Friendship, a Blue Shawl and a Hug

Writer Author  Janet Seever
Christian Article : Other  - Fiction  No

Christian Author Writer It was an unlikely friendship—Lee had dropped out of school in 10th grade after her father died. She married an abusive man at the tender age of sixteen to avoid being put in a foster home, since her mother had abandoned the family years earlier. When I met her in 1995, she hadn’t attended church in years.

I, on the other hand, had five years of university education and worked for a mission organization. However, Lee and I had a common bond.
Besides the sisterhood of being women and mothers, we both understood suffering. (My husband was bipolar and I had lived on a roller coaster for years before he was diagnosed.)

Lee had left her first abusive marriage, remarried and now had two children. My husband first met Lee’s husband while doing recycling.
Lee’s husband hauled scrap metal—wash machines, water heaters, stoves, and refrigerators—to earn part of his living, along with his disability pension. Times were hard for them.

After we had known them for several years, in 1998 my husband felt we should give the family Christmas presents. “I’m sure they won’t have much of a Christmas this year,” he told me as we shopped for them and their daughter and son, eight and twelve.

When we arrived with the gifts just before Christmas, we discovered that their two children had been taken away from them by child welfare a few days earlier. Child welfare maintained they weren’t able to care for them properly. Their children were later found to have a form of autism, but not before they went from foster home to foster home. Our friends spent years trying to get their children back.

The family seemed to go from one disastrous situation to another. I would call Lee, just to talk and encourage her. Sometimes I would hesitate to call because it meant spending an hour on the phone, mostly listening. She rarely asked how I was doing, but the amazing thing was that whatever I did tell her, she remembered accurately the next time I talked with her.

When Mother’s Day came that year, my husband said, “Why don’t you give Lee something for Mother’s Day? I’m sure it will be a sad time for her.”
That began a tradition. Every Mother’s Day, I would buy her a geranium, a chrysanthemum or a carnation plant, which she carefully kept growing year after year. Later, she began to give me something on Mother’s Day as well.

One time she gave me an apple seedling that she had grown from a seed. I had told her how apple seeds needed to go through freezing weather before they would sprout. My dad used to put apple seeds in the freezer before he would plant them. So she tried it and it worked! She thought an apple seedling would be a reminder of my father who had died in 1989.

I also told her the story of how in 1976, my grandfather was getting ready to visit his adult children and their families and give them their yearly Christmas gifts—a box of chocolate covered cherries. That year, on his way to deliver the cherries, he had a massive stroke and died a couple days later. After hearing that story, Lee gave me a box of chocolate covered cherries each Christmas for the past five years.

Our telephone conversations continued. Lee would end every conversation with, “Remember I love you,” to which I would respond, “I love you too, Lee.” She would then say, “Give yourself a hug for me.”

Not having worked outside her home for years, Lee was fearful of getting a job. When she did get a part time job as food demonstrator at a local food store, she found that she loved doing it, and she blossomed in that position. She loved people and they loved her.

Over the years, I invited her to ladies meetings and outreach events at church many times, but she never came. She didn’t drive, and her husband was angry with “conventional religion” and God for the many things that had happened in their lives. Not able to share my faith openly, I shared many of the Christian stories I had written. She always enjoyed reading them.

She also began working on a craft of her own—carving thimbles from pieces of wood, a form of folk art. Her creativity was rewarded in local competitions, and she gave me several as gifts.

When my husband had a severe stroke in 2004, she began listening to me and hearing my pain. “You’re a brave lady,” she told me, to which I responded, “I’m only doing what I need to do.”

In 2005, Lee entered the hospital for bladder surgery. Hers was a worst case scenario, and her cancer-filled bladder was removed. Because of her life-threatening reaction to chemicals, doctors were unable to do either radiation or chemo.

In May 2006, my son and daughter had a surprise 60th birthday party for me—I didn’t suspect a thing. When I walked into our house, it was filled with 35 special friends from my Bible study, work, and my Christian writer’s group. Lee, her husband and son were there as well. Her gift to me was a large, beautiful blue shawl. With it was a note that said:

“This shawl was made for you by me. It has 172 rows, 144 stitches in each row, altogether that is 7,568 stitches. With every stitch, I thought of you. The happy times we shared. The devastating times. Our childhood memories, recipes, gardening tips. Our husbands and our kids.
We laughed together, cried together, prayed together even a couple of times when I was in the hospital. You let me talk your ear off and forgave me for being selfish with your time. I have wrapped your shawl around me and hugged it, so every time you wear it, you will get a hug from me. Thank you for your friendship and your love. I treasure it every day.”

Four months later I learned that Lee was having surgery to correct complications from her bladder surgery a year earlier. In the past, her surgeries had led to life-threatening situations, so I was deeply concerned. I asked her on the phone if she could remember ever accepting the Lord as her Savior when she was a child, since I knew she had gone to church at one time. Yes she had, years back. Then when I called her at the hospital on nearly a daily basis, I prayed with her each time. A couple times she surprised me by saying, “Can I pray for you?” And she did.

Remaining in the hospital for weeks, she rapidly lost weight and her condition deteriorated. The source of her problem eluded the doctors until emergency surgery revealed terminal cancer.

My adult daughter and I spent time with her at the hospital. When she was unresponsive, I gently said, “Lee, remember I love you.” She struggled to open her eyes and responded weakly, “I love you too.” I talked with her, read Scripture to her several times and we prayed with her. My daughter gave her foot massages and brushed her long tangled hair.

What did she still want to do before she died? My daughter helped her make a list. On the list, among other things, were to taste a scallop, listen to a certain Keith Urban song, and contact some relatives she hadn’t seen in a long time. She was able to do those things. And after nine years in the welfare system, her seventeen-year old daughter finally came home as Lee was dying.

Lee bravely fought a month longer than predicted, drawing her final breath on February 11th. She was 51 years old.

How does one measure a life? Achievements? Awards? A monument? Lee left few of those things. Maybe a better measure is lives that have been touched. Lee touched many, including mine. I promised Lee just before she died that I would write a story about our friendship.

So Lee, this story is for you. You were a brave lady. As I’m sitting here at my computer, your blue shawl is giving me a hug.

© Janet Seever, 2007

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State: Alberta
Country: Canada
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