Today is the day that my Swiss friend Brigitte is being laid to rest in a small Swiss town, after succumbing to the ravages of pancreatic cancer last week. She was only 43. Her 3 children aged 14, 11 and 8, and her British husband remain.
All of us who knew them whilst they lived here in St Albans are lost for words. The rain outside today reflects how we feel inside.
You see, she really was the most lovely person. I know its sounds trite, and many people write such words about people who’ve died, but she was one of those people who was so warm, positive and downright happy. And even when things were difficult or life challenging, she’d find some way of smiling at it at some point, even if just with her eyes.
I didn’t know her as well as some of my St Albans friends – she started the parent process 5 years before I did. But I knew her well enough to know what a total gem she was.
She relished being a homemaker, loved raising her 3 children, two of whom were born in this house (we bought it from them 11 years ago), had no problem being the stay at home mum. Being Swiss, she kept this house clean and tidy in way I could never hope to do. She was a super fantastic loving mum and wife. She really was.
It just feels so wrong that she should go so young and leaving such a happy family unit. So wrong.
My heart goes out to them all, its just so tragic, but especially to her eldest daughter who is about the same age I was when my sister died and my parents spent months in hospital. I am so hoping no one utters the words, “You can be mum to them now” or “You must be strong for your younger siblings.” Well meaning words like that can place a heavy burden on a child.
And yet there is hope.
I know how deeply they are loved. Loved by their mum, whose love they will continue to feel as they grow up, and also by father God.
I’m sure there are many of you reading this who will wonder how on earth I can say or think that. I have no idea why these things are allowed to happen. But once you’ve known the Father’s love, its something that stays deep. It’s not easy to explain unless you’ve experienced it.
And over the past year and a half, since she received her diagnosis, she and her family been surrounded by support from their local community, church and extended family, as well as those of us from the different places they’ve lived in Europe. For those of us not near enough to offer the practical support, we’ve prayed. Every fortnight, I’ve met up with 2 other friends to pray for her and her family. You may wonder what the point of that was, in hindsight. But we didn’t meet just to pray for her healing. We prayed for her children, her husband, her parents and for God’s hand on the whole situation.
You see I’ve prayed with others for people I’ve known with cancer before. One has been miraculously healed, two haven’t. We don’t know why. But in each case, we’ve intentionally sought to listen to God’s leading rather than pray ‘blanket’ prayers; to try and listen, to pray as the spirit leads for whatever came on our heart. Sometimes those things haven’t been what we set out to pray for. But we’ve always seen so much positive come out of the situation, as well as the tragic loss. Its been a two way process, a journey.
And all the way through this journey of praying for Brigitte, I always knew we were praying for her family as much as her. I didn’t know which way it would go, none of us did. But we just prayed for God’s love to soak them. In the process, we felt it too. And it seems they have been so strengthened over the months and days. They’ve become so close as a family, Brigitte has been so full of peace, its been quite amazing.
At the end of the day, sometimes all we can do is to offer our love through support and prayers.
As the words of Paul in the book 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 says, (you know, the one most often read out at weddings):
“Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity…..Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.” (verse 12)
Love is what sustains. Love never fails.
The photo above is of a Sumac tree in our garden that Brigitte planted 15 years ago and is currently ablaze. How fitting.