Fifty days after Joy’s death, Heaven sends us, her friends, a basket of fruits to fill our spirits with a harvest like no other!
These are the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), one of which is Joy, who at 52, joined our other classmate-friends: Heny, Al, Dan and Eve in Heaven. It would be interesting to know what a reunion among friends in Heaven would be like. Did they recognize one another? Joy would probably be crying “unfair” being the most senior-looking if ever they all got to see each other. Heny, who died way ahead in his late teens, I think, would look like a son to her which could possibly unleash wrath out of her huge eyes as the rest stared quizzically, suppressing laughter. That would be fun to watch really.
Some of us, her high school classmates 35 years ago, gathered on that day, the 27th of July, for a much-anticipated Philippine celebration of her meaningful life. Ironic that we had not much chance to cultivate the teenage friendship where our lives first got connected, and here we were, picking up the seeds of amity.
While there were a lot of class reunions, homecomings and other occasions for us to celebrate together, especially in the last 10 years or so, Joy was one of a few whom we rarely saw because she lived as an expat all that time. Until her illness this year brought us closer in a special way, thanks to social media and the Holy Spirit who moved Baby to reach out in her best friend’s behalf – sans her blessing.
1. Charity. A Facebook “pm” was all it took for Wen and Nee (in the East Coast), and later, Gee (in the West Coast) to act at once and shower Joy with love, love, love at a time when that’s all what she needed. Charity is all about generosity and self-less service to someone as God has commanded His children to love one another as He has loved them. These ladies would do anything for a very sick friend, despite the distance and schedules. They either cooked or brought her her favorite meals, even if they had to travel by land or air for hours, visited and kept her company, prayed with and sang for her, too, and reminisced with her many wonderful memories from youth to adulthood, from Mass. to Cali., from life to death.
2. Goodness. This is a godly virtue that the Holy Spirit sent our way through Joy. Anybody has the capacity to do good, especially for his/her friend. Some of us probably went through some soul-searching in amazement and disbelief having seen so much goodness in people we knew differently from our youth, feeling regretfully inferior for ourselves, wondering if we could do as much. But goodness just flowed incessantly, engulfing everyone who realized that yes, this is a divine gift for all. What a transition from the girly “Goody” days of brightly-colored U.S. combs that Joy shared with her clique.
3. Patience. At times, we fall short of this virtue in contempt of the irreversible situation of hopelessness, futility and fragility of an end-stage illness that not only decays the person, but also destroys relations. It is a shame to admit, but it is humanly difficult to be patient without being sad and torn because it just sucks to see your friend fight bravely and still worry about her dog. But patience pays off. The pet finds a new home. Relations, too, get mended. With patience comes understanding.
4. Forbearance. Cancer makes people endure prolonged suffering that their family and friends cannot bear to watch. But only through the Holy Spirit can the cancer-stricken, like Joy, find forbearance in the depths of pain. All physical suffering would have to end somehow when doctors knew that there’s nothing more they could do, but to sedate the patient so that she would stop struggling to live. The promise of eternity for Joy was that jiffy ride from “H”ospital to “H”eaven where all pain was gone in a flash.
5. Kindness. Benignity was never wanting among friends who were pulled together by Joy’s lonely journey to the hitherto unknown – survival or defeat? healing or passing on? If kindness was a pill, it performed some miracle in our collective experience of seeing a friend to the portal of the afterlife. Somehow it made the transition easier. Until the end, Joy’s words expressed her disbelief in the love and support that her longtime friends from different parts of the world extended to her – their thoughtfulness, consideration, benevolence and graciousness in everything said and unsaid, done and undone. Time, distance and space didn’t matter in every act of kindness shown. The heart knows no boundaries.
6. Mildness. There were a lot of trying times. With Joy’s condition, it’s an understatement. Among us watching in the sidelines, we went through our own trials, too, having to put up with the Tempest as it hovered near, waiting vigilantly as friends and family kept guard, armed with loads of prayers. With the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence, the simmering scene was held in check, avoiding unnecessary actions that could hurt more than heal. Mildness is gentleness of the spirit that simply envelopes us when the going gets tough because God is in control.
7. Modesty. Vanity had got no room in a situation where you had to lose your precious tresses. Joy’s voluminous crowning glory, which had been the trademark Farrah Fawcett hairdo equated to her overall beauty, just fell off in patches to her horror. One day, she was just done with the wig and flippantly showed off what remained of her cancer-scarred head. Too consumed by the illness to even care, Joy humbled herself by just showing who she was in a brave way. Not everyone had seen this episode, but felt it just the same. One time in a video call with her via Skype, she worried about not putting on any lipstick, but she was assured that she didn’t need it. We were born with nothing, we would go taking nothing.
8. Temperance. Joy’s clique had shown so much continence in sharing many facets of the classmate that we thought we knew. Their temperance bordered at nonchalance, puzzling many in some ways. Only a longtime friend, like Alice, for instance, can pull a narration so effortlessly (and restrained at the same time), taking care not to breach any sacred vows they had made with each other. The ‘general patronage’ stories were all fun to hear, giving us glimpses of the Fighter Joy, the Private Joy, and Many Faces Joy.
9. Chastity. From a different perspective, being chaste is staying pure of heart and refraining from defiling or judging others. Maybe I was looking the other way when the Holy Spirit came with this gift. I had been rash with my opinion at one instance, too carried away by the situation that developed. Even if I had twice experienced standing by Death’s side with my three brothers to accompany and await our parents’ passage from their sickbed up to the point of parting, I could never really tell how disorienting and lonely the process prior to rapture was – from the viewpoint of the one leaving. I think sick people went through more difficult phases (in a way) than people who died suddenly, like my brother who lost his life in a vehicular accident. Whose death was better was something I could not tell, too. But Joy was so scared to be left alone in her last stay in hospice care that it got the better of me from a virtual distance. Gee had been instrumental in preparing her for Heaven with Joy accepting the Lord as her Savior. But we also knew that she had struggled before she was sedated, wanting to live longer, to spend more time with her family, to deal with closures in her life and to welcome a new life spring up – the birth of a grandchild. All that she missed by dying – with reluctance. But she was cleansed. And Heaven waited.
10. Faith. With synchronized daily prayers where everybody in the circle gathered strength and hope, her friends’ collective faith was Joy’s source of buoyancy, too. Sometimes one person’s faith is not enough to pull another up from the pit of despair. That’s what makes faith a community. People pray for and prop one another in the process. This made me realize, too, that our paths were all meant to cross in this life and reconnected because we were born for this purpose – to hold one another by the hand, to lead, to pull, to make sure no one got lost or was left behind in this journey.
11. Peace. In prayer, we all have found peace. We prayed for healing at first. As the days went by, the Holy Spirit gave us wisdom to understand that Joy’s life, even if it reflected small images of ourselves, had already been blueprinted uniquely and separately. Peace was only achieved when we let go of our fears and stopped resisting to allow God to do as He bade.
12. Joy. The ultimate feeling of gladness with the Lord, joy is the the most wonderful blessing we all shared in celebrating a friend’s life and walking with her in the last leg of her journey on earth. Pick-up lines were exchanged in honoring and cheering her at the same time. Any race for the physically-challenged would seem hard to complete anywhere, anytime, but the unrelenting fervor of the human spirit would make any racer a champion finisher as Joy had shown, even with some degree of hesitation. Because down the homestretch, the big hand of the Abba Father waited on her to catch and take her home.