Friday, July 17, 2015

Grace and Beauty

One of my friends is dying.

When we moved to Syracuse in 1988, she and her husband were almost our very first friends.  They'd moved here from Great Britain and I don't even know how long they'd been here.  They had a new baby girl, Diana.

Her name was Fizzy, which was a nickname for Frances.  I think she didn't like the name Francis, because years later, after they had moved to Pennsylvania, she changed her name to Elizabeth.  I am sure that this was easier to explain when meeting people for the first time; and yet, I will always think of her as Fizzy, because the adjective suited her so well.  She was bubbly and bright, witty and charming, refreshing like a perfectly chilled carbonated soda.  Effervescent.

She hosted a baby shower for me when I was expecting Shannon.  She was fun, so it was fun.  I remember coming into her house and seeing a large punchbowl on the counter in her kitchen, with fog rolling out of it, over the edge of the bowl and the edge of her counter, creeping down to the floor.  They'd put dry ice into the punch to make a big impression, and it worked, because 25 years later, the image is etched in my memory.

My life, during the time that we knew her best, was consumed by nauseous pregnancies, so my memories are hazy.  I do remember that they helped us move from our apartment into our first house.  By "helped," I mean that they did the work, along with Shawn and two other couples, while I lay, nauseated, on whatever horizontal surface was available.  At the time, I had a job with an advertising agency and I was storing my ad clippings in a box under my bed.  One of our other volunteer movers found this box filled with pieces of newspapers, and went to toss it in the trash.  In the nick of time, Fizzy recognized that it was significant.  She quietly saved it for me, and then alerted me to where she had put it for safekeeping.

Oddly, many of my memories of her are of stories told after events that I missed, like the time she met the actor who played Javert in Les Mis (Shawn and I couldn't go because the show conflicted with Shannon's birth).  I've written about it before.  She was always sort of charmingly brash and witty, and she'd had dinner with the actor before the show because he was the brother of a friend of ours.  She joked and jibed with him, unselfconsciously, just being her sparkly self.  But after the show, after she'd seen him perform and heard him sing, she was dumbstruck.  Everyone got quite a kick out of that, the idea of Fizzy being dumbstruck!

Another time, a group of us girls were going to go out for dinner together.  For whatever reason, I wasn't able to go in the end.  But I heard afterwards that Fizzy had turned up to the restaurant in a gorgeous deep blue evening gown and sparkling jewelry, completely out-dressing everyone else.  If it had been anyone but Fizzy, it might have been interpreted as an attempt to intimidate.  However, she was not like that at all, and thus everyone found riotous delight in her glorious finery.

They had a spacious blue living room with comfortable blue furniture.  We sat around in that room and had small group Bible study.  It was usually at their house, and it was my favorite when it was at their house.  Anthony was a good leader, too, well prepared and organized, insightful in his questions, but never dominating as a teacher.  They had a blue sofa and a blue loveseat, and at that time in our lives it became a joke that Shawn and I should avoid sitting on that loveseat together, because every time we did, I seemed to turn up pregnant shortly thereafter.

I even babysat her children for a short while, when Laura was a little baby.  I remember teaching Timothy that our baby's name was "Baby Lo-Lo." I was pretty overwhelmed with life at that point in time, and the babysitting gig couldn't last.  Still, it was truly a high point of each day when Fizzy poked her cheerful face in my door while dropping off or picking up her children.  Shawn was a direct report to Anthony at work in those days, and Anthony was an excellent boss who has remained a life-long friend.

Time passed, and they moved to Pennsylvania.  Each year, faithfully, a Christmas letter would arrive, full of news and humor and Elizabeth's unique way of finding joy in the paradoxes of life.

She changed her name sometime after moving to Pennsylvania.  I have never before known anyone who changed her (or his) name, but then, I have never known anyone like Elizabeth, or Fizzy-Elizabeth, as I have cataloged her in my mind.  It has a ring, doesn't it?  Fizzy-Elizabeth.

