Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

I recently heard of another friend losing their battle to cancer. Her name was Mary Ann. She was a part of the group of friends I hung around with back in Illinois at Monmouth College. We were all feeling a loss as the news trickled across Facebook last week.

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

Mary Ann was a brave woman fighting for her life against cancer. Fighting that is until about two months ago when she found out that her cancer had spread to her liver. She posted on Facebook: “We have decided to move to hospice care instead of putting me through more debilitating treatments that could possibly shorten what time I have left to spend with friends and family.”

That post sent shock, sympathy, and sadness through our college network of mutual friends. She was in my thoughts and prayers ever since.

Remembering Mary Ann

As I reflected on my friendship with Mary Ann, a woman of Chinese descent, I dug out old Christmas cards and annual holiday portraits from a filing drawer neatly organized and stuffed full of such items from friends and family over the years. It’s one of those things that my husband would probably prefer that I get rid of. But on that night they served me well to pay tribute to my old college friend.

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

Mary Ann was young—a mere 56 years old when she passed away. She found love later in life than most of the college gang, marrying her husband Jerry 16 years after graduation.  By that time I had already moved to Seattle and had a 2-week old baby. A trip back to Illinois for the wedding was not possible. They vacationed in Seattle once, and we spent some time sightseeing with them.

In 2005, Jerry and Mary Ann adopted a baby girl from China. Every year since then she sent photos of their darling daughter. At first it was photos of their small family, but it soon turned to photos just of her daughter.

One year she wrote how she loved receiving our annual letter and wanted to do the same herself. Multiple times she indicated her desire to start scrapbooking. I don’t think she ever did. But she did tell me one year that she was hooked on rubberstamping. The year that they adopted their daughter, she sent a nice typed letter describing the adoption process:

Mary Ann family After a year of completing various paperwork for the U.S. and Chinese governments and 6 months waiting for a referral, Jerry and I traveled to China in February of this year to receive our daughter.

We spent about 2½ weeks in China waiting for passports and visas for her. During that time, we did a little sightseeing and spent time getting to know each other. We were lucky to be able to spend a day visiting the childhood village of Mary Ann’s father taking lots of video and photographs to bring home to her dad and siblings.

It has been a fun year watching our daughter grow and learn things on her own and from her cousins. We have been discovering all the family-friendly places in the area.

We have truly been blessed this year.

My heart aches for this young girl now, just entering puberty and without a mother to see her through the years of seeking her own identity and independence. I pray that the Lord will heal her heart over time.

College Memories

Mary Ann and all of my Monmouth College cronies have been in my thoughts a lot lately. Earlier this summer I was working on some page layouts in my scrapbook from our 25-year reunion. That was in 2006, and was the last time I saw Mary Ann.

That reunion was a marvelous experience for us all. I had been in Seattle for almost 20 years by then. It was before Facebook and social media was popular. Our main contact was through holiday cards and letters or an occasional email. Being back together after so many years was a priceless experience. We shared memories of the past and laughed so hard at times I cried. It was like we had never parted. (Below are some memories from that reunion weekend.)

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I miss those days—days when we didn’t have to carry such heavy burdens and responsibilities, days when we lived, dined, studied, and played together. We were a creative bunch—involved in the college newspaper, yearbook, radio station (me), theater, or music.

The one thing many of us had in common was meeting at the Christian fellowship group, Ichthus, our freshman year.  It also helped that the girls all lived on the same floor in McMichael Hall. We became best buddies.

Mary Ann was only at Monmouth for two years. She was in a nursing program that required a transfer to Rush University in Chicago after her sophomore year. But she returned on occasional visits and remained close to several group members.

When marriage entered the picture for us, some of these girlfriends were in each other’s wedding parties. At my wedding in 1983, Mary Ann greeted guests as they arrived and had them sign the guest register.

Final Thoughts on my Friend

My parting thoughts of Mary Ann go back to an email exchange we had about a month ago. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to write her about the healing aspects of writing.

