A few weeks ago, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. About a week later, her doctor called to tell me an MRI detected a sizeable mass in her brain.
The doctor gave me a choice – did I want to tell her at her home, or did we want to come together again at the doctor’s office for the conversation? We decided that receiving such news would be more comfortable for her at home, with her husband and her dog, her recliner, her coffee and her snacks.
This – all of it – is without a doubt one of the hardest things I have done in my life. And because my mom is 87, I will confess that this surprises me, somehow. I’ve been slowly preparing for this ending for a while now. But as it turns out, all that mental preparation does not make it easier.
And yet, in pain, we find growth – learning. Here are some things that I have learned so far – through tears and clenched fists, through screaming in my car and through sobbing randomly, grieving the loss that is to come and so much that has already been lost along the way, too.
Here are some things I have learned – in no particular order.
1. I’ve been guilty of not showing up for others the way I should. And yet, mercifully, people have shown up for me. Some have shown up boldly, calling to check on me when they knew I was in the middle of driving 90 minutes, sobbing, to share really difficult news with my parents. These people didn’t stop to weigh our relationship or to try to second-guess whether I was up for their call. They just did it – and I will never forget their bravery. I’ve learned something from it and I’m a different person because of their courage.
Others showed up in different but still important ways. Some took me to dinner and gave me space to fuss and gripe and second-guess. There was nothing I could say that made them love me less, and I will forever love them for it. Some sent heartfelt texts, insisting they were willing to talk any time, day or night. Others recognized their role was to distract – with a funny story or a meme or even just a dumb moment they had and were willing to share. Their distractions were a gift and made me more sane, somehow. Still others have walked this road before and were generous in their advice. I treasure it. I appreciate everyone who has shown up, no matter the way, and I hope to do a better job of showing up myself, now that I’ve seen what a powerful difference it can make and how desperately it can be needed.
2. “Normal” life has a place when you believe you are running a marathon more than a sprint. Work has kept me sane(ish). So has service. And so have my kids and husband. Staggeringly, sometimes we just sit and watch TV or talk about the dogs’ foolishness. It all has a place, somehow. Not every moment can be life and death, even when it is.
3. Lays chips and French onion dip are holy sacraments. This is doubly true when they are purchased for you by a shaggy-haired, 16-year-old hulk of a boy, who quietly drove to Kroger to buy them for you and sat with you, quietly crunching. Listening. Reminding you that all will be ok, somehow. Because in the end, this is what life is – life, death, snacks, love, God, mystery, faith, mercy.
4. Life doesn’t stop because one really hard thing is happening. This week, Matt’s dad, who claims a massive chunk of our hearts, is having a surgery that makes us nervous. We will pray really, really hard. Matt will go and I will hold things down here. We will get up. Drink coffee. Do the next right thing. It’s all we have, really.
5. Strangers can somehow sustain you, too. The woman at the hotel tonight kindly gave me an upgraded room. I didn’t say anything, but I think she sensed a quiet tension in me. I love her dearly for it. Strangers holding the door or ushering you ahead in the checkout line can somehow make a day OK. I will take it and be thankful and return the favor the instant I can.
6. Walking and sunlight can be downright holy. Wearing dark, oversized sunglasses and crying quietly while listening to Rich Mullins sing about longing for heaven helps, too.
7. There are more lessons to be learned. They hurt, but they are necessary. What are you learning these days?