I sometimes catch glimpses of Annabelle.
It’s at random times.
In unexpected moments.
I ‘see’ her in a busy street.
And the other day it was on a bus.
Then in a garden on the way to work.
And at the school gate…
It’s not her, of course.
Just people who look like her.
She died a little over two years ago, and all I have now are memories.
But let me tell you about Annabelle.
She was my friend.
We had our first children in exactly the same week.
She was my pregnancy buddy – a relatively new church friend who entered my Bible study group with her husband Mark, and took the journey with me.
Our friends threw us a surprise baby shower, and we both gave birth to boys.
We exchanged knowing looks about the realities of carrying a child, enduring labour, and emerging into this whole new world.
A couple of years later, we were both pregnant again – still side-by-side.
She had a girl, and me, my second boy.
Our friendship survived her moving churches, and we kept up with one another across Sydney.
One thing I noticed about Annabelle during this season was her growing faith in God.
When I first met her she seemed kind of aloof.
She had a faith, sure – but she didn’t share it readily.
But over the years, I saw her love for God grow.
There was a fresh lightness to her step.
A twinkle in her eye.
A joy in her Heavenly Father.
Our chats became more and more centred around our faith, and I loved it.
Then it was my turn to move house, this time even further across town.
So we started chatting over the phone here and there.
We’d call each other on our birthdays, and whenever she phoned me I felt so much love from her.
Most people give simple greetings, but Annabelle always inspired me to make it an extra-special day.
Then one day, I received a call that was different.
Annabelle’s voice was shaky, and she uttered words I’ll never forget.
“I’ve been to the doctor’s, Ali, and… and… I’ve got cancer…”
It was bowel cancer, and she was in that dazed state when you’ve received awful news and your world seems to be spinning on its axis.
I was stunned.
And my head darted into the territory of ‘what-if’ and ‘why’ and ‘how?’.
I held space for the news to sink in.
Then I prayed.
And in coming weeks we hoped together.
And kept praying.
And I took the trip across Sydney to see her.
She’d just come home from the hospital.
The treatment was working well so far.
But the thing that got her the most teary on that visit was seeing her kids again after several days with limited contact.
She was worried for them – and hated being apart.
Annabelle was the most devoted of mums.
And, in God’s mercy, the cancer left. We were relieved he’d answered our prayers.
The thing is – that’s when Annabelle and I started drifting apart a little.
She and her family moved several hours into the country and our calls became less frequent.
It was just one of those incremental things.
Bit by bit, our contact lessened.
And the first year I didn’t call her for her birthday was the last year of her life.
Annabelle’s death was slow – yet quick.
Few people knew the cancer had returned – including me.
And her death came as a big shock.
She slipped away quietly.
And to my great sadness.
Yet her life – and her death – have left their mark on me.
Whenever I ‘see’ Annabelle, I remember her.
Her easy laugh.
The way she used to cook me this awesome banana and pineapple bread when I dropped in with the kids.
The gentle, graceful way she moved, reflecting on Jesus with a smile in her voice.
Her increasing vulnerability as she spoke about what God was teaching her that morning…
I never imagined her days here would end so soon.
I never truly believed her post-Earth life would start so suddenly – face to face with Jesus – leaving her loving husband and family behind to finish their journey alone.
But I trust that God has a plan for them – just as he had a plan for her to grace this earth for the time she did.
She left a mark only she could leave – as only Annabelle could.
And I’ll never forget her.
We love you, Annabelle.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – (Psalm 90:12)