Ever had those weeks? …Where life feels to be one test after another?
Don't know about you, but to me the question becomes: How does one study for such an exam? and/or "How does one brace for life's uncertainties?"
Facebook can be both blessing and a curse. I’ve seen friends stalk exes. I've known parents to spy on their kids. But Facebook also serves an invaluable role in keeping folks connected in critical times. How many times have I scrolled through the homepage to see challenges shared: death of a loved one, the surgery of a child…Personal updates of life’s significant moments, inviting us to pause long enough to click a little thumbs up or offer simple words like “praying for you” that can carry an amazing load of love in times needed most.
Let’s face it--There’s no good way to share certain news, like when a biopsy comes back malignant. Such was the case two days ago, when by private message, a friend reached out suggesting I check on Dawn.
A couple of back and forth’s and I am told the situation. Dawn’s colonoscopy came back malignant –an eerie omen given she lost her husband 10 years ago to a similar diagnosis. Even though science and medicine have advanced tremendously since those days it is still one of the toughest mental disciplines in the world to stop your mind from going down that black hole after a doctor utters the word “cancer”.
I reached out to her husband. And then I reached out to her. While no one knows precisely what to say in a time like this, it has been my experience that meeting it head on works best. Not to pry or dwell on details, all that mattered was letting her know that her prayer network was running full throttle, and under no uncertain terms would we tippy toe around this subject. Instead, we would talk as we do about every other subject under the sun as much or as little as she wanted to process. And we would live in perpetual prayer (which we should be doing anyway).
“What’s to bless in this mess?” is a motto I work to live by. No matter what stress is in my life, no matter how bad the situation, I’ve come to recognize that these things always come with a gift, like the proverbial pony in the pile of manure. (Granted, you may have to stop and dig through it.)
As strange as it sounds, there are gifts in these moments and while no one asks for this kinda gift and no one wants to receive such a gift, like everything in life, there is another way of viewing it if you’ll pause long enough to search it out.
My mind flashed back to the morning my father called with his cancer news. It was a Monday. I was on deadline for a weekly newspaper column and since Dad was well aware of this little detail in my Monday routine, I knew he’d understand when I let him roll to voice mail.
With column submitted, I checked the message. “Just wanted to chat” he said in a “nothing unusual” tone. He was meeting his best friend at Cracker Barrel for breakfast (a friend who happened to be a doctor). He’d call back after.
I was in no way prepared for the news he had to share, though his own calm demeanor helped tremendously.
“Babe, we got some tests results back …things don’t look good.”
Like a bad car accident, everything went in slow motion from that point on. It was as if I went through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s 5 stages of death in one instant. “Surreal” doesn’t begin to describe it. He was so calm in conveying this news it didn’t feel real.
While he couldn’t see the tears there was no hiding the fear in my voice. His description of the findings coupled with his recent unexplainable weight loss told me it was too far gone. Nothing in me felt like ‘We’re going to fight this.” To the contrary, I knew if he’d been talking with “Doc”, any hope of a cure would’ve been his opening line. With holidays around the corner, it was dawning on me that our lives would now until the end, center around this uninvited guest called cancer.
“What do you want to do?” I asked, my one and only focus now to bring up any and everything that might bring him joy.
“We pray,” he said “We thank God I am not in pain, and we enjoy every second of the time God gives us.”
Contrasting this newfound awareness to just an hour earlier when I’d let his call go to voice mail, my first “aha” came when I realized never again would I take his calls for granted. From that conversation on there was an instant reprioritization of everything involving my dad; our time together was just too dang precious. And not just Dad time….All my time. Time spent doing anything that drained or robbed me of energy or life that could be shared with those I loved…this was reprioritized too. Suddenly what I thought was my worst problem (a shipment of books that got snagged in customs, costing me weeks of Christmas sales) mattered not in the least. The things that had been stressing me to the max, slipped instantly to the back burner of my mind. Front and center focus was now the quality of time, experiences and conversations I’d be living between now and the time he left the planet..
I wrapped what I was doing, and got to his farm by sunset. I called friends who knew him, those he loved like his own daughter, and invited them to come spend a night or a weekend…just to relax. We watched “It’s a Beautiful Life” over and over. We spent mornings drinking coffee and listening to Gaither music; we talked about everything from business to biscuits …life and love and yes, even dying. My number one comfort and strength in the end, was knowing we’d left nothing left unsaid.
To everything there is a season, the scripture tells us. Fighting cancer, racing for cures…these are good and noble things, but there comes a point (and in Dad’s case, he was already at it) when you reach stage five of the grieving process, which is acceptance. In my dad’s case, he had reached it before even picking up the phone, so there was no pretending in his case that “We’ll beat this thing,” for in truth, there was nothing to beat.
Such is not the case of my friend Dawn, whose colonoscopy caught her tumor early. With every fiber of my being I know and see her in perfect health, so our conversations come from a different starting point entirely. But the point is, conversations will be had.
In reaching out to her I listened as she shared what was still freshly shocking news to her, and I offered what words of support came to me in the moment. “How can I help? What can we do? What would feed your soul and help keep your mind from dwelling on the scary parts right now?”
“I might like to come dig in your garden someday. If ever I call and just want to pull weeds, is it ok if I just drive your way?”
“With or without me” I laughed. “You can have it in silence or you can have me beside you…I’m happy to share this garden (for in truth it is the most healing place on the planet for me. You cannot NOT feel God here).
That notion brought great peace. Come Monday she’ll be sitting down with her doctor to lay out the plan for surgeries, radiation and chemo. I hung up the phone thinking “What an Easter she has in store trying to smile while fighting fears and holding back tears.”
I picked up the phone and called her back.
“Why don’t you come tomorrow?”
In that instant, just like with Dad, I spotted the gift –that moment of instant reprioritizing of what matters, WHO matters and how precious this thing called life.
As if Easter isn’t spiritual enough on its own, I can think of no better way to enter this holiday focused on resurrection and life and all things new again than to share my garden with Dawn.