I got a text from a friend that told me to get to the hospital immediately because one of my closest friends was dying.  I was not exactly sure in that moment what that meant. Was she having a rough night? Was she about to go into some kind of surgery? Was there hope at all?

I made a U-Turn and headed immediately to the hospital.

The drive to the hospital was long and I called some of our other close friends to let them know. That was difficult. There is something about saying outloud the words that you don’t want to hear. It brings on a flood of emotions that you then have to choke back because you need to get the message out.

Then another flood began to happen. The thoughts of “I could have been a better friend. I could have been there more. I could have been more thoughtful. I should not have been so busy. Does she know how much I care for her? Did I show her? I don’t know.”

And they kept coming.

Then I walked into the hospital and saw everyone around her bed crying. I looked at her and she did not look like my friend. The vibrant girl who always had a splash of color on somewhere, even if it was just her toenail polish. She was hooked up to machines and there was no color to her face.

My mind flashed back to the time where I was with her in the hospital and she said, “I am so afraid I won’t beat this.”  And, of course, that was unfathomable to me— she is a beautiful woman in her 30s with a family. So many young people beat cancer. She will beat cancer.  And I confidently told her so. She smiled at me and nodded her head.

Now I am looking at her motionless in the hospital bed.  Someone gathered us all to pray for her. I gathered, but I did not hear a word he said. All that ran through my mind was “get up. Just pull a Lazarus and get up. This is not time for you to lay here. It is time for you to get up and show us all that this is an awful nightmare.”

And it was not a nightmare. It was real life. Before my eyes, my best friend lost her battle with cancer. It took her in such a vicious and unkind way. It was such a way that had no justice in it. And I was paralyzed and had no idea what to do. I saw people singing, I saw people talking to her, people were praying, people were walking around. I usually know what to do in most situations, but not this one. I just knew that I couldn’t leave– I needed to stay until they told me I had to go home.

And when I did go home, it felt like the world was moving slowly. I saw people smiling and walking down the hallway.  Did they not know? My friend just died–this is no time for smiling. I drove 55 mph in a 75mph zone and for some reason I couldn’t get my car to go much faster than that.

My heart even beat differently the week after she died. I could feel it skipping in my chest–it needed to be alone to grieve, but I wouldn’t allow myself to do that.  When I went to the store to get things for her memorial service, people would ask how I am and I would just ask them how they were instead. It was awkward, but I didn’t want to say ‘good’ or ‘fine.’ I wanted everyone to know that the world just lost someone amazing yet I knew saying it outloud would bring on the tears so I was just awkward.

I have never experienced grief like this before, nor do I ever want to again. Yet in the process, I learned that grieving is a gift. I know that my heart hurt because I loved her very much. I got to know her in such a way that I opened up my heart and shared with her things I didn’t share with everyone–and I knew she shared with me in that way too. That is vulnerability and that is true friendship. I hurt because she meant so much to me and I will miss her terribly. I still go back and look at our text messages to each other and I don’t want to get a new phone for fear of losing them.

Not only was she important to me, she also was a firm believer in Jesus Christ. This allows me to grieve with hope. 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 reminded me this over and over. The verse just kept popping up. Yes, we are to grieve. We have to grieve—our bodies don’t function properly unless we grieve. And in that grief, we are to mix in hope—hope that we will be together again through faith in Christ. I believe it with all of my heart, even when my heart hurts.

I pray you love someone so much that losing them will grieve you. I pray that those you love, love Jesus. Because if I knew ahead of time that she would die at age 32, I would have been more intentional to love her more and not less. I still would have opened up my heart because being her friend is worth the pain ten times over.

Love God. Love others. And allow them to love you back.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” -CS Lewis

To read more about her story: https://amandamackert.wordpress.com/

— Lindsey Castleman, Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and co-creator of 7 Conversations to Enrich Your Marriage7ConversationsNashville.com