I spoke to my friend and managing editor, Peg, this morning. She is such a dear friend, both to me and to my mom. She asked me how I was holding up, and I said, "So much has happened over the past few months--I'm trying to get used to this new kind of normal." She said that in this issue of the magazine there was actually going to be an article entitled "A New Kind of Normal," but she is going to change the title to "When Your World Is Upside Down."
Today my mom is leaving the hospital. Her blood sugar is elevated. She is not violently ill ten or twelve times a day any more. She can eat a little food. So, it's time for her to move out. I am mostly glad about this. I want her back home where she can be more comfortable, in her beautiful garden bedroom, where she can hear the birds singing outside her window. I'm glad to stop riding the elevator to the 7th floor where I'm greeted each time by the large placard on the wall "Cancer Care." ("Just like Solzenhitsyn," Mom said dryly. Only my mother!)
Fortunately, she had a private room at the hospital, but that's about the nicest thing I can say about it. I brought in my own cleaning supplies and cleaned it myself. I put spring flowers in vases, set up family pictures, brought pictures and letters from the girls, and brought a room freshener that helped cover up all the horrible hospital smells with the scent of lilacs.
I hated having her in that hospital, incidents I can't share on this blog so I can protect her privacy, but seeing her cry in pain and humiliation--all her dignity taken from her, watching my dad stand by the window at the end of the hall, shaking with silent sobbing--so much of it was unspeakable. I don't rail at God through any of this, but I have had many choice words for cancer as I have fought it out in the privacy of my car.
Sometimes people joke about that shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept," but that verse is so beautiful to me--in the original language, it's a fairly rare term, meaning Jesus burst into tears as He stood at the grave of Lazarus, his dear friend. He was outraged at the toll illness and death take on families--the dreadful rendering apart of loved ones, the ache and the sorrow, the heartbreaking goodbyes. How He hates it right along with us. It was never supposed to be this way. And I know we have the assurance of His words, "This sickness will not end in death."
My mom spent time as she lay in the hospital, doing a little human worrying. She talked to me about it. She is afraid the doctor will try to make her have chemo soon. She can't bear that. She is worried, not about death, but about the journey there--how it will play out. I'm reminded of the Isaac Asimov quote, "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." Mom said, "I'd just like to go with as little trauma as possible." Then she said, "Honey, have I done anything ever that you may be feeling bad about still?" And that just broke me, thinking that she was lying there worrying about any slight offense she might have caused in this life. "Oh, Mom," I said. "You've never done anything."
I keep thinking about the book by Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place. If you're not familiar with it, it is about a Dutch woman, her sister, and her father, who hid Jews in their home until they were captured and put into a concentration camp. There is one portion where Corrie is alone in her prison cell. There was a time each day when the guards would leave the hallway. Then all the inmates would call up and down the hall to each other--names of family members--to see if anyone had any news of them, since new prisoners were brought in each day. If anyone was released from prison, there was great rejoicing, and Corrie would scratch the name on the prison wall and write "Released" next to it. Every day she would always call out, "Betsie Ten Boom! Casper Ten Boom!" waiting to hear news of her sister or her father. One day when she called out Casper's name, the news was passed down to her that her father was dead. Then, through her tears, she scratched "Casper Ten Boom: Released" on the wall.
I think of my mom--every few moments, a new spasm of pain passes over her--her internal organs have been seared by the radiation, and she feels burning, fiery pain now in addition to her other pain. I long and pray and plead with God for the day when she will be released from that.
While I hated much of my mom's time in the hospital, we spent many precious moments together. I went each evening and sat with her. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, as we talked and cried and read the Bible together. On Sunday night, the verses I read to her were 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
"Praise Him," my mom whispered. "Glory!"
Then I put a CD in the little player I had put in her room and between the CD, her voice, and my voice, we raised the roof of that city hospital, singing together this song. (I know I'm always linking to songs, but please listen to this one!) I am learning afresh through this experience that all of this is out of my hands, and even Mom's hands, and in much more capable and loving ones. So I continue to stand, shoes off, like the words in the last verse of the song, "watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love"--longing for the day when I can lift my arms to heaven and cry:
"This sickness did not end in death. Mom: RELEASED!"
He is just as good as ever.