Thursday, January 22, 2009

Knocked Off My Knees

You're probably thinking that I didn't have the heart to read it.

But I did.

I read every word of Knocked Off My Knees, the book that my former university roommate and dear friend Grace wrote about coping with chronic illness.

I read every word of the book that I didn't even know existed until I attempted to respond to Grace several weeks ago, more than two years too late, and learned she had succumbed to lupus-related complications.

And while I felt my heart breaking just a little more with every page I turned, I have since carried Grace's words and her attitude with me as a kind of talisman against the fear and uncertainty that the spectre of cancer has recently visited upon me and my family.

Grace was my dormitory roommate in my first year at university. I met her just moments after parking the big beat-up, pickup truck I had driven, alone, to school in a big city several hours distant from my tiny home town.

It was 1989 and I was the stereotypical small town girl on the loose - big hair, tight jeans and too much makeup. I was there to party, make no mistake, so I hope I can be forgiven for admitting that my heart sank just a little when I met my roommate Grace.

Grace had sensible clothes, thick unruly hair and a face devoid of makeup. She was sweet and soft spoken, not loud and flashy. She had a way of pausing before she spoke, of really thinking about what she was going to say, that seemed awkward to me - someone who was accustomed to judging a person by the speed at which they could deliver snappy one liners.

Grace was, I soon learned, one of those rare sorts: a deeply committed Christian who actually weighed her every word and act to be sure they would do justice to her beliefs.

Grace lived her faith, truly lived her faith, and once I got over my shock - "You've never been to second base with a boy?! You can't remember the last time you saw a movie?!" - I came to deeply, deeply admire her.

I admired Grace because, although she chose to love God, there was nothing in her manner to suggest that she considered herself above the dozens of girls in the dorm, myself included, who chose instead to recklessly demonstrate a love of alcohol and parties and football players.

Grace didn't judge and she didn't preach: she didn't have to. There was a thoughtful confidence and calm about her, an inner peace - if you can forgive the cliche - that spoke volumes about the quiet rewards of unshakable faith.

After our first year as roommates I moved off campus, but remained friends with Grace. She visited my parents' home with me and I was a guest at her wedding, just half a year after graduation. But we didn't stay in touch much after that.

If I am honest, I will admit that there was a bit of a reluctance on my part to reconnect with Grace over the years. As time passed I put her on a bit of a pedestal. Throughout my lonely, single years as I struggled to find someone to love, I imagined her with a house full of beautiful and pious children and expected that she might pity me and my foolish choices.

Imagine my surprise, and my regret, when I learned in the book that she and her husband struggled with infertility for years and that lupus first struck, and left her a quadriplegic, when her first and only adopted child - a son - was less than a year old.

Grace sounds in the book just like I remember her: incredibly centred and pragmatic with regards to the injustice of her lot. Incredibly strong and full of faith. Knocked Off My Knees is not a philosophic rumination on living and dying, but rather a clear-eyed view of what patients endure and how they and their family members should conduct themselves, must conduct themselves, if they want to maximize the benefits of our medical system.

I think of Grace a lot these days. I wonder if her faith ever wavered after she fought back to recovery and published her book, only to see the disease return. I even wonder if she ever railed against God for not allowing her to live to see her son grow to manhood.

But I do not think that she did.

I also don't think she intended the book to make people feel sorry for her, but I am nonetheless overwhelmed with sadness at what she endured. Given that I was not able to offer any comfort to her during her time of need, I feel compelled to take away from her words some sense of meaning: I feel that I owe at least that much to her memory.

My life has not been easy these past few months. My beloved mother-in-law is fighting cancer and I am struggling to help both my husband and my son cope. There has been darkness these past few years that I have only hinted at here - sickness and stress and worry that has tested my strength and my marriage.

But I wonder if there was a reason why I decided, after all these years, to finally reconnect with Grace, the person who personified her name like no one else I have ever known. I wonder if I was meant, at this time in my life, to read her words and remember her strength and her faith and her calm.

And when I read this passage, at the closing of her book, I wonder if she isn't speaking directly to me.

"I don't know how healthy I'll be tomorrow or next week, or next month. But today I feel quite strong and well and am so thankful for that. All I can do is accept the unalterable, and wonderful, truth - it's in God's hands."

I like to think that she is.

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49 comments:

Mary said...

Very well written.
Very sorry to hear of your struggles. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. Good luck and be well :)

MommyTime said...