I want to encourage you to write as you feel led for your family, leaving them something that will help them when you are gone.  Maybe you could write a letter for your daughter on her wedding day, or other significant milestone.  I know it won’t be easy.  But please rest assured that whatever you do, it will bring them closer to you and keep your memory and love for them alive.

I was glad to hear back that the hospice people were helping her to write. Unbeknownst to me, Mary Ann passed away a week after that communication.

Writing this now doesn’t feel particularly eloquent. (I wonder what grade my former English professor would give me.)  But with the recent knowledge of Mary Ann’s passing several weeks ago, I felt compelled to write—to somehow give back a little bit of Mary Ann—to her friends and family, or just to the old gang from Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

I don’t know the kind of impact my life has had on these friends and comrades from the past. I know I’m not the same person that I was back then—none of us are. Although we are thousands of miles apart and our lives have rarely intersected over the last few decades since college graduation, I know we all treasure the memories of that special time in life that we shared together.

The next time we gather together at a reunion, we will all have a hole in our hearts and sadness to share over her parting. We lost a true gem of a woman when Mary Ann passed away. She was caring, gentle, funny, and most of all brave.  If I close my eyes and think of her, I can still hear her cute giggle.  It brings a smile to my lips and tears to my eyes.

Mary Ann, your brightness shines from Above on those whose lives you touched. Rest in Peace, my our friend.

Remembering Wanda

The community of women that I scrapbook with lost our fearless leader Wanda rather suddenly earlier this month.  Going out in style, Wanda passed away on National Scrapbook Day.  She had just laid her husband to rest a few months earlier after serving as his primary caregiver for several years.  We were all looking forward to this new season of Wanda’s life, where she could rest and relax.  But that wasn’t part of God’s plan.

Remembering Wanda 01

A toast to our courageous cheerleader!

Celebrating Wanda

Today I will be attending Wanda’s memorial service.  But a few weeks ago, one of her best friends, and a fellow scrapbooker, opened her home to our scrapbooking community, Wanda’s Croppers, to celebrate Wanda and to share stories of her life.  It was a beautiful evening with wonderful food accompanied by a champagne toast to her.

We all shared stores about Wanda going back as far as 40 years when she first met her husband, although most of us met her in the past two decades.  Tears and laughter intersected as we grieved and celebrated her life.

The Art of Scrapbooking

As a writer who is also passionate about scrapbooking, my blog has become a reflection of both crafts.  I spend time searching out just the right image, captioning them when needed and writing stories that I hope inspire and intrigue others.  My scrapbooks aren’t just photos stuck to a page; they are stories and works of art.  These creative endeavors go hand in hand for me.  So Wanda shows up in a small way every time I publish a new post.

Digital scrapbooking page courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Digital scrapbooking page at a retreat with Wanda, courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Wanda was a courageous, caring and Godly woman who inspired us to share our legacy and family heritage through the art of scrapbooking.  Her legacy touched hundreds if not thousands of people as the passion of storytelling through digital and handmade scrapbooks will be passed down for generations to come.  She left a mark on us all.

A Tribute to Wanda

When Wanda’s croppers got together a few weeks ago, I wrote my thoughts down on paper in advance.  Below is my tribute to Wanda from what I shared that night.  I hope it gives you some inspiration to consider your legacy and treasure the moments you have with those you love.

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Pedro’s scrapbook inscription.

“Pedro, May this book serve as a remembrance of the wonderful adventures we shared together in 2010 and mark the start of a summer filled with wonder and awe.  Remember—that is what the Lord tells us to do—not to live in the past, but to give us hope for the future and to keep us grounded in His promises.  I hope this book serves as a spiritual marker of the wonderful things that God has in store for us if we are open to His leading.”

