Oct 29, 2011

Hurts Like Heaven

So much of our time, we are worried about such mundane stuff.  I think we like it that way.  We're able to distract our brains by getting caught up in minor and trivial concerns.  Which superhero is the best. (Batman, of course)  Chronic misuse of the words "literally" and "ironic."  Whether or not Steve Jobs actually died the day after the iPhone 4S was introduced or if the news was held until that day.  We love to get all wrapped up in those kind of debates.

If we aren't debating if Two and a Half Men is better or worse without Charlie Sheen, we are usually wrapped up in our serious and personal issues.  Financial woes.  Job concerns.  Car wrecks and repairs.  (At LEAST two weeks to fix our van?  Whaaaa?)  What church we should attend.  When to get involved in problems at our kids' schools.  These are definitely important issues and deserving of our attention.  But, for the most part, they affect just us.  People living in Duluth probably could care less about if we work out issues between our daughter and Katie.  (They are too busy avoiding frostbite in September.)  But we definitely care about these things and spend a ton of time worrying about them.

From time to time, we are forced to think about bigger picture items - things that actually have meaning and depth.  This seems to bug us.  We want to get back to the useless and trivial matters.  It is uncomfortable dwelling in this more important level of issues.  There is controversy there.  After 9/11, The Onion ran a classic headline that (edited by me) said, "A Shattered Nation Longs to Care About Stupid B.S. Again."  We try to get away from the more serious stuff as soon as possible.  Or, we manage to fixate on the minors of the major issues.  The whole "Occupy" movement brings with it debate and passionate opinions on both sides.  But when we joke about the fact that over 75% of the mass of the solar system is taken up by just one planet, so we should Occupy Jupiter, then we can ignore the bigger picture.  Once we decide to go Occupy Okahumpka, we then spend twenty minutes deciding on whether to wear our slouchy knit cap or our fisherman cap.  Marginalization complete!  (I kid, I kid.  Of course, wear the knit cap.)

Of course, beyond those two issues are those global ones that force us to all take a stand.  Things like horrific natural disasters (Japan's tsunami, Haiti's earthquake), political upheaval (Libya, Egypt), and royal weddings (William and Kate) are so large in scope that we can't ignore them forever.  We must pay them some level of attention.  They demand it.  The sheer scope of human suffering (or joy) associated with these draws our minds like a magnet.

So, on the average day, we all have this stuff swirling around in our heads.  Most of our attention is focused on the first two areas, with much smaller parts contemplating the last two.  Day in and day out, that is how our brains work.  But, there are events that can just pierce through that entire process like one of Rambo's exploding arrows.

"Hey, it's mom.  The doctor said that I have Grade 3 Endometrial Cancer."

Just that quickly, all of that other stuff just disappears.  We had suspicions something wasn't right.  There were unexplained medical issues, bleeding that definitely shouldn't happen.  The doctor had tried to push  up the results appointment by two days, so they could "get started on doing what needs done."  I've been around doctors enough to know that they never push appointments up by two days to give happy news.  But now it was final.  The big question was answered, with an avalanche of new ones now developing.  We don't know the severity, the progression, the treatment, the long term outlook.  Now it is just grappling with that earth-shattering revelation.

I think that the scariest thing in the world is cancer.  Seriously, every year Hollywood churns out movies trying to scare the snotballs out of people.  They could just nail it with having a doctor come up to the various people seated in the auditorium and saying, "Excuse me, could you come out to the lobby with me?  There was something abnormal in your test results."  No pea soup spitting infant will every rival the terror that grips a person when the physician starts dropping the C Word.  It used to be that cancer was seen as a death sentence.  But treatments have gotten so much better in recent years that we hear about people surviving all the time.  We all know people that have had cancer.  And the crazy thing is that we all know people who have beaten it.  But it still is scary because we know that there is still a worst case scenario.  And we know that often the treatment seems worse than the disease.  It isn't an easy thing to fight cancer.  It takes everything you have.  I think that's why you "get over" most other illnesses and "beat" cancer.  It is a fight.  Fighters don't "get over" their opponents.  They "beat" them.  And they never really get over them.

