Thursday, January 16, 2014

Miss Elise -

One week ago from today, my friend and one of the Godliest,
 most loving people I know left this earth for Heaven and left all of us with hearts aching from the sting of a huge loss.

And by aching I mean....as devastated as one can be while still living in hope and in the knowledge that He is sovereign and loves us so much and is working all things to the praise of His glorious grace.

And when shock and aching applies to me, that means I left the house as soon as I could, walked through the dark, got in my car, drove away and screamed until the tears took over and the pain became weeping that would not be calmed. It means I love deeply and I'll cry about this for years.

Cancer brought Elise low. It took her sleep and comfort and sometimes left her confused and without words and oh, how it plagued her body. But Cancer did not win over Elise, because Elise could never be won over by anything or anyone than she could by her beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Cancer did not win. God did. 

That alone satisfies my soul. But it does not take away the grief, because grief comes when you have loved, and I have loved much,
and when you think of Elise, it is impossible to know anything but love.

Photos taken June 2012, Monument, CO

Elise was one of THE most tender-hearted, compassionate, gracious, funny, sweet, kind, understanding, loving, sympathetic and intuitive people I've ever known. She met you in whatever sorrow you were in, tears would fill her eyes, and she would take your hand and impart wisdom into your life. She spoke Truth and nothing was higher in her eyes than that. She would rejoice with your joys, and pray for your worries and tomorrows. She was never rushed. She was always ready to listen, to understand, to be real with you. For all the years she was a part of my church, before our daughter church was born....she was as much a spiritual mentor as I've ever known.

She was dedicated to know people and to hear their stories and to love them as they were.
She was hands-down one of my favorite people to talk to, to share with, to hug. We loved hugs. :) She was one of the most amazing, genuine and wonderful people I've ever known and I never felt unloved or uncared for in her presence, and I think everyone who ever knew her would say the same.

So when we heard in July that the cancer was back, we prayed and wept that the cancer would not be something she could not fight. We asked it would be small. We asked it would die. We asked for mercies and a long life for Elise with her husband Joe, and two sons. Anyone who knew Elise knew she loved her husband and sons to distraction.

and it was......until it wasn't. 

and with one small update on a very frantic day, the world we hoped for came crashing down.

One more Christmas. Hospitals and Hospice. Meals and Visits if you can.

On the morning of December 20th, I saw on Facebook that Elise was in the hospital and visitors were welcome. I was going, there was no way around it. If I was invited, I wanted to be there. I turned on my worship music, got ready and walked out the door to get there as soon as I could. I bought flowers in the hospital gift shop. I asked for directions to Floor 5.

I cried in the elevator because I read Floor 5 was Oncology. I paced and sniffled and breathed hard.
And then I walked out of that elevator and down the hall and I knew it was the right room before I saw the number.....because from Room 550...laughter was spilling out into the hall.

I timidly walked into a room full of people....and rounded the corner to see Elise. I think it took her a few seconds to figure out who I was, since short hair used to be rare for me, haha. But then I smiled and she smiled and it took my breath away. From the hospital bed, she was the gracious hostess, as if I had come to her house to bless her - it had been a few years (thank God for FB) since we'd seen each other, and I think I just needed to drink in the sight of her for a little bit. We caught each other staring and would laugh about it, and soon ... it all settled in.

I kissed her cheek and gave her a hug, and soon - any and all conversation was free to cover. She said our parents had raised 2 sweet girls...and I said "The grace of God, right?" and that got a definite nod and a chuckle. We gave our homeschooling parents a run for their money, and she would know, because we were all in the same group, haha. "Worth it all..." even as she laughed. We laughed about our dogs and talked about food, because oh my.....food sounded so good especially because Elise wanted to be discharged because she wanted spaghetti for dinner. "I LOVE spaghetti" I exclaimed, and she widened her eyes and said "It's my favorite!!" and then we talked about spaghetti for another 5 minutes, because obviously. SPAGHETTI. And also obviously....hospitals can't make spaghetti like we wanted it.

