It was a very warm Colorado morning, bright with a vivid blue sky. I arrived at the hospice center, wondering if this was going to be the day that Mary Jane, my best friend and speaking partner for over twenty-five years, would choose to go home.
She had been fighting colon cancer for seven years. After two remissions, the long road of countless operations, procedures and chemotherapy had brought us to this third and final round. Mary Jane was just fifty years old.
For so long, we had lived with cancer. We had feared it, treated it and cried over it. We bought wigs to cover it. We discussed the sadness around it, lessons learned from it, and the legacy of pictures and written messages Mary Jane could leave behind to help her son and husband heal from it.
As I walked past the front desk, I noticed a lemon meringue pie on the counter. When I entered Mary Jane’s room, I casually mentioned seeing it. She immediately perked up.
“Lemon meringue is my favorite. My mom made the fluffiest, golden brown meringue in all of Oklahoma. Whenever she baked her pie, people came running. Will you get me a piece?”
As I headed to get a slice, Mary Jane and I both knew what lay ahead. With advanced colon cancer, even the smallest morsel of food wreaked havoc. Still, as I carefully propped her up and lifted a tiny bite of pie to her lips, she smiled and said, “Look how the filling wiggles!”
I gave Mary Jane just enough for her to taste the essence of lemon. The nibble of pie stayed with her only seconds before her ravaged body rejected it. Yet, in a weak but ever-so-clear voice, she said, “Gee, thanks. That was great.”
I put the fork down on the plate. “After everything you’ve been through, how could you possibly say that was great?” She rested her head back, “I’ve been thinking,” she said, “how we’ve got to focus on the space between events.”
I wiped her chin, “What do you mean by ‘space between events?'” She replied, “It’s all the moments leading up to and directly after an event-the minutes and hours that define how we respond to it.”
She caught my puzzled look and continued. “The space between events is where you find a feeling of peace watching snow-capped mountains as you travel to and from a hospital or office each day. It’s the excitement that comes from watching your team before they actually score. It’s the warm memory of home sparked by the smell of lemons as you lift a fork full of pie to your lips.” She squeezed my hand. “The space between events is where most of life is lived…..and its in this space, my friend, that you and all caregivers must also focus.”
(A story by Pamela J. Gordon)