Tribute to Julie: How My Dying Friend Showed Me How to Live…Fiercely!

I knew it was coming.  We’d all been preparing for it for weeks, if not months and still last night, when I got the news, that my dear friend Julie had died, after a courageous fight against ovarian cancer, I felt like I wasn’t ready.  I was blessed to have a few “good-bye” moments with her in the months and weeks leading up to her passing, during each one, I thought it would be my last time hugging her and telling her I loved her…and then I would be blessed again, with one last chance to have a bit of time with her and say our farewells.  Even with multiple good-byes, I still felt like I didn’t get to say it enough…still felt like I could’ve said more, held on tighter.

But I guess that’s the point…no matter how much preparation one has, death is so permanent and so isolating for those left behind, you don’t ever really “get it”, until the person is gone and no matter what you might post on Facebook or Twitter, the person you want most to reply, isn’t going to.

What’s funny is I’ve only really been friends with Julie for the past 18 months or so.  Before that, we would’ve been “friendly acquaintances” at church, whose children were closer than we were.  Our girls were about a year apart and ran around together with a few of the other little girls at church.  I had always watched Julie and her husband Steve from afar and would think “They look cool, would be fun to get to know them…” and then I wouldn’t do anything about it…absolutely nothing.

I remember being at a Ladies’ Tea event at church, for the new mom’s in our church.  I had been asked to share something with all the other women that day.  I remember I shared about how God had put on my heart lately to really appreciate my child’s personality and to be aware of her strengths and weaknesses…to be careful to discipline poor behaviour, not annoying personality traits that needed to mature.  I shared this and afterwards, Julie came up to me and said what I had shared really was relevant to her at that time.  She shared a few struggles that she had been having with her little girl and I related very well…our girls are very dominant, expressive 1st borns…as mothers we connected on this.

We had a great conversation, I felt like she was someone I could really bond with possibly, I walked away feeling like she might be someone to pursue a friendship with.  Then I went home and again did nothing…at all.

I had really been struggling since moving to Australia to find friends within the church.  Women who “got me” and even though they may not agree with me on some things or find my personality a bit quirky, they would still want my friendship.  I had/have close friends outside of the church, but there was a part of me that was craving relationships with women who shared my faith.  I spent a lot of time not pursuing people and telling myself that “they probably wouldn’t like me anyway” or the reverse of that, passing judgement on them and not taking the time or making the effort to really dig deep to form firm friendships.

I was scared of rejection.  I was worried about attaching to people and having to move again…as a Defence wife, that doesn’t seem to be something I can get used to.  I was convinced that all the women at church had enough friends, people they had grown up with or knew for decades, none of them needed or wanted a new, close, friend.  So I didn’t try.  Oh I made efforts here and there, but I didn’t extend myself beyond what was comfortable, for my baseline shy, rather insecure personality.

Julie was one of the people I was too scared to approach.  Then our congregation was told about her cancer diagnosis and right away, my heart was in my throat…it was like I had a panic attack for her.  As a mother, with two young children who were of similar ages to Julie’s, I just could not grasp what she was facing.  My heart screamed for her struggle.  So at that time, I decided I was going to actually make the effort I should have ages ago.  I didn’t know how many friends Julie had, I didn’t know if she needed anymore and I decided I didn’t care.  I was going to be there and I was going to let her know I cared….and I wouldn’t stop.

Julie had surgery and she continued to fight hard.  She had barely stopped her first chemo treatment, when the cancer was back…and it didn’t go away.  Julie was then told by her doctors that she probably wouldn’t reach her 40th birthday, she decided to treat her 39th birthday this past November, as her 40th.  I immediately felt this intense need to do something…to make this dang party happen and make it awesome!!  I asked Steve and Julie if they minded me pursuing a few radio stations to sponsor a special party…they said to “go for it”, so I did.  The rest is history…SAFM Adelaide got my letter and ran with it.  Adelaide rallied around the Hall family and we were able to throw Julie the most amazing birthday party ever….it was truly epic and something I know I will never forget, along with many others.

