The first time I saw her she was standing at the coffee machine.
“Hi.” She gave me a tired smile. “Coffee’s just about the best thing here, isn’t it?”
“True,” I said. “Have you been here long?”
“Off and on.” She sighed. “Last time we had to stay three weeks. Then we were home again, but soon Elbert got another fever. So, we’re back in the fray.”
I nodded. It had been the same for me, ever since our son had been diagnosed with leukemia. The hospital provided initial treatment and then sent us home with a boatload of pills. At first, it didn’t seem so bad. A few pills, a bit of discomfort. But then came the fevers. And the doctor had been very specific about it.
“If he gets even a slight fever, come straight back,” he warned. “Don’t take chances.”
For months, we traveled back and forth between home and the children’s cancer ward–traveling between hope and despair.
“How old is Elbert?”
“Seven.” She smiled. “His fever’s down again. We’re gonna beat this thing.”
I understood. In this place, you live from moment to moment. You scale mountains of hope when the fever goes down and the test results are better. You cross valleys of despair, when nothing changes, even with medication.
“My name’s Linda.”
“Steven.” I shook her hand.
“Do you have a child here too?”
“Yes. His name’s Gregory. He’s eight. We came in this afternoon. Same story; fever is back.”
So that’s how Linda became friends with me. We were both single parents with desperately ill children and visited each other often. Over coffee and donuts we would talk about our hopes and dreams.
A week later, Linda came into Gregory’s room. “The doctor says we can go home again.” She was radiant. “I told you, we’re gonna beat this thing. God is good.”
She looked at Gregory who was having a particularly bad day and bit her lip. “I’ll pray for Gregory. You’re going to beat it too, Steven.”
Much as I wanted to be happy for Linda, I had to fight back tears as she stepped out the door.
“Bye Linda. I’ll pray for Elbert too.”
Then she was gone.
Gregory’s fever went up that day. We wouldn’t be going home for awhile.
“Hello.” Her soft voice awakened me as I had dozed off in the chair next to Gregory’s bed.
“Linda. You’re back.”
She nodded. I could see she had been crying.
”Elbert’s sick again. His fever’s up. ” She fidgeted with her purse. “Wanna go for coffee and donuts?”
I glanced at Gregory. He was sleeping. “Sure. I’d love to.”
We didn’t talk much on the way to the cafeteria, but as soon as we sat down, she burst into tears.
“Oh, Linda.” I put my arms around her and she cried on my shoulder.
“The doctors don’t expect he’ll pull through this time. He may die before tomorrow.”
I had no words to offer. I just held her in my arms and cried with her.
When I entered the funeral home a week later, Linda rushed over to hug us.
“Mom, Dad…” she introduced me to her family. “Steven knows. He’s having a child like Elbert.”
We shook hands. Her Dad tried to smile.
“Welcome,” he said, “ A friend of my daughter is a friend of the family.”
It was a simple funeral. Afterward, Linda asked me how Gregory was doing.
“He’s doing great, Linda,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say and was at a loss for words. I could see her mind working.
Why is Gregory still alive when Elbert is dead? How does this work?
Then she forced a smile on her face and said through her tears. “I’m so glad for you. Life can be complicated sometimes, but I try not to question God. It’s not for me to know the reasons why. It’s just for me to trust. But it’s so hard sometimes. So hard.”
I looked at this broken woman, who still had such faith in the midst of sorrow.
“I know a good place in town where they serve some really good coffee and donuts. Can we go for coffee and donuts sometime this week?”
“I’d love to, Steven.”
* Note from the author: Steven and Linda were married 1 year later.