"I kept writing. She was too sick to eat, but not too sick to read. Deb's illness gave me the chance to press my face against the window of my life, and what I saw was startling -- I saw miracles that had been waiting for me to give them a voice."
Margaret Terry's voice comes through loud and clear in her new book Dear Deb: A Woman with Cancer, a Friend with Secrets, and the Letters That Become Their Miracle. Margaret met a woman named Deb years ago at her church. Deb was diagnosed with terminal cancer and Margaret decided to write her letters each day via e-mail. One hundred letters in total were written and 55 were chosen for the book since Deb was 55 years old when she passed away.
Margaret, whom I just met at the Christian Writer's Conference in Guelph, is a warm, sweet, sincere woman. That warmth and sincerity comes across in her letters. Her account of growing up in Hamilton, Ontario brings me back to my childhood: she grew up on the mountain; she used to take trips downtown to Woolworth's.
While there were many happy times in her childhood, there were also sad times. Her mother struggled with mental illness and her father finally left, starting a long estrangement between father and daughter.
Alternating with her chapters about childhood in Ontario are her chapters about adulthood in Minnesota. At first a happily married woman with two healthy children, Margaret's world falls apart when her husband announces he wants a divorce. We learn of her terrible loneliness as she suffers the loss of her marriage. We also learn of her return to the church, prompted by her son's friend. One of the pastors invites her to lunch, a warm lady who says: "I love you, Margaret. But God loves you more." And we learn of her trips to Rooney Lake, a sanctuary for her and her boys.
Years pass and Margaret becomes a cruise line employee for awhile, visiting the Holy Land among other destinations. But she misses Minnesota. A twist happens when she meets a man, gets engaged, and then cancels the wedding. She finds herself back in Canada where she is reunited with her estranged father.
It is in Ontario that she must face another trial: her son is addicted to drugs. What a powerful chapter she writes about accompanying her son to an addiction centre to get well! Her son thinks his mistakes are too big to be forgiven; but Margaret shares something from her past to show that she, like all of us, is fallible.
"I want you to know that if my illness inspired you to write these stories, it was worth it." These are the words that Deb spoke to Margaret the last time they talked. While I would never wish cancer on anyone, I do know that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). And this is the message that Margaret wants to tell us as she weaves her life story. Thank you, Margaret, for sharing!
Woolworth's in Hamilton, Ontario courtesy www.facebook.com