We received word last night that a precious young woman at our church, Courtney, had (as my mother would say) "moved away to be with God."
Courtney was 30 years old, and had a five-year-old daughter. She died in her sweet husband's arms.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, after having her concerns unheard by her doctor. I suppose the doctor just thought she was too young, and didn't follow up, but by the time Courtney was treated, the disease was rather advanced.
She always sat on the front row, and no matter how sick she was, she always managed a smile. I have heard (but I wasn't there at the time) that when she was first diagnosed four years ago, the whole church showed up one Sunday - hundreds of people - wearing pink hats in support.
On Halloween, nearly a HUGE group donned custom-made "Team Courtney" shirts and raised over $20,000 for her at the Race for the Cure. She had no idea the effort that was directed in her honor, until she was wheeled to the race site.
She was so ill that she slept in her wheelchair during the awards ceremony.
Courtney had been doing much better, but began to decline in the last few months. In addition to being treated for tumors in different parts of her body, two brain tumors were found at the end of last month. She had a gamma knife procedure at the beginning of this month, but it was unclear how effective it had been.
After the procedure, she began to lose short-term memory. In the past week, she has been delirious, and then unable to speak. The doctors said her tumor markers were "through the roof," and she was sent home with hospice. The family was told there was nothing else that modern medicine could do.
I knew how ill she was. I knew that an "open house" had taken place on Saturday, so that her friends could help lift her spirits. I knew that friends were organizing play dates for her daughter, so that she would have some sense of normalcy through all this. I had seen the look of concern on her mother-in-law's face, as she sat in the front row on Sunday and I sang on the stage, and knew the family was burdened beyond belief.
Still, hearing that news last night was a shock.
I have never been so thankful for Facebook. Most of the people at our church are on, and though we were separated by geography, we could all grieve together. It was like one big "party line" telephone conversation, except I was in my PJs sitting on my couch with a laptop.
The first thing that went through my heart was an old song:
Farther along we'll understand why,
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunlight
We'll understand it, all by and by.
I don't know why Courtney didn't pull through this time. I know it wasn't for a lack of "trying" on our part - there were more prayers sent up for her than just about anyone I know. Jason said those prayers were probably what helped her hang on this long.
One thing I do know, is that Courtney is no longer in pain. And my prayer now is that that knowledge will comfort those who love her. As the Bible says, we do not grieve like those who have no hope - we know that we will see her again someday.
And we'll understand it, all by and by.