We talked about Christmas cookies and all our favorite ones and the events we'd attended over the years
and how if we'd all show up with plates of these Christmas cookies, she wouldn't mind. ;)

And so between sips of water through a straw and asking "Another one?" and getting a wink in answer....I'd unwrap another Werther's Original Caramel Candies and pop it in her adorable waiting mouth. "These are the best..." I said, as the conversation trailed into what my Grandfather's coat held and what he always smelled like and the things he stashed in his car....which made Elise laugh.

Conversations with her were always special. I always felt like I had all the time in the world to talk to her because she gave me her full and undivided attention and made it seem like my story was the most important to hear. She made me feel so incredibly loved and like I belonged.
 Chatter flowed with her, but it always meant something.


And soon, some of the other visitors left, and her sons trailed out to get something to eat,
and her husband went to talk to some nurses, and I had alone time with Elise.

I pulled up a chair as close as I could get it, right by her head. And I draped myself over that high side of the hospital bed and gently pulled some of her wispy hair off her face. But oh, so gently did I move it. And I patted her cheek, and I heard her sigh, and in between asking about my family and how they were and catching up on life....she drifted off to sleep. My hand crept into hers because I couldn't bear to be apart.

And Elise, with her eyes shut, took my hand and grasped it with hers and held on with a strong grip.
 I tightened mine and her cheeks showed her smile before she drifted off again.

And I had time to really gaze at her and take in everything.

Elise, with her beautiful dark, shiny black hair.....and most of it gone.
Hair spread all over the pillow and the bed, and she's more beautiful than most women I've ever seen.

The Bible and books sitting on the windowsill and the sun bathing the floor in golden glory.

Her quiet breathing. The blanket snuggled on top of hospital sheets. The way her hand felt in mine.
Trying to memorize everything she just said so I wouldn't forget any of it.

She is back and forth between sleeping and awake, a few minutes here, and asleep again.

I'm blinking back tears and I'm softly singing over her -
"The Lord bless you and keep you....
the Lord make His face to shine upon you ... and be gracious unto you. 
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you...
and give you peace! And give you peace. And give you PEACE...."

She slowly wakes up as I go into the second verse and I say before I lose it completely in tears.....
"Elise. I keep thinking about those verses in 2nd Corinthians when it talks about the outward man is wasting away but the inward man is being renewed....remember that? And when it says "therefore we do not lose heart"... that's my favorite part. And it says the inward man is being renewed day by day....and it says do not look to what is seen, but to what is UNSEEN, because what is seen is temporary, and what is unseen is eternal!! I love that, Elise."

and like I knew would happen, she smiled and sighed. And then quietly with so much trust, my dear friend, who laid in an uncomfortable hospital bed with an incurable disease and had 1-6 months left to live ....
.... gripped my hand a little tighter and said "How can we do otherwise than to trust Him?"

If my quiet "Amen" was heard at all, it was amazing, because tears were coming fast then.

She drifted off again, and as it became impossible to hold back the tears any longer, I let them fall.
Such an ache and a sadness to think of losing her....and sooner than any of us wanted or understood.

I rested my head on my arm and looked at her hand in mine. Even though my shoulder and arm were screaming to be moved and were going stiff from staying looped over that hospital armrest, I wouldn't have moved for the world. Her grip was so strong on my hand, and I could have stayed that way for hours if I could. But as she woke up again, I told her how much she meant to me, what an encourager she has always been in my life, how thankful I've been for her, how loved I've always felt, how much God has used her in our lives, how she's been such a spiritual mentor to me, how dearly I love her and how beautiful she was in my eyes.

Then it was her turn for tears and then a time to fall into laughter as she joked if I didn't move my arm, it would probably fall off. My hand immediately wanted to hold that warm hand again, the minute it left that strong, loving embrace. What a gift it was to me, to be so connected....to pray over her as she slept, to sing over her, to share life with her, to be there for her in any way she needed.

And as her eyes were blinking to come awake again, opening and shutting; as I gazed lovingly into them with just a few inches of hospital bed keeping us apart, I whispered to her "You know I'm jealous, don't you? I wish I could go too." and she smiled, because oh, she knew. She told me how much she will love to be in Heaven, but was not greatly looking forward to death. Oh, Elise. So genuine.
She whispered "We are not done yet.....".

