past Friday that my friend from church, Cheryl Hales, passed away on Thursday. The funeral was scheduled for this afternoon. I knew I had to be there, but I was dreading it. Michael’s memorial was one year ago this month. A lot has happened this past year, a lot of emotion. I remember how emotionally draining Michael’s memorial was for me. I was not ready for another emotionally charged event. I was afraid of being overcome by survivor’s guilt once again.
Something was different this time, from the very beginning. I cried some when I first found out, but I wasn’t as overcome as I was with Michael or Cowboy. I had no regrets with Cheryl. Our Sunday School class was supposed to go visit her when she got really sick and started receiving hospice care. After finding out that she preferred not to have the large group visit, I made sure, in my own way, that she and Eddie both knew what they and their example meant to me. I never went to go visit them, but never felt like I needed to. She meant a lot to me the past year and a half or so, but we were not close friends. I had never even talked to Eddie. Nevertheless, unlike Cowboy or Michael, I made sure not to leave anything undone. I said my goodbye while she was still alive.
When I arrived to the funeral, armed with plenty of Kleenex in my pocket, I noticed Eddie standing at the entrance to the room greeting everyone as they walked in. As I got closer, I intended to introduce myself and remind him how he knew me and then tell him how much Cheryl meant to me.
I didn’t have to introduce myself, though. He not only remembered who I was, but he gave me a hug and called me by name. He gave me an even greater gift than remembering my name. He shared with me how much Cheryl cared about me. I told him how much it meant to me how she was there for me during my own cancer journey. He told me he was glad my journey ended better than Cheryl’s. He said Cheryl wouldn’t have had it any other way. I gave him another hug and thought how odd that although I have seen him at church many times, this was the first time we had actually talked.
What got to me was his genuineness. His beloved wife of 32 years just passed away and here we were at her memorial, yet he had the strength and compassion to be kind to me. I didn’t feel guilty in that moment. I believed him. I believed he meant what he said and I believed he was right about Cheryl. I didn’t know her well, but I knew her well enough to know she thought more about the welfare of others than herself.
The service was moving, great way to honor the life and legacy of a wonderful woman. Most of our Sunday School class attended and Dr. Parrott gave a moving message. I shed a tear or two, but never broke down.
For the first time in a very long time, it wasn’t about me. I know very few of the great moments of my journey have really been about me, but they have all pulled me inside of myself, making me internalize everything. Today, that was not the case. No survivor’s guilt. No great aha moments. This journey, this moment, was fully and completely about Cheryl. I heard the stories about her life and last days. I learned more about what made Cheryl tick. I listened to the songs that meant something to her. I watched the love and loss on the faces of those left behind. I felt at peace. I felt confident that Cheryl was exactly where she wanted to be and that Eddie was at peace with it as well. They were fortunate enough to have had great quality, spiritual time together before she died.
I have been exhausted from working so much trying to get our annual security report out by October 1st. Although I finished in time and took half a day off on yesterday, I still do not feel rested. I had a lot on my plate today and considered contacting our youth pastor and telling him I could not make it to youth group tonight. I could have easily gone home and gone to bed.
I needed to go to church, though. Hearing stories of Cheryl’s faith and compassion compelled me to go.
The fact that this experience was not all about me for once makes me feel a little like a creep for even writing about it. But, I do so anyway for a few reasons:
1) I may be physically and emotionally tired, but these thoughts will not let me rest. My text may be dull and I may be having a more difficult time than normal to get my thoughts out, but if I don’t, I will lay awake for hours rather than allow my exhaustion to carry me off to sleep.
2) This is a significant part of my story, a turning point in my journey. The fact that this experience was so different, that I could talk to Eddie about cancer and not be overcome by guilt that I am still living, that I didn’t have a huge emotional breakdown, the fact that for the first time it wasn’t all about me kind of makes it about me. I have crossed some imaginary line. I feel like I have truly overcome cancer, like I am no longer defined by the cancer. I feel almost normal.
3) Even though I felt peaceful about Cheryl’s passing, the experience left me feeling odd. I could not quite figure out what mood I was actually in…until driving home from church and thinking about the day. I thought about the stories I heard about Eddie’s and Cheryl’s last few months together, all the photos of them having fun throughout the years, their smiles. I thought about the couples from Sunday School class and all the good, Godly men and husbands. I called it loneliness at first, but the truth is, I think I am in some ways jealous.
Mike and I went to dinner last night and I shared some thoughts about my brokenness. How is it that I love cuddling with my dog, but cannot stand to have people invade my space? I don’t like humans! What I mean is that I don’t like physical intimacy of any sort. Why do I love it with animals? Simple. They expect nothing of me. Their love is pure and simple.
I don’t like getting close, but sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on something great. Should I let fear keep me from getting close to someone again? On the other hand, is loneliness or jealousy reason enough to get into something I’m not ready for yet? I know I’m not ready for it now. I’ve made plans to, God willing, move back to Texas next year. A relationship now would complicate things. Besides, when I think about all that it takes to make a relationship work, I simply am not ready! If God intends for me to be with someone again, I think He’s going to have to knock me upside the head and sweep my feet out from under me.
On another note, I have been thinking of bringing this blog journey to a close. After today, I feel like it is time. I thought about ending this blog after my one year anniversary which is November 19, 2013. However, I do not get my one year scan until some time after that date. Therefore, the last entry of this blog will be after my one year CT scan.
It’s time to end this story and start another.