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Finishing well

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By Nancy Kennedy

If there's such a thing as a perfect day for a funeral, Friday was it. Puffy white clouds dotted the blue sky, the temperature a perfect 75 degrees.

The friends and family of Teresa Rosebrough packed the church for a triumphantly joyful, yet mournfully sad memorial service.

At 50, our friend T lost her three-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer.

As she had wanted, we as a church family sang, "My chains are gone, I've been set free" and "I will glory in my Redeemer, who waits for me at gates of gold, and when he calls me it will be paradise - his face forever to behold."

The day before, on Thursday, I had gone to T's house to meet with her closest friends while they cleaned her house, preparing for the after-funeral crowd of people who would come and eat and share T stories and comfort each other.

I had come as a newspaper reporter, to gather information about this woman whom I had known for more than 10 years, but to my loss, didn't really know well at all.

When she was first diagnosed, I wrote a story for the paper's health section about ovarian cancer. That's when she told me her goal was to live to be 50, to see her daughter graduate high school.

I never told her, but after that on every Dec. 27, her birthday, I prayed that she would see another. I'm not good at remembering people's birthdays, but hers I did, and last December I sent her a card. She had made it to 50!

On the day before T's funeral, I followed her friends around with my notebook and voice recorder as they vacuumed and dusted and hunted for the silver polish. They mostly said the things friends say about one who has died, how special she was, how loving and honest and encouraging.

They shared their stories about T for the Postscript story I was writing and said how she had talked with each one of them individually to say goodbye and leave a personal benediction.

She had written letters to her children for them to open on specific days - when they graduate college, get married, have children.

I was awestruck at the depth of her caring for those she loved, even as she died.

Through tears, one friend said, "I know this sounds terrible because I miss her so much and I'm incredibly sad that she's gone, but I'm happy for her. She's home - with Jesus. She's not suffering anymore. She's not in pain."

That's not just funeral talk. The Bible says that those who belong to Jesus grieve differently, unlike those who do not have a sure, strong hope in a glorious eternity (1 Thessalonians 4:13, my paraphrase).

That's why a funeral for one who died believing in Christ's resurrection can be triumphant and joyful, even when there are also tears of sadness and grief.

We also sang, "Oh, to see my name written in (Christ's) wounds, for through (his) suffering I am free. Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live, won through (his) selfless love."

Teresa Rosebrough was a runner. She endured heat and cold and tired, sore muscles as she pounded the pavement. Anyone who has ever run knows the beating runners take on their knees and back and ankles.

Breathing gets labored; they get caught in the rain. They stumble, fall, want to quit. But those who enter races do so to win.

Our pastor said he had visited with T shortly before she died and that she was concerned that she wasn't "finishing well." She had made peace with her dying, but was sometimes angry because she didn't want to leave her family, not yet.

The pastor told her that God could take her anger and her doubts and that they didn't diminish her finishing her race well.

Life is so short and we - I - get so caught up in what truly doesn't matter.

Every one of us will one day take a final breath and all that will have mattered will be how we have loved along the way to the finish.

Thank you, T, for the reminder. You've won your race. You're home.