Thursday, May 8, 2008

Good morning, sunshine

By Nancy B. Gibbs

I didn't sleep well that night. I tossed and turned, dreading the next day. Somehow, I knew that my friend's test results wouldn't be good. I woke up early that morning and took a quick shower. As I turned off the water and heard the telephone ringing, I raced to the phone and so I was given the dreadful news while still soaking wet. I just stood there dripping both water and tears.
"Good morning, Sunshine," Doris said. She hesitated for a few moments, then announced, "It has come back, honey. The cancer is back." I knew that I had to be strong for Doris. My mind began to race, as I thought about all the things that she had done for me. "You're the only one I've told, honey," she added.
"I'll be there shortly," I promised.

I had met Doris six years earlier. My husband and I accepted the pastorate of the small country church where she was a member. Because of her bright smile, Doris instantly won my heart. Doris was old enough to be my mother, but I had never had a friend quite like her before.
While driving to the hospital, my memories took me back to the days right after we met. My father was diagnosed as "terminal." Doris called me every day once the diagnosis was made. "Good morning, Sunshine," she said many times over the telephone. Even though most mornings didn't seem very bright, her calls made me smile. Many times, Doris came to visit. She brought little gifts to cheer me up.
Because my father resided in a long-term care facility almost seventy miles away, I was exhausted. I worked two jobs, taught a Sunday school class and visited with Daddy several times a week. Many times my cell phone rang while I was driving home on the interstate.

"Good afternoon, Sunshine," Doris would exclaim. "Stop by my house on the way home. I have dinner prepared for you." I knew exactly what that meant. There would be an entrée, two or three vegetables, corn bread and a coconut pie awaiting me.
Once I arrived at the hospital, I tapped on her door and heard a faint, "Come in." As I opened the door, I saw my friend lying there in the bed. She smiled at me.
"Good morning, Sunshine," she whispered. "Thanks for coming." The room was dark. Even the flowers that we had taken to her the day before looked sad. I leaned over her bed and embraced her. We held each other tight and sobbed in each other's arms. Initially, there were no words. What do you say to a dear friend when you know that she will be leaving you soon?
"I love you, Doris," came out quite naturally. "I'm going to be with you through this," I assured her. "You can count on me."

Doris cried for a few seconds before she finally told me what was bothering her. "I'm worried about leaving you, honey," she confided. "I want you to be okay." My dear friend was dying but was more concerned about my comfort. I assured her that I would be fine, but that her absence would leave a great void in my life.
For several hours that day, we talked about how we would break the news to her other family members. We discussed final arrangements, her pain medication toward the end and other important matters. The next few weeks were a blur. Between the many doctor visits, making sure she had plenty of food and fluids in the house, and keeping her prescriptions straight, we spent a great deal of time together.
One Sunday morning, I woke up early and called to check on her. I could tell that she needed medical care immediately. I rushed her to the emergency room. She was admitted that day and never returned home.
During the week preceding her death, I went to the hospital four to six times a day. I read the Bible to her at night until she fell asleep. Some mornings, I arrived even before she awakened. She lost her strength, but she never lost her beautiful smile. Each morning, I was greeted with her typical "Good morning, Sunshine." As I watched her grow even weaker, I wondered how many more mornings I would have the privilege of hearing those special words.

One afternoon, I received a call. "Doris has taken a turn for the worse," I was told. "You need to come." The doctors were trying one more procedure that would help to relieve some of the pain that she was experiencing.
"Can I speak to her alone for a second?" I begged the doctor as soon as I arrived.
"Sure," he said. Everyone left the room and allowed me to spend a few moments with my friend.
I took Doris's weak hand and held it tightly. We prayed together. "I love you," I told her.
"I love you, too, Sunshine," she whispered.
"There's nothing else we can do," the doctor announced to me after the procedure. I knew I had to break the news to her.
I walked from the hallway where I'd waited for the doctor back into Doris's room. "Did the procedure work?" Doris asked.
"I'm sorry, but it didn't," I answered and began to cry.
"Everything is going to be okay," Doris promised. "Please don't cry." The room was quiet for a few moments. Doris reached up and took my hand. "You don't know how much you have meant to me over the last few years. You made my life complete," she whispered. A few minutes later, Doris fell fast asleep.

The next morning, I went to see her as usual. Doris was obviously in severe pain and could no longer speak. Before the doctor gave her the strong medication that would ease her pain, I prayed with her and asked her if she knew that I loved her. She nodded. About that time the sunlight burst into the room as if to comfort my grieving soul.
That night Doris joined many of her loved ones in heaven. As I had promised, I was sitting by her side.
The next morning, I stepped outside and the August sun shone down upon my face. Its warmth made me think of Doris's unconditional love. "Good morning, Sunshine," I whispered as I looked up to the heavens. In my mind, I saw Doris's smile and knew that everything was okay just as she'd said. She had gone home.

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