And as another dear friend made her way into the room and shared with her what an amazing friend and encourager Elise had been to her, more tears were shed.....as we all hoped we'd have many more times, but taking full advantage of the sweet time we did have to tell her how much she was loved.

And right smack dab in the middle of me quietly talking to Elise's older son, Joe, and asking if Elise was in pain, and what the doctors said, etc...I realized the conversation had shifted to the husbands Elise and Becky had and what a support they were .... and right in the middle of this conversation, Elise turns to her husband Joe and locks eyes with him and says "And what a wonderful helpmeet He gave to me!". Our chatter swirled around them as Joe came up to Elise's side and their conversation hushed, becomes peacefully sacred, as he takes her hand and moves her pillow and bends over her and they share a kiss. And in that moment never has marriage seemed more real and holy and servant-like as Elise shoves everything about herself aside and delights in her husband and praises him and thanks God aloud for the man she has loved for so many years.

I think we all were watching, and taking it in, and still the moment was all theirs.

And as Becky left, I knew it was time for me to leave too....so with many hugs and just a few more words and a few more kisses and laughing and teasing and "praying that you get discharged by 5! I'll be praying for 5!! Five would be great! And spaghetti for dinner!" ... and after one more very long look and one more "I love you so much." - I walked out of the hotel room and into that elevator and tried not to cry the whole way down.
 I was mostly unsuccessful.

As I walked from the hospital to the sound of sirens arriving at the ER; Elise on my heart, tears on my face and prayers on my lips, the sun was pouring out its late-afternoon delight everywhere, and I wondered at the amazing gift that I came to comfort and came away the one comforted. I'll always be thankful I had those 2 joy-filled and special hours with Elise. It will make seeing her again in Heaven that much sweeter to know that 20 days before she left this Earth for Heaven, I was sitting by her side and talking about how amazing it would all be when God would make it all new.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. 
Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. 
For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ~

The thing that comes to mind the most when I think of Elise is that through trials, God built trust in her heart for Him, and that through that trust, Elise lived a life of radiant JOY in Who He is.

"The best moment of a Christian's life is his last one, because it is the one that is nearest Heaven. 
And then it is that he begins to strike the keynote of the song which he shall sing to all Eternity."
~ C.H. Spurgeon ~

The very last, most very important thing we discussed was moments before I left. As I bent to hug her one more time, after I kissed her cheek and stayed oh, so close to her face, I said "So, besides TIME....what can we pray most for you for?" and she said "PEACE. Comfort and rest. And peace." .

and peace is what our Lord loves to give to His children. Elise knows peace more than we've ever known, she is more fully alive than we've ever been and she's more Home than we can ever dream or imagine. 

Please be praying for tangible, grace-filled, presence-knowing PEACE to rest upon and enfold Elise's husband, Joe, and their two sons, Joe and John and to come to all who have known and loved Elise.

Elise, I miss you already. I'll miss you for a really long time. My inward man is weeping, but I know I'll see you again soon and then it will be foreverThank you for loving me so deeply and so well. I love you so much.

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~

2 comments:

Joe and Elise Armfield said...

Jean Marie, thank you for this moving tribute to Elise, the love of my life. Unlike me, she was never one to hide her feelings and emotions. She would pour out her heart to God and tell Him everything. I have been reading one of her journals and have been so comforted to see how she would tell God all her fears and troubles, but then would always end with a Scripture promise and tell Him that she trusted in Him alone. One entry that moved me to tears came from "Streams in the Desert" where I quote, "and then, pressed with burdens too complicated to put into words, how sweet it is to fall back into His blessed arms and just sob out the sorrow we cannot speak." Then in parenthesis, she added, "this is what I am doing today - sobbing out the sorrow I cannot speak." Then she added one of my favorite verses from Psalm 20:7 "Some trust in chariots (percentages of survival) and some in horses (side effects of treatments) but WE trust in the name of the Lord of our God." -Joe.

ajdag said...

Thank for this, Beatiful as Elise!!!