This is a beautiful tribute -- not just because it is eloquent (which it is) but because it captures within yourself some of the spirit and attitude that it seems Grace had. And I suspect she would have been happy to see you seeking a sense of peace even amidst your own hard times.

Wishing you more of that peace.

mamatulip said...

This moved me.

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

I will have to look for that book, what a lovely woman. I am sure she is in God's arms, and was through all her struggles too. My sil also died from complications from her lupus, and also suffered years of infertility and many baby losses. She never had a child to call her own. I often think of her beautiful spirit, her joyous living, how she reached out and touched everyone around her in spite of her own silent suffering. She inspires me to hold tightly to my loved ones and to live fully.
I am thinking of you lots as I have all year, you are in my prayers and I hope you are sustained and upheld as you travel this road. I pray you find peace and hope.
Take care of yourself and your lovely family,
K

Jannie Funster said...

Gee, this really makes me stop and consider what's important. Health, family, friends.

So beautifully written, Kelly.

And Grace obviously lived up to her name.

Melissa said...

Looks like I'll be adding this to my list. I hope that is might shed some light on some of the things that my family and I have gone through.

sky girl said...

Kudos to you for reading it. That must have been difficult.

Whenever I meet someone like Grace I always wonder what they're secret is, how they go through life so "grace"fully.

painted maypole said...

this is beautifully written, and grace seems extraordinary. i'm sorry for your loss

Chantal said...

Beautiful

Ellyn said...

I think you are right.

I also think she would be proud of you.

Pregnantly Plump said...

She sounds like a wonderful person. This is a beautiful tribute to her.

Beth (A Mom's Life) said...

What a beautiful post. And I have no doubt she is with God right now.

Badness Jones said...

Hugs. I'm sure that she IS with God, and we're all praying with you for your MIL.

Heather said...

I think it's wonderful that you are able to connect with her even in this small way.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kelly.
I am Grace's Mom. Thank you for your kind tribute to Grace. I deeply appreciate it.
I pastor a church in a small town in Ontario called Long Sault. In my message for this coming Sunday, I am using a couple of quotes from Grace's book and wanted some info on it, when up popped your blogspot. Coincidence? I do not believe so. I do not ever remember quoting from one of her books before.
Grace lived and died with dignity. One of her nurses said that there was a presence about her even when she was comatose at one point. There was. She struggled at times with all the challenges that came her way, including her faith, but chose to trust God.
Thank you, once again for your words. Lorna Casselman

Clare said...

what a beautiful post, Grace sounds like an amazing person! thank you so much for sharing her story with us:) I will be thinking of you too, and all that your family is going through!

Leanne said...

Lovely. And her Mom found you too through your writing - amazing, amazing, amazing.

Michelle said...

((HUGS))
Bittersweet, but still... what a legacy she left behind.

CC said...

Wow. Hugs. As a wife to someone dealing with a chronic condition I have some of these thoughts too. But the 1st person is so, so powerful.

Vodka Mom said...

holy crap. that was a beautiful post. I really don't have the words.........

Shannon said...

Beautiful, Kelly, perfect. Exquisitely written, amazing, heartfelt and brought to the surface many emotions for me. And that's the point of writing, isn't it?

Zip n Tizzy said...

I remember when you found the book. I'm so sorry for your loss, but again glad you got to share in her life.
I'm very sorry to hear about your mother in law. My mom was diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer 5 years ago. She is very open to discussing her experience and sharing information as she is so grateful to be alive. If you would like to go to her site, email me (my emails in my profile) and I'd be happy to direct you. All my best to you and your family.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

How interesting that her name was Grace. It is wonderful to hear the right message from the right person at the right time.

Kat said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. I'll have to look for that book. I love to read about people's lives and how they get through it all.

melissa said...

wow...powerful post!
so sad. i'm sorry!!

JCK said...

I really believe there are no accidents in you connecting with her book at this time in your life. Thanks for sharing the story of Grace.

Me said...

Wow! What a post! This rang true to me... my Mum, even though she's battling through it, suffers a similar type illness. Yet she remains strong and takes it all in her stride.

Trace

InTheFastLane said...

How poignant and I think I sense a little bit of guilt that you did not know and could not help. Hang in there.

Sass E-mum said...

That's a brave and open post. I missed my chance with a friend a couple of years ago. Not a good experience.

Elaine A. said...