I think it is natural to imagine the worst case scenario when you get news like that.  You really can't help it.  In that first moment when the news clears out all the riff raff in your mind, your entire mental processing power is focused on that one piece of news.  And that means that your mind runs in a hundred different directions all at once.  You think of the people who have beaten cancer.  You think of the people who haven't.  You think of what it will take to actually win the fight.  And you think of what happens if you lose.  That last one is the part that makes you think of the worst.  What happens if she dies?  Ugh.  What a horrible thought.  I know that there are people who say, "Don't let your mind go there.  She is still alive and can still beat this."  I know that very well.  My mom is a fighter - she's already faced cancer, among numerous other terrifying things.  She has MS.  She has an arachnoid cyst in her spine.  She has suffered through abuse and life experiences that would have shattered most people.  And she did it with grace and dignity.  So I know she can win.  But that haunting question of "what if..." is still so potent.

I love my mom.  She is an incredible person.  I've written about her before on this blog.  I know that at some point that she will move on from this life.  I just don't think I'll ever be ready for it.  I've lost people I care about before.  One grandfather died when I was 11, one grandmother when I was 13.  The other grandfather died when I was 16.  My dad passed away when I was 25 and my other grandmother when I was 30.  Heather's maternal grandparents passed away this summer and in 2009.  I've experienced this before.  But my mom is a different story.  I remember when my dad died, the thing that just floored me was when I got to the house and he wasn't in his chair.  I was just used to seeing him in that chair.  With my mom, I think about the day when I won't be able to call her and know she's home and willing to talk.  Even if it is just twenty minutes of me venting - she's always there.  It is weird when she's out when I call.  I can't imagine how hard it will be when she isn't there at all.  That day, obviously, isn't today.  But it is awfully hard to keep my mind from veering in that direction from time to time.

The hardest thing was breaking the news to my kids.  I knew it would be hard for me.  But I couldn't imagine that pain could actually be worse.  When I looked at Josiah and Natalie and told them what was going on, my heart broken in a different place.  I told them that she can beat this.  I told them how many people we know have beaten cancer.  But their little minds did the same dance mine did.  I saw the fear in their eyes - the anger, the hurt, the questions.  It was horrible.  Again, my kids were close to Heather's grandparents and so they've seen death.  But this was a whole different level of pain.  It was awful.  There's only so much you can say.  Even when you're a kid, you know that word is terrifying.  My own heart hurt like I couldn't believe.  Having to hold Natalie hours later as she thought about not being able to go to Grammy's house to bake cookies was just too much to take.

For a couple of days, I had trouble really concentrating on thing like work and baseball.  I think I was just worn out by the end of the day.  I kept falling asleep in my chair before 10pm.  So, apparently I missed the greatest baseball game ever played, among other things.  And my heart hurt.  I would say it "hurt like heck," but that wasn't it.  The hurt was tempered, like it was with my dad and Heather's grandparents.  When Coldplay's new album, Mylo Xyloto, came out, their second song gave me what it felt like.  The title of the song is "Hurts Like Heaven."  The song has nothing to do with what is going on here, but the phrase stuck with me.  It perfectly described what I was feeling.  It hurt like Heaven.  There was a level of pain that came from the thought of my potential loss.  There was the fear and apprehension.  There was all of the normal human emotions and feelings.  But, there was also another element that brought a strange peace.  It was good to know what exactly we were facing.  It could answer many health problems that had surfaced lately with my mother.

But the biggest part is that I don't fear for my mother.  I know she is in God's hands.  I know what will happen to her when she does die - whenever that is.  She will be home in Heaven with the God she loves and has diligently and passionately served for 35 years.  She won't hurt any more.  She will be free of the crooked skeleton.  Her eyes will see clearly again.  It won't hurt her to walk around.  She will be whole and healthy and free.  How can that be a bad thing?  Yes, we will miss her horribly here. But she will finally have what she has lived for.  She'll get to be with Jesus.  And that means our pain is temporary.  It may be intense and crippling and awful.  But it will end.

It is impossible for me to think of this upcoming challenge without this mindset.  We will go through the treatments and surgeries and appointments.  We will try to tackle this illness and do whatever possible to win.  We will pray for healing and for wisdom.  But, even if the worst case scenario happens, my mother gets to experience wholeness and healing and happiness like it is impossible to know on Earth.  But that is a thought for another day.  We appreciate your prayers.  This isn't going to be easy.  It has a way of shaking up a normal routine - both physical and mental.  But God is still in control.  We still have time and hope.  And my mom is still answering her phone.


Sarah said...

Dave! Why didn't you say anything?!? Awww....We will be in prayer that she BEATS this and is around a LOT longer. *hugs*

The Ellis Family said...

I appreciate how candid you are. You have such a gift with words. Praying for your Mom and for your family as well.