I missed the opportunity to write to you all yesterday, and I probably should confess that there may be other days to come over this next week when I’ll not be able to write. That’s the reason for today’s column.
Cheri’s mother is dying. Yes, she was diagnosed with cancer two months ago, after a pretty miserable spring that ended up with her in the hospital for tests. The cancer, which is such a foul and horrible disease, was not operable, nor even treatable. The doctor carefully, but firmly, told her that she had at the most, six months to live, and then quietly stated, “And maybe just one or two months.”
He was sadly right. After half a summer of some discomfort, she very quickly over the last week moved from conversation and light meals, and the ability to get around on her own, to basically bed-bound, not eating, and struggling in pretty strong ways, all the time wishing and hoping that very simply, God would take her home.
We headed up early yesterday morning with Cheri’s sister in tow, and so it ended up that all four of the siblings were together when the hospice folks came to talk about next steps. Once again, the realization came that there is no textbook, no instruction guide to dying. Whatever Cheri’s mom was going to do, from trying to get out of bed when she couldn’t stand up, to the various levels of tears and grief from those who have been, and will always be her children. The words shared over and over again were, “This is so hard…” and “We just want the best for her…” No one in the home was hoping or expressing the desire that she remain on this earth one more second than necessary. Just a hope for peace, and freedom from the struggle, as she stood, one foot in heaven, and one foot on earth, moving between those two realms.
You probably already know that dying is not a predictable slide. It seems to be a long set of stairs, where the person is on one level for a time, things seem to be relatively the same, and then there is a sudden step down, and medication is adjusted, and more people are in the room for a time, to reassure, or just to be there for some reason.
What’s strange is what happens on the other side of the doorway. We sat around the dining room table on the same chairs we have sat on at the farm, and then at this place for decades, and like it always happens, we have to talk about something. However, the human heart and emotions can’t just spend hours rehearsing the very same words about the person’s status – eventually, someone asks a question that leads the conversation away – even away from the house, from today, to another time or another place that begins with, “Remember?....” And a story gets linked into the exchanging of words, and there is even laughter when the story turns funny, or heads shake when they remember that time, indeed. It’s a truly odd experience, laughing and talking about life and memories just feet away from the room where someone is preparing to leave this life, and find her place in the arms of God. Yet, that’s how we make sense about all of this – we bring it into life itself, and flavor and color it with the light memories of the past.
As I listened, and joined in yesterday around the table, I realized what a holy and healing time it was. No, Cheri’s mom is not dead yet, but she’s dying, and the best we can do is to live in her place, to summon up the connections and stories that will become her legacy once she is truly gone. Frankly, to see the four adult children, caring for her in this way, as they did for their father a couple of years ago, is a tribute, and a healing grace to be offered and received.
So, there is no timeline – we have plans to head back up to Grafton on Sunday, but who knows what will happen in the next 48 hours. Fortunately, Cheri has no need, and has expressed it, to have to be there when the moment comes. This will not be a death vigil. We will come and go, and be there when we can, but she has already cried her tears, and said her goodbyes, and offered her hugs. Oh, it’s hard, and I don’t mean to be flippant about it – it’s hard, but its going to be ok.
So again, I apologize for missing some days to come, but if I don’t write, you will know that my attention and time are given over to the sacred things to come, and that I’ll be back with you soon. In the meantime – thanks for your intentional prayers and joyful hopes as we live as the people of eternal life in Jesus Christ. See you soon.
Saying for the day: Charlie Chaplin once said, Nothing is permanent in this world – not even our troubles. Blessings.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.