I was just rivetted by this post. It's so beautifully written and I can tell it is STRAIGHT form your heart.

I am keeping your friend, Grac,e and your MIL in my thoughts and prayers...

Damselfly said...

I'm sorry to hear you didn't get the chance to reconnect with Grace. It's very cool, though, that you had the courage to read her book. Her words must have been like a special gift for you. Not everyone has a friend in their past who can leave them with that. Hugs!

Mandy said...

May we all live our life with grace.

Beautifully written.

LaskiGal said...

Lorna's comment . . . "She struggled at times with all the challenges that came her way, including her faith, but chose to trust God."

Such beauty in those words.

And in yours . . . lovely words for a wonderful friend.

iheartchocolate said...

Wow. What an amazing post. Goosebumps and tears. I just wanted to offer a hug, I understand how difficult things can get and sometimes feel as though the walls are closing in. I love her last line and I choose to agree wholely. I wish you well.

Auds at Barking Mad said...

What an amazing tribute. So beautiful and heartfelt.

The world needs more "Graces." She sounds like a brilliantly inspiring woman.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

RiverPoet said...

I have this book on my nightstand. I bought it after you wrote about it here. Grace seems to really shine through in her writing, and I don't think - in the end - that her faith was shaken one iota.

I feel lucky to have met her through her writing.

Peace - D

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

You wrote a wonderful post for your friend.
She is an inspiration!

Tabitha said...

What a beautiful post ~ it brought tears to my eyes!
What a wonderful woman Grace was ~ it is so sad that she lost her battle.
Take care ~ Love and hugs Tabitha X

Kelli @ writing the waves said...

This was truly touching. What great faith she had. I think that quote applies to all of us. It really puts things into perspective, especially in difficult times. Thanks for sharing this.

Janet said...

A beautiful tribute to a strong friend.

Whitenoise said...

Very nice, Kelly. You've done justice to her memory.

Beck said...

This post just made me BAWL. Geez, I'm so sorry for your poor friend and her family - and for you, losing a friend and finding out like that. It sounds like she left behind a remarkable legacy, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly:

My name is Adrian. I had the privilege of knowing Grace personally. She was an amazing person. She came from a wonderful family. You mentioned that you and Grace were roommates at university. For Grace, like all Christians, death is graduation day. It is unfortunate that God called her home at such a young age but He knows what is best. Most of the time, we don't inderstand and our hearts ache when we lose someone we love. No amount of words can take away the pain. Your tribute is heartwarming and a blessing. You are obviously a wonderful person. You have already touched the lives of many people with your kind words about our friend. God bless you, Kelly. I hope you find the same peace that Grace had. God loves you as much as He loves Grace.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly. My name is Barb, I am a breast cancer survivor of 16 1/2 years and new Grace personally. What a beautiful tribute you have given to an extra-ordinary young woman. I have also read her book Knocked Off My Knees. I also, like Adrian hope you also find the peace and love that Grace exhibited to you and to others. God bless you and may His peace rest upon you through your time of struggle.

Sonja Heffernan said...

Grace was a friend of mine. We met at a mom and tots baby group in Calgary. I miss her terribly- I would have loved to have known her as a single young student. She always had a way of interpreting things that really made you think. She loved technology- and I like to think that she had some doing in her mom stubbling on your blog. Even at some of her sickest times she could run her universe from her computer. Best of luck to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly, I'm Grace's Cousin, Kim. This tribute is very beautiful. I have gone through alot. Grace was truly an inspiration to me through it all even when she was going through her own struggles. She was an amazing lady. I will keep you and your family in my prayers. Trust God and Prayer will get you through those tough times.
God Bless You,
Grace's Cousin, Kim

Jaina said...

What a beautiful post. I believe she is with God too. What powerful words she wrote there. I may have to get myself a copy of this book.

CelticBuffy said...

I just discovered your blog and was astounding that the first post I read was lupus related. You see, the doctors suspect that my teenage daughter has lupus and we should find out for sure in a couple of weeks. Thanks for writing this. That is definitely a book I'll be seeking out.

Anonymous said...

I had the chance, a couple of months before she died, to meet Grace and chat a little with her, though she was very ill at the time. She was exactly how you described her -- she had this calm and confidence about her. Certainly, an inner peace. I too read her book. Tears flowed. Your blog is very well-written and certainly is a beautiful tribute to this beautiful woman.