Kelley was my person. We spent just about every Wednesday together for years. Walking in the neighborhood, around the track, on the treadmill, by the lake. If she was sick or if my back was hurting, we’d walk slowly. If the stars aligned and we felt good at the same time, we’d walk quickly. Some days we skipped the walk, in favor of a soak in the hot tub, conversation over lunch or a phone call to pray.
She was one of my most precious friends.
Until Cancer stole her from us far too soon.
She left behind 3 beautiful young children, a treasured husband, cherished parents and siblings, countless dear friends.
Her steadfast presence. Her deep friendship. Her kindness. Her keen wit. Her servant heart. Her enduring faith. Her quiet strength. Her patient perseverance.
Her delight in her children. Her love for her husband. Her passion for family.
Just a fraction of her legacy.
It wasn’t fair. It never will be.
Not even my Dad or my brother’s death affected me as deeply. I grieved for her more than anyone else in my life. Before, or since.
Together we raised up little people, blossomed in our faith, created scrapbooks, attended church, bible studies and sporting events, vacationed, lived, wept.
And walked. All those Wednesdays, and countless days between.
She beside me, through 4 back surgeries in 6 years. I beside her, for 5 years as she battled cancer.
After she died, Wednesdays paralyzed me.
I could hardly walk around the block, much less go to the health club and face the gaping hole on the treadmill beside me.
I missed her walking alongside me.
I didn’t want to “cheat” on her by walking with anyone else, talking with anyone else, sharing life as deeply with anyone else.
If I’m honest, I also mourned the responsibility I had been carrying. During her illness, I spent a lot of time tending to her and her family’s needs. There was a very real absence of purpose when I no longer had to think about what I could DO to help.
Another gaping hole.
My sorrow unwittingly began to crush me. I spent many mornings on my bedroom floor in tears. For months, I thought I could put on a brave face and my heart would catch up. But each day I struggled; life was moving on; I wasn’t.
I won’t forget the day I returned to the health club for the first time, 5 months later. I texted a friend to say I was going, so I wouldn’t lose my courage.
I traversed the first mile in tears, tempted each pace to quit and go home.
And then, somewhere in the middle of mile two, someone quietly stepped on the empty treadmill to my right.
He didn’t say much at first. Just turned on the machine and slowly began to walk beside me.
Very few people understood the sacredness of that space for me. Fewer, would I dare allow entry.
But he was the perfect one.
His grief had to be far greater. And yet I knew, after getting my text, he came that day for me.
Her husband. My close friend. We’d been through a lot.
And he fully understood getting back on the treadmill meant so much more than exercise for me.
He knew I was trying to find my way back.
That was over 6 years ago.
He might not remember that day. But I will never forget.
That simple gesture remains one of the most powerful demonstrations in my life of what it looks like to be there for someone who is hurting.
It wasn’t about saying the right things, it was about doing the right thing – with me.
God didn’t intend for us to do this life alone. Not the good stuff, and not the bad stuff. He gives us community so we can carry one another’s burdens. He brings others into our life to lend us their strength and hope when ours is gone.
He gives us people who have our back. Who are present with us.
On the treadmill, in the hospital, at the funeral home, around the kitchen table, over coffee, on the sidelines, by our bedside.
And ironically, at a time when what I grieved most was my friend beside me, God gave me someone else, to come alongside me and stand in her place.
A friend recently wrote in an email, “Sometimes walking next to someone, even if the path is uncertain, is what matters most.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Question: If you’ve faced trial or loss what helped you most? You can leave a comment by clicking here.