She has cancer. I know this sort of news is repeated every day among millions of families, but this time, it’s our family. Cheri’s mom hasn’t been feeling well for a few weeks with all sorts of digestive issues, which were treated as an infection or something else that just didn’t seem right. Finally, Cheri and I drove up early Thursday morning to take her to the doctor’s appointment in Grafton, which led to the decision to admit her to the hospital for more intensive tests, and the CT scan quickly showed the horrible truth. That insidious disease had somehow run wild from organ to organ, and at 88 years old, there were not viable options for surgery or chemo or other types of treatment. Actually, if it were in a 35 year old, the options would have been limited, but with all these conditions, the diagnosis was that it was terminal.
Cheri got the news from the doctor Thursday evening after we drove back home the 120 miles, and the plan then meant that he/we would break the news to Cheri’s mom on Friday morning. Up again and in the car by 5:30am, we drove 120 miles back up to Grafton to the hospital, where Cheri’s brother joined us, and the doctor did an excellent job of very simply and carefully laying out the diagnosis. After some tears and lots of questions, we moved to talking about what would be next. The prognosis was perhaps six months – more likely one or two months.
We spent the morning contacting the other children – Cheri’s sisters – and reliving the sad story over again, and then we had to move to the conversation of hospice and caring for the huge change in our reality at this point. Granted, I am a son-in-law, but both my parents also died of cancer, and I have known Cheri’s family for forty-four years, and went through the death of Cheri’s father three years ago. Anyone who might even hint at the idea that the sense of loss might not be so bad for someone not born into a family would be terribly wrong, and just not understand human relationships in the least. This will be the fourth parent I’ve known – and the last one.
What I can’t figure out is why, when there is such an emotional cloud, we would be forced to suddenly make a thousand decisions that almost cause us to have to consider Cheri’s mom as an object, or a project. When does she leave the hospital, and go home? Can she stay by herself? What about meals? She’s scared to stay by herself overnight, so we need to find persons to stay with her, at least until another sister comes to stay for a couple of months. Medications, hospice offerings, and then, even, what is next, and how long and other questions that simply can’t be answered right now. It does make a huge difference if she is in pretty good shape, and will be with us until December at least. It’s a far different story if she can’t eat, and can’t really get around by herself, and she will leave us by the middle of summer.
So, after another long day, Cheri and I drove back home once again, exhausted both physically and emotionally. Imagine, then, what it meant to get home, and have our two adult sons tell us that they have planned all the meals for the weekend, and did the shopping and took care of so many things we never asked them to do, but they saw the need and just stepped up and cared for their parents, the way we were trying to care for Cheri’s mom. I have never been so proud of them in their adult life than last evening.
So, of course we were both awake before 5:30 this morning, trying to go through decision making once again about a myriad of things that have no quick answers. I’m afraid this is the plan for our summer. With lots of the use of the word, “love,” and even more tears for as long as we need to.
A sociologist might call this a “major transitional event,” for the family. We tend to call it a heartbreak. Like I said earlier, I know this is not anything that millions of other families have not also gone through, or are going through even now, but our family has to go through it, and somehow live through it, with all the dynamics and challenges that are part of the journey.
I have spoken for nearly a year in this column about the critical need and opportunity to live intentionally. There is no situation that I can imagine the need for intentionality to be used more fully than this one. We do all we can to care, and to love and to through out it all, say goodbye, and hang on to a faith that tells us that in life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. God walks with us through the valley of shadows, and holds our hand, just like any good parent would take care of the children.
If you are on a similar journey, I ask God’s blessing to be on you today. If you know of someone going through this, I would ask you to think of how you might be able to care for them, as we hold each other throughout our lives. We’ll make it through, but there sure are lots of scary things to bump into – I pray God will show us the light, at least for today. Blessings.
Saying for the day: It’s not what happens to you that matters – it’s what you do with what happens to you. Our ability and willingness to continually create new things out of broken things is what reveals holiness to the world.
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.