I was at the swim club the other day, thinking if there was anything, anything at all I could write on the blog. We are at that worst part of winter where it seems as if the whole world has phased into black and white. Nothing interesting happens; we’re just in an endless cycle, of waking and sleeping, waiting in the drop-off lane at school, going to the grocery store, putting on coats, taking off coats, around and around on our little human wheel.
It’s not that it’s altogether unpleasant (though of course at times it is), it just seems that the whole world is just gritting its collective teeth and waiting for spring. I’ve been trying to keep a log of the funny things the girls say so I’ll have something to post, but when I look at them, they’re all sort of “guess you had to be there” moments.
Elaine has had some sort of virus or infection that has gone on and on relentlessly, a low grade fever and a cough and sleepless nights. Then during the day she alternates between clinginess (literally hanging onto my leg), whininess, and bitter weeping at the injustice in her world, such as Lucy having the particular Polly Pocket doll that she wanted, even though they’ve got at least 20 of them. Oh, the humanity.
One night I just could not handle her anymore, so I took her upstairs and we sat on my bed with my laptop open, and I searched for a song that we used to listen to at our house when I was a little girl. I have no idea what made me pick that particular song, but I just wanted to see if it was on youtube, and it was. Elaine climbed up on my lap and we sat in the dark, listening over and over to the song. Lucy came in, uncharacteristically insensitive, bouncing around and demanding to know when they were going to take a bath, until Elaine said, “Lucy, GO AWAY. We are listening to this song.”
The next evening, the day had finally ended and it happened to be a Tuesday, so I was just settling down in my favorite chair to eat some chicken salad and watch my shows. I actually love Tuesdays because Darren gives the girls their bath and puts them to bed so I don’t have to miss a nanosecond of NCIS, which leads into The Mentalist, which leads into Without a Trace. It’s a glamorous life I know, someone has to live it.
All of a sudden, I heard the back door open and then my dad’s voice saying, “Hello?” This isn’t that unusual because he’s often in our town, to go to the doctor or Home Depot or Barnes & Noble, whatever little piece of civilization that isn’t available to him in the country. I met him at the door and was about to tell him that he should pop upstairs and surprise the girls because they had just gone down and weren’t asleep yet, but then I saw his face and stopped.
He came into the living room, sat down, and, amidst a roaring in my ears, told us that my mom is dying.
She has terminal cancer, all over, in her lung and in her bones, in her rib cage and in her spine.
He talked and cried and talked and cried, and I couldn’t say anything. He hugged me, my tall dad, and I felt his sobs and I know that coming to tell me was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do. He said through his tears, “God is good to us, He is so good to us. I used to think people just said that to prop themselves up, but now that we’re going through this, I can see it, and it’s true. I wish I could just hold you through all of this, but I can’t. God can though, and He’s hurting for you and with you, sweetie.”
Before he left he said through sobs, “Your little girls…well, they’re at an age where they won’t remember her being sick so much as they remember her being well.”
And I could only think, “Elaine won’t really remember her at all.”
He and Darren talked a bit more, but not much, and I still couldn’t say anything, and he left. I could see the sorrow and exhaustion in his face, and I knew it had drained his very spirit to come and tell me. After he had gone, Darren put his arms around me, but the words were still absent. I walked to the bookshelf and pulled down my precious book from my mom, Stepping Heavenward, where she wrote on the flyleaf “To Alice, With love from Mom,” and turned to exactly what I was looking for. I know this book so well I have portions of it memorized, and there…there were the words.
"I saw that she [my mother] was failing but flattered myself that her own serenity and our care would prolong her life still for many years. I longed to have my children become old enough to fully appreciate her sanctified character; and I thought she would gradually fade away and be set free. But God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways.
Her feeble body began to suffer from the rudest assaults of pain; day and night, night and day, and she lived through a martyrdom in which what might have been a lifetime of suffering was concentrated into a few months. To witness these sufferings was like the sundering of joints and marrow; and once, only once, thank God! my faith in Him staggered and reeled to and fro. 'How can He look down on such agonies!' I cried in my secret soul. 'Is this work of a God of love, of mercy?'
Mother seemed to suspect my thoughts, for she took my hand tenderly in hers and said with great difficulty: 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. He is just as good as ever.' And she smiled.
I ran away to my husband, her doctor, crying 'Oh, is there nothing you can do for her?'
'What should a poor mortal do where Christ has done so much?" he said, taking me in his arms. 'Let us stand aside and see the glory of God with our shoes from off our feet."
I can’t say the words out loud, but how can I go on without her? I’m maybe only halfway done with my life. I can't face the future. The thought of a life without my mother is untenable. I am not able to bear it. And all around me people are saying that God is good, and I think, is He? How is He good?
In my mind flashes that beautiful day last August, my mom surrounded by all her dearest friends, singing to her, on her birthday. Sitting together in my living room, everyone saying what my mom has meant to them.
And I think, with tears streaming, of God’s unbelievable, loving goodness in removing me from my job so that I have all my time at my disposal to spend with my mom. What appeared unloving was indeed His greatness kindness.
I think of only the night before, holding my fractious little girl on my lap in the dark, listening to just a random song from the past, ten times in a row, that this is what it was.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory.” I Corinthians 15:51-54
And so I am here: standing, with my shoes off, waiting to see His glory. He is just as good as ever.