What amazed me about Julie and what has left such an impact on me, was how she just kept going…she just carried on, through all the pain, all the sickness, all the medicine, all the exhaustion, all while knowing her time was limited.  My gut tells me that I would have struggled not weeping every day knowing I wasn’t going to see my sweet babies grow up.  I didn’t know how she just kept that radiant smile on her face while she tackled one more amazing memory after another.   I know she cried, I know she grieved; I know she had dark days, but she kept bouncing back and leaned on her Saviour the whole way.   I like to think that if I was in Julie’s position, I would’ve risen to the occasion the way she did…but as time went on, I just don’t know if I could’ve gone for as long as she did, as full force as she did.  And it wasn’t because she was scared of dying, oh no, she knew she would be with Jesus soon, but every day God gave her, she wanted it to count for her, Steve and her kids.  Could I do that???  To the end???  I don’t know.  Her example continues to humble me.

Julie was fierce in facing death.  She prayed hard and asked for a miracle, but she knew in the end that her miracle might not come until heaven.  With that knowledge she set out to just attack each day and live it to the ultimate fullest.  Watching Julie do this and getting close to her over this time, made me realize how foolish I had been to not have pursued her (and others) for friendship.  How much of God’s goodness had I missed out on, simply by not being secure in who God made me to be??

Then I realized how petty I have been at times….how incredibly wasteful I have been with the time I have had with many people.   How many times do we all just not reach out to someone because we are scared of rejection or we think we are too different to really “gel” as friends???  How many times does God put people in our lives that we don’t even acknowledge???  I squandered so much time with Julie….and now I was facing losing a dear friend and a friendship that God could’ve done even more in, had I trusted Him and let Him…had I not let fear dictate who I let into my life.

The more I got to know Julie, the more I saw we had in common….and get this, I even saw a few of her flaws (very similar to some of mine!) and found we differed on some things….things that in the past I may have made a big deal about in my head and used as an excuse to not try and be better friends.  But because I had already determined to stick by her and let her know I cared to the end, there was no backing down.   The things we differed on didn’t matter because she was now my dear friend and we only had so much time.  

 Julie was dying and it was amazing to watch the clarity she seemed to live her life with.  She knew what mattered and she knew what was important in the long term.  It was a joy and fascinating to watch and hear about her, Steve and the kids’ vacation adventures.  Money was not suddenly just pouring in for them, but they were trusting God for His provision as they set out to make sure Julie’s life with her kids, counted for every moment!  Again, how often as families do we struggle through life always worried about “the future” and often not taking the time to just embrace the time God has given us with those we love???  We watched the Halls go on their trips and then as my husband returned from a long over-seas trip, he and I had a talk and we both agreed, we needed a family trip ourselves and so we just did it….we booked a trip to QLD with our kiddos and we created our own memories and pushed any second thoughts aside.  Yes, Julie helped us finally decide that a family vacation was worth the expense…and it totally was!

I am not sure all that I have learned from Julie and I know I haven’t yet realized all the ways that she has impacted me with her life and death.  I just know that God showed me in a big way that it doesn’t pay to hesitate in life and in pursuing friendships.  If you are in someone’s life and they are in yours, ask yourself why that is.  I’m not saying everyone you come into contact with is meant to be your next BFF, but what I am saying is, if you meet someone and think you could be a good friend to them or they to you, or both…ask God to create the opportunity for it to happen…don’t walk away and do nothing.   Right now, all I can think is Julie was such a great friend and I would have had SO much more time to get to know her, if I had just reached out.  I’m glad I did reach out when I did, but a life altering lesson has been learned by me.

One night Julie and I were texting and I shared with her my thoughts and regrets on not pursuing her for friendship sooner.  I told her I was so sorry that I just hadn’t made the effort and that I wished I had more time with her.  She wrote me back and said she understood the whole “insecurity thing” too…and then she said that we needed to make sure that our girls didn’t make the same mistakes or have the same “hang ups”.   Next week when I go to Julie’s funeral, I will be thankful for the time I was able to call her “friend” and I will say a little prayer that our girls grow up fierce.  I will pray that they both and their other friends grow up living without fear of rejection or failure or loss;  that they will trust God with abandon and pursue whatever they feel called to.  I will pray that they won’t ever be scared to be a friend to anyone and will not be ashamed to be the first one to say “Hi!” or make a phone call.  Julie was my dear friend….a great friend….she let me in during a dark time and still managed to shine light into my life….I wish I had more time to call her “friend”….xoxoxo



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