FARGO — Hannah Erickson was only 12 when she first met Merideth Sorenson, and Sorenson, now in her early 30s, was only 17.
Her mother, Pam, had hired Sorenson at the downtown Fargo YMCA’s temporary child care center.
“And then I lost touch with her until she was diagnosed with cancer,” Erickson says.
When Erickson, now a mother herself, learned that Sorenson was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments just days after having her fourth child, she responded.
“It broke my heart knowing that, as a mom, you’re supposed to be with your newborn baby, holding them all day, loving them, not sitting in a hospital room fighting for your life,” she says. “It’s unnatural and devastating.”
Erickson began helping with Sorenson’s children and bringing Hope to her mama in the hospital whenever possible. “That’s when we rekindled our friendship, and how we’ve grown so close.”
Their friendship includes a faith component. Before one of her surgeries to remove a tumor, Erickson says, her friend “was anxious and nervous and had all the feelings you would before something like that.” But when a stranger came to visit and share Bible passages, “She felt this overwhelming sense of peace the rest of the evening.”
“We’ve talked about how she couldn’t be where she is without her faith,” Erickson adds, and how her struggles “have made her want to pursue it even more.”
When Pam, who was like a second mom to Sorenson, died suddenly this past November, Sorenson shared with Erickson, “I feel this sense of peace, like when it’s my time, I know she’s there waiting for me.”
“She doesn’t want to give up,” Erickson says, “but she knows God has a purpose for what she’s endured, and she just trusts in him.”
‘I’m not giving up’
Not giving up has become a theme of Sorenson’s, thanks to Erickson and singer Andy Grammer, whom the two met this past September.
“When I first heard that song ('Don’t Give Up on Me'), I instantly thought of Merideth,” Erickson says. “I decided she needed to hear it, so I sent it to her.”
Sorenson texted back.
“She was like, ‘OMG, I love this song! I haven’t stopped listening to it!’” Erickson shares. “Ever since then, it’s become her anthem.”
The two even did a Facebook Live video of themselves singing the song in the hospital before Sorenson had another surgery. “We were having a jam session, singing and dancing together.”
When Erickson learned Grammer was performing in Minneapolis, she began emailing people, trying to connect Grammer with Sorenson’s story. Sorenson had shared how she dreamed of someday meeting Grammer and having him sing the song to her.
Eventually, Erickson secured three tickets, and, along with Pam, they went to the concert in September, despite the failed attempts to arrange a meeting with Grammer. While there, a stranger noticed and commented on the women’s T-shirts, bearing the words, “Don’t Give Up On ME-rideth.”
It turns out her husband, a huge Grammer fan, had died of colon cancer the year before. They’d received Grammer into their home for a private concert before his death, and she still had his manager’s phone number. Attempts to reach him proved fruitless, however, so the three began resigning themselves to leaving without fulfilling Sorenson’s dream.
“I was devastated, but even after the concert ended, I was like, ‘No, I’m not giving up yet,’” Erickson says.
Her determination motivated her to approach a man taking professional videos to ask for help. “He was like, ‘Hold on, I’ll be right back,’” and within minutes, they were backstage — not only meeting Grammer but watching him sing the song they loved, sitting on a couch next to Sorenson, with his band members joining them.
“I was sobbing the whole time, seeing the big picture come to life in that moment. It was the most powerful thing I’ve experienced,” Erickson says. “To share that with my mom and Merideth, it will forever be a favorite memory.”
Erickson doesn’t believe it was all due to her efforts. “After we walked out, we instantly all agreed, ‘That was the most incredible God moment ever.’”
As for her friend, Erickson stands in awe.
“Merideth is the strongest, most positive person I’ve met, especially when faced with something so debilitating and spirit-crushing; she just overcomes every time,” she says. “No matter how much pain she’s in, she’s still able to put a smile on her face and try to make her daughter Hope smile and giggle.”
“When I’m sick, it’s so easy to just mope on the couch and tell your kids, ‘go play,’” Erickson continues. “But she’s like, ‘Hope, let’s read a book together.’ You can tell she’s miserable, but she pushes herself because she wants to have those memories with her children.”
Sorenson also has taught Erickson that attitude means everything.
“You can feel really crappy, but still have a positive attitude," she says. "She chooses to be positive and look at the great things that she has, and to love them, no matter how she’s feeling."
Erickson suspects that Sorenson’s suffering with her own mother, who has dementia, has only strengthened her resolve.
“Merideth wants to be there so badly for her own kids, because she knows what it’s like not to have her mom be able to be there for her. That’s also what’s pushing her to keep fighting.”
Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, http://roxanesalonen.com/.