I almost wore the top today that I wore the day he died. It is Friday, just like that day. But it looked weird so I changed. Then I got the call this afternoon. Ugh. Another horrible news day.
“It’s a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
My friend went went through her notes, mechanically reporting them to me because that’s the efficient person she is, making sure the necessary information is shared. Her husband is my friend, too. He’s a young 74 and the kindest man my husband and I have ever known. Together, they stood beside me at the medical examiner’s office as I identified my husband’s body. We are that close. We’ve grieved her sister’s husband and mine, now her husband’s cancer.
Her voice trembles uncharacteristically as she describes the rough manner of the oncologist and we realize without saying that she does not want to join me in widowhood. I give my head a shake. I shouldn’t think of worst case. Not yet. Not now. It is too soon to even go there. We will storm heaven and we will pray for healing. We will bring meals and hold each other close and say the things that need to be said and we will wash dishes and wash clothes and wash our faces after we have wept all night. This is the first step on a journey God knew before the foundation of time.
I search for words as we close our conversation and give her the caring cautions that I have learned over the last seven months.
“You need to remember to breathe,” I coach. “If you can, try to eat something nutritious. This is the time when you won’t feel like it, but you’ll need it for your strength. And try to rest, whenever you have opportunity. It is so important to practice self-care so that you can walk alongside him in this journey.”
She knows all this. I have long looked up to her as the consummate, all-together, mature, organized, brilliant, disciplined woman. The one who always takes care of things and makes sure everyone is included and cared for. She is top of the list in women I respect.
But I hear the edge of anger, understandably, at the poor bedside manner of the oncologist. Dealing with some of the worst possible news, you would think a professional could be more sensitive. Yes, he should be. He is, however, the lightning rod for the anger born of shock and fear at what will be a very challenging journey. A little tenderness would have cost him nothing.
I think of the one person who became the lightning rod at my husband’s death. “Remember,” I share with my friend, “That person is living in darkness. The only way he will see Light is if we share the light of Christ through our lives.”
She knows. “You’ve been here,” she says, “learning these lessons, haven’t you?”
These are lessons I didn't want to learn. They come out of necessity. They are necessary for survival and I must repeat them to myself every single day, I tell her. Remember to breathe. Remember to eat. Remember to sleep. Remember to love and shine and be kind. And remember to feel. Let yourself feel. Let yourself cry. It’s part of the journey. And remember to let yourself be loved, especially by the One who calls you His beloved.
The doctors and specialists have fast-tracked this. The tumour is inoperable, too risky, growing fast and pressing on his voice box. Radiation and chemo will start as soon as a treatment plan is established. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre is the next stop on Tuesday.
All my lessons learned of the grace of grief come flooding over me and I think, dear God, this is too much. Yet, I hear His voice saying this was no surprise:
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
“I will be there for whatever you ask,” I reassure my friend. I have been through the lonesome valley and were it not for this couple, the journey would have been much darker. God will turn my misery into ministry and the favour I could never repay is now coming to fruition. I will stand with my friends, I will pray with them, weep with them, storm heaven with them, and hold them close.
And now, I beg you. Pray along with me as I walk this new journey with my dear friends. For healing, wisdom and strength. That the Love of God would be poured out in our hearts.
You are my strength when I am weak
You are the treasure that I seek
You are my all in all.
Jesus, Lamb of God,
Worthy is your name.
When I fall down You pick me up
When I am dry You fill my cup
You are my all in all
Jesus, Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name
Words by Dennis Jernigan