That is an inscription that I wrote on the inside cover of a digital scrapbook that I gave to Pedro after the first summer he spent with our family.  How I toiled over that album.  It was my first one with the Creative Memories software.  I was rushing at the last minute to upload the files hours before my precious coupon would expire on New Year’s Eve.  And Wanda helped me all along the way as she did with subsequent albums as well.

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Always at ease behind the camera, and planning that next scrapbooking page in our minds.

That is what Wanda was all about, helping us to preserve our memories—and our stories.  So tonight I want to share with you some of my memories of Wanda and what she meant to me.

First of all, I have to admit that the news of her passing hit me pretty hard—surprisingly so.  I didn’t consider myself close friends with Wanda like many of you here are.  But I greatly admired her.  She was a kind and giving soul.

When Pedro’s CD was released, she was one of the first to buy it.  She told me how much she enjoyed playing it on her drives over the mountains.  She let me play Pedro’s music and sell it at the crops and retreats.  The same was true with my book.

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CD and book display at one of Wanda’s crops.

I’ll never forget attending her first Open House when she returned back to Western Washington.  She took time out of the event to sit down with me and tell me how moved she was by my story.  She actually apologized for not saying something to me sooner.  No apology was needed.  But she wanted me to know.  She wanted to have that connecting time.

When Creative Memories (CM) filed for bankruptcy, I reached out to Wanda to pray for her and for the business.  I knew it was her passion and financial provision.  None of us wanted CM to close its doors, and we didn’t want Wanda to be cut off from her livelihood.  I knew what it was like to be a CM consultant.  Back when I started scrapbooking, I signed up to be a CM consultant for a few years.

She worked hard at her business.  A former teacher, she was the perfect consultant—always doing crop talks and teaching us new tricks and tips.  There was never any hard sell or pressure.  She was just interested in keeping us motivated to keep working on our scrapbooks.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Wanda was our leader—a cheerleader to be more exact.  She fed us, wined us, dined us, and nurtured the parts of us that connected to our families or whatever scrapbooking project we were immersed in.  She knew it was important to us and she made it important to her too.

My heart aches for the loss of this woman and the community of memory keepers that she mentored and invested in in sacrificial ways.  She will be missed in so many ways by her family and friends.  But this group of women will miss her in an entirely different way with a grief that will connect us beyond tonight and beyond Wanda’s public memorial.

Every time we get together again to scrapbook Wanda will be there in spirit.  It will be hard to not notice that empty void that she once filled.  We unexpectedly got a glimpse into that in February as we gathered at a retreat while Wanda was caring for her husband who had just been put on hospice.  He died a few days later.  We never imagined that this would soon be her fate as well.

Wanda's granddaughter

Wanda’s newborn granddaughter.

I thank God that He took her in such a beautiful way, how He timed her departure to be with her husband so quickly, and to see her first grandchild days before she passed away.  The time between those few hours when we got the shocking news of her cancer and her passing were surreal to me.  It was hard to pray for her when I knew all hope was gone for her recovery.  But I prayed for her family and what they were all going through.  And then her son gave us all a gift when he posted her tribute on Facebook hours after she passed away.  It was as if God wrapped it up with a bow Himself.

Tonight, I’m very grateful that this gathering was planned for us so that we can openly celebrate and grieve the loss of this friend who was so passionate about life, about her family, about her faith, and also about scrapbooking.  I know she is looking down from above at us now.  I think she is probably taking photos of the entire event and planning a 2-page spread that she can show off to her new friends in heaven.  So let’s all stop, look up, and smile for her camera one last time.

Save us a place at the crop in heaven Wanda!  We miss you!

Remembering Wanda 06

Wanda’s Croppers

Today’s memorial service will be surreal once more to be together with Wanda’s Croppers and not have her there with us.  I think it will bring us together in a way that maybe scrapbooking couldn’t—in our shared grief.  Some of us will create scrapbooking pages in tribute to her.  I am choosing to write and craft this tribute to her.

In closing, I’m sharing with you the same scripture I inscribed on Pedro’s scrapbook:

He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.  Psalm 111:4

Wanda was one of those wonders we will always remember.

