03/03/04 — Victory: Getting ready for the inevitable

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Victory: Getting ready for the inevitable

This story is personal. If it is too personal, I’m sorry.

It is sad, too. But in the end it is a story of victory.

Tracy Hardin of Gastonia died three hours before this was written. She was 32 and she left two children, a boy, 3½, and a girl, 18 months, who were precious to her.

She also left a husband who cared for her tenderly and thoroughly since they learned a year and a half ago that Tracy was sick.

That was just after the little girl was born. Tracy had found a lump in her breast. Biopsies showed that it was cancer and that it had progressed to her lymph nodes and elsewhere.

Tracy, a registered nurse, knew what that meant.

Her life was transformed. Instead of resuming her work at a hospital as she had planned, there were radiation treatments, chemotherapy, hair loss, lethargy. She spent as much time with her children as possible.

She also spent time in prayer.

Tracy went to a Presbyterian church, and the people there prayed, too. Somehow, Tracy’s plight got on the Internet and people all over the country were praying for her and sending her cards and letters.

Tracy was happy — quiet but cheerful. Many pretty women her age would have been devastated by losing their hair. Not Tracy. She’d put on a baseball cap and go about her business for as long as she could be up and around.

She had several operations. One was on her brain, and it left scar tissue from the back of her head to her forehead. When her hair started to come back, that part of her scalp was left blank. Tracy joked that her husband had told her she had a Mohawk haircut in reverse.

She liked to answer the cards that people sent after praying for her. She wrote hundreds of replies, saying mainly that their prayers were important to her.

She and her husband liked to fish. Last spring they went to the beach with family. She wasn’t able to do much fishing. She rested, and she spent a lot of time sitting in the breeze on a deck, writing cards.

Tracy had a pleasant mood, and it rarely changed. On that deck one day, she had no interest in discussing her illness except to explain how it had deepened her spiritual life. She knew she had no chance of surviving without a miracle, but she accepted her condition with peace.

All that prayer had already been miraculous, she said, explaining that, “I have never known such joy as I know now.”

Still, those around her, the ones who loved her and must now give her up, are distraught. It will be some time before they will understand, if they ever do, why Tracy had to go at such a young age, and how she could so calmly face her destiny.

To those left behind, death nearly always has come as an unexpected visitor, and when it comes for the young, the shock is magnified.

Just this week in Wayne County, a family lost a 12-year-old girl in a house fire, and another lost a young mother, a school teacher, who was killed in a wreck. Last week a young mother and father were killed in a wreck along with two of their three children. Other families have suffered losses, too, just as suddenly, just as painfully if not as widely publicized.

Death is not really a stranger. It is near us always. We must be prepared, as Tracy was. She understood that this life is transitory, and that we are here to prepare for what follows.

In his popular book “The Purpose Driven Life,” Rick Warren describes our passing simply as the gateway to eternity. Tracy had devoted herself to getting ready, and she was not afraid of the journey.

Her life and death are an example for all of us, young and old.

Published in Editorials on March 3, 2004 11:56 AM