Today we celebrated the life of Allyson Hendrickson.
Her church was packed with people, but that wasn't suprising. She has touched so many lives in her 38 years. To know her was to love her, and that was evident by the outpouring of support for her family today.
It was so 'Allyson' to have a memorial service instead of a funeral. I can just hear her saying,
"I don't want to lay up there in the casket while everyone in the church looks at me and cries! Good Lord!"
Instead, her family had a private burial this morning and then welcomed her friends to the worship service this afternoon. In true Allyson fashion, she had everything planned down to the last detail. The music was beautiful, the flowers decorating the church were stunning. Her pastor comforted with a good mix of scripture, humor and sadness (and some musical talent on the guitar!).
I thought I would be ok. I got teary the other day when I told my mom about Allyson, and started making plans to get back in time for her service today. The last 36 hours are kind of a blur of packing, driving, flying, waiting and flying some more. But seeing Hubby last night was like a shot in the arm of instant strength - my rock was once again by my side. When I woke up this morning, I didn't feel sadness. I felt ready to thank God for sharing Allyson with us for as long as He did. I wasn't prepared for the emotions that swamped me at the beginning of her service. The minute they started singing the first song, and I knew it was one Allyson had picked out, I couldn't hold back the tears. When the musical director pointed out the pew where Allyson always sat "smiling down on everyone", I wished with all my might that we could look up there and see her.
I didn't completely break down until her oldest son (Goliath, if you've read her blog) stood up in his suit and tie and spoke to us about her, and spoke to her directly. Seeing that stoic twelve year old with a little boy's broken heart stand up there and talk to us about how incredible his mom was....emotional doesn't even cover it. My heart aches for him and his two brothers. My heart aches for Allyson's parents, and her siblings. Her best friend of more than three decades delivered a beautiful eulogy, and spoke with more strength and eloquence than I could ever have managed.
Her family requested that everyone wear bright clothes and accessories in honor of Allyson's bright spirit. Here are me and my girl in our pretty dresses and flip flops in honor of my friend:
While my heart was broken today for those who loved her and will feel her loss for a long time, my heart also aches because I have my own Monster to fight. Today was a celebration of Allyson's life, but it was also a stark reminder that life is very, very fragile. I couldn't help but wonder if that will be my memorial service in two or five or ten years. Will my not-so-little boy stand up and talk about how much he will miss his mom? Will my BFF have to stand up there and talk about how we used to cruise around in her mom's Camaro or reminisce about our summer concert memories? Allyson is whole and healed and happy in heaven. I am still scarred, tired and hurting, and my fight is not over. Her story shows that this kind of Monster can come back, and if one of the best, most faithful people in the world can not be victorious here on earth, what does that say for me?
During her eulogy, Allyson's friend Caroline talked about the dates on people's headstones. There is a beginning, an ending, and a dash in between. Allyson proved that the dash in between is more important than the first date or the last. I won't lie - having cancer has made me focus a little more on that ending date, but I want to make the most of my dash. When I looked down at my daughter singing so sweetly in that church today, with tears running down her cheeks, and felt my son's comforting hand on my back, I could hear Allyson telling me that I may be sick, I may be sad, and life is hard, but I'm still here, I'm on my way to being healthy, God is in control, and it's up to me to make every day count.
Soon after I was diagnosed last summer, I sent Allyson a message to give her my news. I was so emotional and anxious that I had a hard time talking to anyone, but literally a minute after I sent my message, my phone rang and it was her. I couldn't not answer it. If there was one person on the face of the earth who knew how to talk to me in that moment, it was her. She listened, she cried with me, she gave me advice and she prayed for me. I kept telling her that she had no business offering her help to me when she was in the midst of her own fight, and I'll never forget what she said. She told me,
"Michelle, if my having cancer can help you, can make your journey down this road a little easier, then everything I've been through won't be for nothing."
Even in her sickness and suffering, she was thinking of how to help me. She came to my first doctor's appointments in Dallas. She brought snacks and games to keep us entertained, and she made me laugh on a day when all I wanted to do was cry. She sat with me and Hubby while we waited, she took notes while the doctor talked, and she gave me a hug that made me cry. She also showed up when I went in for my port surgery, which was basically the start of my treatment. She held my hand and told me everything was going to be ok, and I believed her.
When I got home tonight, after a day and a half of packing, traveling, grieving, driving and unpacking, I walked into my kitchen and saw a little paper cross hanging from one of my cabinet knobs. It says,
"There's an angel watching over you."
I don't even know where it came from, but in that moment, I knew Allyson was still with me. I won't hear her voice, or get a text saying "I love you friend", but she taught me so much, she gave me so much, and I will forever be thankful that I was blessed with her friendship.