It’s Christmas and the last thing anyone wants at Christmas time is a sad farewell to a friend.
On the other hand, when the hallmark of that friend’s life was a deep love of Jesus Christ, the very reason for Christmas, there is something sacred about her leaving this life at at this beautiful, celebratory season.
Dana Sue Kimball Israelsen died last Sunday at age 59 of lung cancer.
She never smoked a day in her life and was never overly exposed to secondhand smoke. Yet, two years ago, she was surprised by a lung cancer diagnosis. She miraculously beat it the first time, but it quickly returned “with a vengeance,” to use her words.
Her optimism in the face of a stage IV diagnosis was remarkable. She was sure she would survive it, but unexpectedly, after many chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she passed away last Sunday.
I knew Dana Sue when she lived in Washington, D.C. and we both worked on Capitol Hill, and then in the Reagan Administration in federal government jobs.
When I moved back to Utah, we lived only a couple miles from each other. And, when I heard about her cancer diagnosis, I reached out to her — knowing personally about the bewildering world of both the diagnosis and the treatment.
She had many questions, primarily about chemotherapy — what would it be like, how would she feel, what would her quality of life be like, tips for getting through it, etc. I wished I had better, more comforting answers for all her questions.
She went to her first chemo treatment armed with her usual sense of humor and threw a party for all the patients in the room with her.
As she explained the effects of the treatments — pain, uncontrollable night sweats, extreme hormone fluctuations, incredible anxiety, and more pain — I related to them all and sympathized with her. She joked that each session was like entering a torture chamber. I agreed and suggested she just count them down, rejoicing in each one being behind her.
I believed, like she did, that she would get better, bounce back, put cancer behind her, but in the end, it took her life.
She only had two requests for her funeral — 1) that it be short, and 2) that it be a celebration of her life. Her friends and family delivered on both requests, celebrating her life with one uplifting or hilarious story after another.
A friend told how Dana Sue once worked for Robert Redford and how her employment ended after she accidentally locked him in his barn.
A daughter told a story about when she was recovering from surgery and her mother went to retrieve her a pain pill. While walking down the stairs with a glass of water in one hand and her daughter’s post-surgery pain pill in the other, she stopped midway and forgot what she was doing and where she was headed with the pill, so, she popped it in her own mouth, assuming it must have been for her.
In this funeral, there was laughing, celebrating, and crying both tears of joy and sadness.
Dana’s best friend, Marianne, summarized her life by saying the one word that describes her life is “impact.”
“Her life has been a series of impacts, large and small. She has not been one to sit on the sideline and watch. She has been the one right in the middle, thinking outside the box, problem-solving, making things better.”
The most notable comment made in her funeral by every speaker was that she lived a life devoted to Jesus Christ — always wanting to be found doing his will, his work.
Marianne said that while Dana Sue’s life looked charmed and perfect, it was far from it. She suffered just like everyone else, but as she searched for answers, she learned she could truly count on the Heavens.
“She went to work. She did all she could to work out her challenges, but when she had done all she could, she turned to her Savior. That is where the tutoring began. That is when the time that she and her Savior spent together became her refuge, her safe spot, her resting place….She began to see glimpses of her purpose and the reasons for her challenges.”
Finally, Marianne quoted Dana Sue, who said, “I have learned that without hope you cannot fight this. Your doctors can give you facts, statistics, and calculated possibilities. But hope comes from within and it is a gift from above.”
“Hope is not denial, but the gift of hope blesses us with the state of mind to deal with the gap between what is and what can be. It can be life sustaining.”
She spoke of her love of God and Jesus Christ and said, “I know they they know me and know what my family needs. All these things will be for our ultimate good. My favorite saying is, ‘they will turn straw into gold as we look to them in all things.'”
So, in the end, Dana Sue’s Christmas season passing, while heartbreaking and sad, is sacred and beautiful, even joyful, as one of her daughters mentioned. For Christmas, her ultimate hope was realized — her straw was miraculously turned to gold as she ascended to where we all hope to go.
Thank you Dana Sue for the beautiful life you lived, for the inspiration you provided, and for the ultimate hope you expressed through your words and daily life — the hope that blesses us with the state of mind to deal with the gap between what is and what can be, which is the true purpose of Christ’s birth, and the pure essence of Christmas.