I feel like I have been carrying a thousand-pound weight of grief around with me for over a week. It is actually a physical pain inside. My dad called last night to tell me the time of their appointment with the oncologist today. He said that my mom has been in such pain that she hasn't been able to sleep in their bed anymore--she has slept in a recliner instead.
He said that they might stop by after the appointment if they were up to it, and he had been wondering and praying about the girls. Had I told them yet? I said that I would do it that night, so before bedtime I called Lucy to me, dressed in her little nightgown that my mom made her, and drew her up onto my lap.
“I have to tell you something that is hard for me, Lucy, and I might cry a little bit, OK?” Then I went on to tell her that her Manga is sick, very sick, and she is not going to get well as far as we know, at least not here on Earth. Jesus is going to take her to heaven.
“We don’t know how much time we have left with her; only God knows that. But whatever time we have left, we need to love her and enjoy her and be thankful that we can be with her.”
She started to cry. Hard.
We sat in the dark, and I rocked her, and we cried together. As we sat, as has happened so often lately, images stream through my mind. June 7, 2003, the day we had kept a secret from everyone until a baby girl arrived at 5:20 p.m. We couldn’t get ahold of my parents to tell them, so we left a message on my brother’s cell phone. Fortunately, he and they were at the same (large) dinner party. He had walked out to his car and was checking his messages on the way. He ran back in and told them, “You are grandparents!” From what I hear, that brought the house down. People were cheering and crying and hugging…and of course rushing them out the door to get to the hospital.
I see my mom, sitting in the hospital rocker, holding Lucy Nan for the first time—only two hours old.
I see the myriad days, weeks, months, and years after—all Lucy’s and my mom’s little jokes together, tea parties, dressing up, rocking in the chair together and listening to stories, doing art projects, and making cookies. “Manga LoLo!” Lucy would cry as soon as she saw my mom. “Lucy LuLu!” my mom would cry back, and they would throw their arms around each other. My mom doesn't play favorites in any way with the girls, but she and Lucy have a unique bond together.
I am back to the present and holding a little girl, not yet 6, who is just beginning to grieve. “Does Manga know about this, Mom?” she cried. “Yes, sweetheart, she knows. She’s not afraid to die. Ever since she was a little girl, as little as you, Manga has loved Jesus with all her heart. She knows she’s going straight to Him."
“Does Jesus live in a castle, like in Cair Paravel?” she asked, looking at the Narnia quilt above her bed that my mom made for her.
“I’m not exactly sure what it looks like, but it’s more beautiful than we could ever even think of. Do you know what the Bible says? It says, ‘Eye has not seen, neither has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.’ Do you know what that means?” She shook her head.
“It means that we can’t even imagine how wonderful and beautiful and lovely it is. That’s why you and I love that song so much, ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ It’s all about heaven and just sitting and thinking about what it will be like there.”
She began to cry again. “I hope Manga will still call me her Sugar Plum when she gets to heaven,” she said.
“Of course she will. I bet the first thing she says when she sees you there is, ‘Hello, Sugar Plum! I’ve been waiting for you!’”
I held her while she continued to cry, and I told her, “It’s OK to be sad. I’m sad too. Jesus never wanted it this way. He hates death and having us all separated. That’s why He died for us—so we don’t have to. Like Pastor James says, ‘It might look like dying, but it’s not. It’s eternal life; abundant life.’ If we love Him and believe Him and live for Him, He’ll bring us all together again to live in heaven. And we won’t ever be separated again.”
“I can’t wait for that day, Mama,” she said and then she sobbed, “I hope Jesus has cookie dough ready for Manga when she gets to heaven because she makes the best cookies in the world.” Normally, the thought of Jesus getting cookie dough ready would make me smile, but this time I could almost feel my heart breaking under the weight of a child’s pain.
And then she asked softly, “Mom, can we listen to ‘I Can Only Imagine’ now?” So we did, and then I tucked her in bed. Later on when I went to check on her, I saw that she had Rabbie up close by her face and, after all her hard work to stop, her plump little thumb was firmly in her mouth. I just left it there.
In the morning, I wondered if she would say anything, but she didn’t. She got up, got dressed and made her bed, and played with Elaine.
After breakfast though she said to me, "Come up with me to the secret sitting room Elaine and I made; I have to tell you something,” she said. We went up together to the "secret sitting room," which was their closet with some chairs and a tea set all together in there.
“You come and sit here, and I’ll pour you some tea, Mama.” Then she looked at me with her enormous brown eyes and whispered, “Will you pray in here, Mommy? I know Jesus is giving us some time with Manga, but will you ask Him if He’ll give us a little bit more? I already came in here while you were still sleeping and prayed that by myself, but I want you to pray it too.”
So we huddled together in her secret closet and prayed to Jesus that He’ll give us a little more time.
And in my mind’s eye, I envisioned this precious little girl, slipping her shoes off and standing with all of us who are praying to see God's glory.
This afternoon, I laid down on the bed to rest because sorrow is literally making me sick. I can understand now what the Psalms mean when they talking about physically wasting away.
The back door opened, and my mom and dad came in from the appointment with the oncologist. The girls went crazy as they always do, and Lucy burst out, "Manga, we've been praying and praying for you!" My mom smiled at her and said, "Are you ready to have me for just a little bit longer?"
It turns out her oncologist does not believe it is rapidly fatal and possibly not even myeloma, which they had been told. It's some sort of bone cancer, aggressive, but he doesn't know what yet. He thinks he can try and treat it though and give her a chance at a little more time. He is ordering lots and lots and LOTS of tests, and as always, we don't know what the future will hold. But there is some cautious optimism.
As my mom said, "I'm still quite a sick lady, but we can probably put my funeral plans on hold for a little bit," and as an aside to me snickered, "I feel quite embarrassed to go around telling people I'm not going to die in the next couple of weeks."
"Yeah, Mom," I replied. "I'm sure everyone will be so cross with you!" Then she said to Lucy, "We still have some more walks to take together, I think!" After that she held both girls on her lap and read them one of the Frances stories, the one that has my favorite line of all, "A family is everybody, all together."
So for just a little more time it seems, that is what we will be.
He is just as good as ever.