Every year, her Christmas letter would arrive, and this past year it arrived as well, witty and upbeat as always, but candidly explaining that she'd come home from a cruise last summer with what she thought was a stomach bug and discovered it was cancer of the appendix.  It was so very Fizzy-Elizabeth, the way she spoke of it. Right there, in the middle of the letter, no pussy-footing around, no complaining, a well-placed joke here and there to keep our spirits up (she would be very concerned about that).  She thought it would have been handy if one of her kids could have found a cure for this a year or so ago, but it wasn't the kind of research they did.

That was December.  They were also in the middle of selling their house, for Anthony had received a job-transfer to Denver.  Pennsylvania to Colorado, trans-continental move, with incurable appendix cancer (there was so much cancer, they couldn't even take out her appendix; it was like salt and pepper, the surgeon said).

In March, they moved.  Thinking back on the trauma of my own move in 2013, I cannot imagine how this came to pass, but I do know that God works miracles and gets you places you never thought you could go.  I think back to how Fizzy helped me move when I was incapacitated with pregnancy in 1989, and I just pray, because when you want to be the hands of Jesus, but you are separated by so many miles, then prayer is the thing to do.

Since the move, things have gone downhill.  Elizabeth can no longer update her own Caringbridge journal entries, so Anthony has taken over.  Of course, Elizabeth used to write with cheeky humor, noting such things as the incongruity of how they put her on a clear liquid diet, but still made her drink barium before her stomach scans.  Anthony writes with quiet realism and perceptive awareness of the punctuating details as this journey progresses--a neighbor's dog following him home from a walk and into their house, a golf ball bouncing onto the deck between them as they sat enjoying the mountain view.  It is real.  It is happening.  Our friends are experiencing this in all of its oddly intermingled pain and strangeness and ordinariness and excruciating beauty.

She may have hours, or days.  They are all together, there in Colorado, Anthony, Elizabeth, Diana and Timothy.  I imagine her formerly robust self, now cancer-skinny and wordless, hooked up to tubes, unable to move her limbs, each breath a miracle of a sort.  Anthony writes that they are quite sure she is not in pain, not that they can tell.  Yesterday she rallied and walked to the bathroom, with support.  She has fought the good fight.  Today she is resting.

I think of a beautiful life, a life lived in kindness and hospitality and concern for the hurting.  She served, she prayed, she encouraged, she cheered.  Now it is time for the rest of us to do these things for her.

God gives us flowers and sunsets across billowing clouds, mountain views and skies of azure.  He puts beauty in the world around us, and somehow, this comforts us.  I don't know why, but it does.  Perhaps it is because He is beautiful, and the beauty reminds us that He exists, and He has a kingdom, a perfect, beautiful kingdom.  Fizzy-Elizabeth will be there soon, but we will get there, too, by faith.

The righteous perish,
    and no one ponders it in his heart;
the devout are taken away,
    and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
    to be spared from evil. 
Those who walk uprightly
    enter into peace;
    they find rest as they lie in death.
~Isaiah 57:1-2


Ann said...

I am so sorry, Ruth. I remember Fizzy well from early Grace days and the get togethers with our pre-school kids. You have done a great job of capturing her vibrancy and all that is uniquely Fizzy. I will pray for grace and mercy for her last days.

Hope T. said...

Ruth, I'm very sorry to hear this news about your friend. I so admire people who go through the darkest trials with a graceful attitude, as it sounds like Fizzy is doing. It reminds me of what Viktor Frankel learned through his ordeal in the concentration camps, that "everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." My condolences to you. I am sure you miss your friend's unique voice already.

Anonymous said...

Delightful memories...beautiful tribute... Pauline

Gloria said...

I am so sorry to hear of Fizzy's condition and the pain that it would be bringing to the family, her friends, you. Like Ann said, you described her so well. I, too, will be praying for her, Anthony, and the kids as they wait and watch for Jesus to take her home.