This post is happily shared with Christian Mommy Blogger/Felllowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

A few days before Christmas, while in the throes of the holiday rush, I dedicated some rare bedtime reading to a book given to me by my friend Debbie.  The book was a short memoir by her sister, and best friend, Shelly, published posthumously.  Debbie lost her sister to cancer on Christmas Day last year.

I’ve watched Debbie bravely live beyond her grief, especially over the past few months while serving together in ministry.  It is in honor of Shelly’s memory and Debbie’s family grief that I am writing this post.

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

The Cancer that Saved Me*

Shelly’s book, “The Cancer That Saved Me,” is a chronicle of her 19-month journey through cancer treatment, from diagnosis to her passing.  I didn’t read it to learn about cancer treatment, although I did get a better understanding of the medical process, I read it to get a sense for what Debbie went through—as a way of identifying more with her grief.

I had also heard Debbie recount how Shelly was full of spirit and that her battle was having a profound effect on their family.  Shelly’s ability to lean on God was giving back to the family and giving them the courage and strength to be there for Shelly.

A few pages into Shelly’s book, I didn’t think I was going to be able to read it.  The Forward of the book gripped me.  Below is an excerpt:

“I no longer ask, ‘why me?’  I now say ‘thank you.’  I no longer feel sorry for myself.  I now feel ‘blessed’ for every day.  Through God’s grace, I am alive, and although my body may be broken, it was my spirit that was broken before I got cancer.  God has given me ‘time.’  I may have a little hiccup in my giddy up, but I amble along every day giving thanks for all my blessings.  Ironically, I did not see them when I was healthy.”

One of the things that struck me is her statement about God giving her time.  When I read that I think of how most people don’t know when or how we are going to leave this earth.  Shelly was given a gift of time to prepare—to be aware of the gift of life—to turn to the Lord with her remaining time, and to develop an attitude of gratitude and worship.  Yes, even in the face of death—or especially in the face of death.

DoveLeaving a Legacy

Life isn’t fair.  It doesn’t seem right for a 51 year-old woman who was full of life to be taken from her family so soon and in such short order.  But through it all, God’s purposes did prevail.  With Shelly’s passing and limited publishing of her story, she was able to leave a legacy greater than her love for animals and her family.

Shelly left a legacy of restoration in her heart, love for the Lord, and hope for the future.  Her renewed commitment to God helped her to face each day.  She knew she was not alone in her battle.  That gave her great peace.  I see that same legacy of God’s comfort and love in Debbie every time I see her because she proudly wears it and shares it as well.

We each have a date sometime in the future that the Lord will call us home to be with Him.  We can live our lives for ourselves, or we can live them for God, leaving a legacy that is full of His Light, His Love and His Hope.  Shelly did that, finishing well.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

We all long to be home for Christmas–to be with our earthly family and friends.  But it doesn’t always work out that way due to distance, finances, broken relationships, and more.  We also innately long for our heavenly home, where peace will reign.  Revelation 21:4 tells us it will be a place of no more mourning, or crying or pain.

On Christmas Day 2012, God got a beautiful present when Shelly joined Him in heaven.  Shelly got a gift too, as she was freed from the cancer that ravaged her body, and united with her heavenly Father.

On Christmas Day 2013, the family turned over the calendar of first-year milestones in their grief process.  Just like anyone who loses a friend or family member at Christmas time, their holidays will be filled with sorrow and hope.  Their grief will continue in invisible ways for years to come, dissipating over time.  Shelly’s final legacy will see them through it—and us as well, if we are open to living a life dedicated to following God.

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*“The Cancer that Saved me”, by Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, is not available online.  In lieu of payment for the book, donations are gladly accepted and forwarded to the Swedish Hospital Uncompensated Care Program/Oncology Department through her family.  There is a nominal charge of $4.50 for shipping.  You can request a copy or more information by contacting Debbie@gowise.org

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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