I am writing thoughts about some of the early days of this ordeal before I lose them. I thought of this at the time, but couldn’t do it. As most would understand, one’s first reaction to this kind of news is utter shock, disbelief and wonder. My mind was flooded with a dozen major thought patterns over which I had virtually no control. The painful onslaught reminds me of the huge waves from a hurricane rushing to shore, seemingly randomly, taking out everything in their path. This continued for days and still happens, though less frequently.
Now there is numbness, almost debilitating numbness. It’s funny though, God is still with us. I sense Him. I see Him in my wife’s face. I hear Him in my children’s voices. I know He is sending people across our path. Hundreds of voices cry out on our behalf and Gail and I hear them. I know it sounds crazy, but it is true. When you’ve finally opened your spiritual eyes and ears, what you see and hear is wondrous. And no one can take these experiences from you. You know what you know. God is in this storm.
In this case, the diagnosis was not questionable. There was a large mass on the end of her pancreas and many tumors in her liver – at the very least. As such, there was not a period of waiting for diagnosis. The only way these tumors would not appear again is if God personally removed them. Gail and I both knew the seriousness of pancreatic cancer that has metastasized.
For the next week, Gail and I slept on a bed of tears – that is – what little we slept. We did not want darkness to continue and we did not want daylight to appear. Darkness meant more nightmares and tears. A new day meant facing more knowledge of the disease, more appointments, and more people to tell our story. Every person with whom we shared, brought both pain and relief. We were amazed at how many good friends we have accumulated through the years. These are people we truly love, yet some we’ve not seen in years. These are people with whom I grew up and others who were college friends. We’ve kept many of these friendships. And they all matter. Allow me to say this again: all of these friends matter. I encourage you, don’t let go of the friends you accumulate throughout your journey. Don’t burn those bridges.
The terrible thoughts:
“What in the world will I do without Gail.” Her importance to me, in every way, came into focus in a way impossible to experience apart from the possibility of losing her forever. The fact is, I don’t know what I would do without Gail. I can’t answer that question. I hope I don’t have to, at least for a long, long time.
“What will my daughters do without their mother. They need her much more than their father.” I don’t know what they would do without their mother. I do know that most of it would be very painful. God, and the wisdom He gives, tells me that the second thought is stupid, so I know not to stay there for long. I simply want to take this from my wife and I would gladly take it upon myself.
With great guilt this thought came to mind. “Could I even survive financially without Gail? Do we have our house in order? Why didn’t we do this? Why didn’t we do that?” How could I think such things at this time? I am a wretch.” Gail and I realized that we must discuss all of the these questions early on, and it’s made it much easier. I feel sorry for people that try to sweep elephants under the rug.
“How can I possibly go to bed with half the bed empty?”
“There will be no one to bring coffee to in the morning.”
“My daughters will not have their mother to help them get ready for the wedding ceremony, to ask medical questions, to talk about guys and girl stuff.”
“I can’t even order my own damn prescriptions!”
“I am helpless without her.”
“Why would I ever go on another vacation without my vacation buddy?”
The waves came crashing to shore, over and over and over. I stood there on the beach trying just to stay standing. But I would be knocked down and then crawl back up the shore.
Then there are those thoughts that come to mind no matter how hard I try not to think them. “This could be the last time I do __________________ with Gail.” Misery. Don’t stay there for long Don. Live for today, live for this hour, this moment.
This is depressing stuff, but reality is sometimes depressing. Hurricanes come ashore in every life. No amount of Jesus or church or positive thinking, or drugs, or anything else will change what is life. I am glad I serve a God who tells me this truth frankly and with many real-life examples, from Moses to Job to Mary to Paul and, of course, Jesus Himself. God gives us this reality with truth, not bull. The most meaningful words of God are those that address these facts of life. There are hundreds and hundreds of them from cover to cover in the Bible. If it were not for this body of truth in the Scriptures, I would not want to follow Jesus.
So I can only say it again, God is with us. And that is enough. Enough to face a dark room later tonight, and enough to get out of bed tomorrow. Enough to find beauty in ashes and strength in storms.