NOTE: As I well know, many of you are suffering this Christmas season from some sort of loss. If you’re having a good day or if you are a member of my family, just go ahead and stop reading now. I'm quite serious. Writing is my expression and a release for me, very similar to running. If you’re suffering through loss and want to know that someone else feels your pain and you think that would help, go ahead and keep going.
I wrote this last week with no intention of using it as a blog or to go public in any way. Again…writing is cathartic for me. However, the more I think about it, the more I just get a feeling that maybe this is good. I don’t really know how. There’s nothing hopeful or uplifting really in this writing. Just raw, barely filtered (for privacy’s sake) words. We do have hope in Christ. I realize and am joyful for that. Yes, there is joy in this pain, because she has her faith in the One who will save her from everything this world has thrown at her. And for that, yes, I am quite joyful. But it doesn’t take away the sense of losing this battle or the feeling of helplessness.
We received news last week that Betty has a brain tumor, and the doctors sent her home without treatment. As of today, one of my aunts and my grandmother are in Texas with her and her husband.
For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21
“Universal emotion,” I explained to the class, “is no different from regular emotion. I just specify that it’s universal so you realize that everyone feels. Everyone has joy. Everyone suffers. Everyone has a good day. Everyone has a bad day. Universal emotion, in your columns, is about writing something that has emotion, that connects with a large number of people – because we’ve all experienced that.”
It was dark when I got the call. I was heating soup in the microwave, trying to watch for when it started bubbling. When I got the call, I let the soup go. It splattered all over the microwave.
I tried to remain calm, tried to sound strong for my mom, who was suffering, but when I saw my husband, I remembered…I don’t have to do this alone. There he is, a trained, professional counselor here in my house, right now, who can deal with this. Because I can’t. Not right now.
I handed him the phone and hated myself for not being able to hang on.
He talked to my mom, talked to my dad, asked what we could do. He’s so good at separating himself from the situation to make logical, rational choices. After he hung up, he looked at me. “What do you need me to do?”
I shrugged. “I’m going running.”
It’s amazing how stress can make you forget that you’re running in the dark. In 36 degree weather. For 50 minutes. It’s amazing how hearing that your aunt has a month to live makes you forget to take walking breaks. My running partner just thought we were doing well on our run to only take one walking break in five miles. Truth was, I forgot to stop. But I didn’t tell about the phone call.
My running directly correlates with my stress. That’s why I started running – because I was overly stressed. It’s a means to escape, to keep my mind busy as one foot goes in front of the other, one foot goes in front of the other, over and over, over and over. Repetitive. Scenery changes. You keep running.
“What’s something that you could write about – a personal, emotional story that others can connect with? Just think of something off the top of your head. K – what are you thinking about?”
K is shy. Reserved. But she’s smart. You can see it in her eyes. She wants to learn; she wants to be a good student. She wears a 2009 senior shirt, so she’s probably 19 or 20 at the oldest. She looks young.
“Becoming a mother,” she said with a hint of pride.
I was surprised. “Do you have kids?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, smiling. “A little boy. He’s 11 months.”
I sent a text message with the same, impersonal message: “The doctors are not treating Aunt Betty and are sending her home. They say she has one month. Please pray for her and our family.”
I didn’t want to send it, frankly. I wanted to bottle this hatred, this unthinkable bitterness up inside and not let others have to endure it. But I did, mainly because my dad asked me to – he asked me to have others pray. And others can’t pray if they don’t know there’s a problem.
I’m sure my family thinks I’m a bit crazy when I joke about certain things. I’m sure they wonder why I laugh about something as awful as some of the things that have happened this past year. But what are my options? I can laugh or cry. And, if there’s any possible way I can laugh – I will. Sure, it hurts. But if I can laugh about it, I can get by.
That’s why I didn’t want to tell anyone. Why make them suffer as well? Why make them uncomfortable? And I’m the world’s worst at receiving heartfelt condolences.
J sent me a text this morning saying, “I’m sorry.” And it crushed me just a little. Not because it was a condolence, but because it was true. She was sorry. And she knew, maybe better than others, that nothing else can be said.
“What else is a universal emotion?” I asked. “What about fear? Hollywood has capitalized on the fear market. They create movies and shows to scare us.”
“I’m not scared of movies,” A said.
“Really?” I asked. “Then what are you afraid of?”
I was leading them to my next point: death.
So I told them. But I didn’t tell them everything. I didn’t tell them about having lunch with Aunt Betty last week. How awful it was. How she couldn’t walk straight. Couldn’t hold a fork. Couldn’t read the menu. Fell down outside. Was in tears the whole time. Couldn’t remember where she was.
That was hard. It left me raw.
What do we do now? Where do we go for this month? This awful, long, stupid month? While we wait, while we pray, and while we wonder – do we have today? Do we have an extra day?
“What about death?” I asked. “You’ve all, I’m sure, experienced it by having someone close to you die. And I want to ask you this: Are there things worse than death?”
“No,” A said firmly.
“What about torture?” I asked.
The rest of the class consented that torture was worse than death, but A disagreed. “Even if they torture you, you end up dying,” she said.
I thought it strange – that death was a greater fear to her than torture. Death would seem more of a release than torture. But maybe that’s because of my faith. Maybe because I know after death, there’s life.
“What about Alzheimer’s?” I asked. “Is that worse than death?”
“Yes,” J said, his eyes darkening. “My grandmother has it – and as hard as it is to watch her…it’s even harder to watch my mother have to help her mother.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about. I thought about my husband's aunt selflessly taking care of her mother, day after day. One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, over and over, over and over. I thought about Betty and my grandmother, how Granny is trying to take care of her. Of how Betty now has to have someone take care of her – and she’s barely in her 50s.
“Yes,” I echoed J. “There are things worse than death.”