“He made it another day. For that, I’m grateful.”
Watching a close friend go through the process of losing her father isn’t something I thought I’d experience anytime soon. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that had spread throughout his entire body, and given months to live – but that was two and a half years ago.
You’d think two and a half extra years (so far) would be cause for joy, constant thanksgiving, and newfound grace. And it has been, all of those – yet it’s also been two and a half extra years of grieving. Wondering each day, is he going to survive today? Is today the day God takes him home?
It’s been a heart wrenching privilege to walk alongside this woman, this daughter, and to see the glimpses she can give into the grieving process. The tears, the agony, the weight of being the one sibling closest in proximity to her parents, and therefore the one who most intimately suffers it all. Watching your strong, hardworking, never-stopping father reduce to a man who can’t do much (if anything) by himself; seeing your father shed his own tears openly because holding emotion together just doesn’t work anymore – it’s enough to break a person apart.
And it does; it breaks her. Having been recruited by hospice to care for her dad, she spends her days by his side administering the morphine and encouragement. Praying that the pain comes under control and he can relax. Once the pain subsides and he feels some relief (a day, two days, three days later) she can breathe. Little by little his mind is slipping, but the conversations the two of them have and the few “bright spots” he encounters are gold nuggets to her. She holds them tight.
How does anyone explain any of it? How, when you’re at your dying father’s side 24/7, do you tell anyone what goes on inside of you? The never-ending roller coaster? The sights you see, the words and groans you hear, the aroma of it all? How do you make sense of it yourself?
And how do you give what you have so little – or none – of? How do you provide encouragement when there’s no hope of recovery? How do you stay sane when life literally becomes day-by-day? There’s no tomorrow you can count on. There’s no “last words” hour you can see coming up. It’s coming, for sure – but it could be right now or it could be in two months or it could be a year more. So you live on the edge.
Sometimes there aren’t answers. There just aren’t. We can imagine all the questions – why him? why now? why is the process taking as long as it is? why would God allow that much pain? Sometimes, we don’t know.
Maybe we’d expect someone in my friend’s position to lose all hope. To sink down, to let go, to run and hide or stay and fight till there’s nothing left. To give up. It’s natural. And she has visited these places – my friend has gone through more emotions and anger and bitterness and joy and confusion than I could even begin to explain. Because quite frankly, I’m not living it firsthand. I haven’t experienced this like she has.
But how amazing it’s been to watch, because she is a stronger, humbler, wiser woman right now than she was two and a half years ago. Not overwhelmed by bitterness and anger – no, she’s genuinely joyful and gracious. It doesn’t mean bitterness and anger are nonexistent, but they don’t dominate her life.
Why is that? She’ll be the first to tell you: God. When she’s angry, He gets an earful. When she’s sad, He sees her tears. When she’s thankful, joyful – He hears her. He can handle it – her – and give her hope amidst the suffering. His hope penetrates deep, to the innermost pains and struggles. He remains in control even when we don’t have the answers and our suffering is too much for us to bear. He remains the only source of peace and comfort; anything else fades away.
He doesn’t promise to make life easy or to take away our pain. But He does promise to sustain us and give us everything we need when we need it. He is able, and He is far greater and wiser than we can imagine. When we don’t have answers, we can look to Him. He alone is our hope – we have none other but Him.